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The general rule with beef is that there is a trade off between flavor and tenderness: the tougher cuts of meat are the most flavorful, and the most tender cuts need a little help in the flavor department.  The gristle and connective tissues that make eating a low quality steak such a bad experience turn cheaper cuts of meat into highly flavorful dishes, if cooked correctly.  You can cut a tenderloin filet with a butter knife. but it will have little of the flavor that yopu can get from a pot roast that has been simmered for several hours.  The most important thing about beef therefore is that you cook it using the appropriate method, otherwise your expensive cut will be a waste of money, and your cheaper cut will be a wasted opportunty.

Know Your Grades:  Grades refer primarily to the "marbling" of the fat in the meat; those with the most even distrubution of fat get the higher grades.  The fat contributes to tenderization and increases the flavor of the cut.  Lower grade meats are by definition leaner, so in theory they are actually better for you per portion.  Note that some cuts of meat are very lean to begin with, like tenderloin, so a prime tenderloin isn't going to be as markedly different as, say, a rib roast.  Furthermore, some cuts of beef are preferred by certain consumer sectors, which also affects price.  Tongue is prized by Mexicans (Beef tongue tastes absolutely fantastic and melts in the mouth) so despite the grade it might be more epensive in a community where many Meicans live.  It might be unavailable at any price in a community that lacks tongue-eaters altogether.  Better for you if it is considered a throwaway cut and is available and cheap.

 Grading is done by Federal inspectors who work for the  USDA.  There are several grades of beef, and of those you will find in a market. the top being PRIME, the next being CHOICE, and the lowest being SELECT, although you will be lucky to find prime.  There are lower grades but they are used industrially and you won't find them for sale in your local grocerey store (hopefully).  Prime beef is almost always found in restaurants and hotels where they are kept in meat lockers until used- supermarkets are loathe to let them languish and decay next to cheaper cuts in a meat case with more attractive prices.

Know Your Cuts:  Beef cuts are very different from each other and require different cooking techniques.  Try to grill a brisket and you will get a very tough, leathery hunk of meat.  Boil a tenderloin and you'll turn it into mush.  Beef can be butchered in several different ways that will produce a difference in the types of cuts you get from a side of beef.  For example, you can butcher a side of beef to produce a rib roast OR some ribeye steaks, but you can't have both.  Similarly, you can have either a set of porterhouse steaks OR a whole tenderloin.  

Here are the basic parts of a side of beef:
Beef Cuts

Here are the cuts you may encounter in the supermarket or on a restaurant menu:

Chateaubriand:  This is a filet cut from the fattest end of the tenderloin.  Basically a big filet mignon.

Filet Mignon:  These are cut from the tenderloin.  They have unsurpassed tendernesss and melt in your mouth.  They also have much less flavor than other steaks and are often served with a sauce to give it more flavor.  

Hangar steak:  This is popular with the French but not often seen outside of restaurants ithe US.  A good butcher shop should be able to get one for you.  It is grainy like a short rib, but more tender.  It has a beefier taste than any other steak, but since it is tougher it should be marinated.

London Broil:  This is really not a cut but rather a preparation in which a thin steak is broiled and then cut against the grain.  It is used for some of the tougher cuts that would not otherwise be served as a steak.  The cut that is most often sold as "London Broil" is flank steak.

New York Strip:  This is a sirloin or short loin steak.  It's a bit tougher than a ribeye but among the more tender  steak cuts.  It has a heartty flavor like a ribeye.

Porterhouse Steak:  Like a large T-Bone steak, on one half of the bone is a nugget of tenderloin and on the other half is a short loin.  TIP:  When these go on sale, buy the biggest ones you can and cut them off the bone.  You will get a filet mignon and a New York strip, usually at a fraction of the cost of those cuts.

:  Probably the best steak for a combination of  flavor and tenderness.  Other steaks are more flavorful but they are also less tender, and vice versa.  This is cut from the "eye" of the rib, or what is otherwise served as a roast.    Sometimes called "Delmonico" or "Saratoga" depending upon whether it is on or off the bone.   When it's prime grade, it's referred to as "Prime rib."

Round Steak:  Cut from the round, it usually has a round bone in the middle of it that indicates that it's cut from the thigh.  It's analogouse to the ham of a pig.

Skirt Steak:  Diaphram.  Fatty, firbour, ideal for fajitas and tacos.  Very flavorful.  Tender if prepared properly.  Takes well to marinades, quick, short heating and  being cut small against the grain.

Flank Steak
:  The belly of the beast.  (See also, London Broil)

Sirloin/Top Sirloin:  Top Sirloin is usually served as a roast, but is tender enough to be cut into steaks.

T-Bone Steak:  similar to the porterhouse, only the filet is much smaller.

Other Cuts:
Brisket:  Very tough unless properly cooked, very flavorful.  Great for braising as pot roast or brining as for corned beef.  It is a favorite for Texas barbeque, but you have to know what you are doing if you are going to cook it over coals.

Short Ribs:   Lots of fat marbeled throughout gives an amazing beef flavor, but it can be tough if not marinated or cooked properly.  A favorite in Korean cooking- they really know how to do it justice.  All the better if you can find it off the bone.

Shanks:  GREAT for making stock or stew.  Lots of connective tissue and a great, beefy taste.  After long, slow, moist cooking you get melt in your mouth meat with a rich flavor.  Veal shanks are used in the classic Italian dish osso bucco.

Tongue:  Don't knock it untill you've tried it.  It's just a muscle, and a very tasty one at that.  You cut it into chunks and it doesn't look gross and tastes fantastic.  A favorite in Mexican retaurants.

Oxtails:  Rather like shanks, although not as much meat.  Good for stews or in an Italian ragú.

Beef Recipes

Steak au Poivre
Tacos de Arrachera (Skirt Steak)
Braised Veal Shoulder
Savory Cheeseburgers
Veal Sweetbreads with White Wine Mushroom Sauce
Garlic Terriyaki for Beef
Fajitas (Grilled Skirt Steak)
Porcini Mushroom Sauce (for use with a roasted beef tenerloin, among other uses).

Steak au Poivre
2 steaks, 4-6 oz
dry red wine*
heavy cream
2 Tbsp ground pepper
1 Tbsp green chile powder
1 Tbsp Herbes de Provence
1 tsp porcini mushroom powder
1 tsp msg
1 tsp celery salt

*(Shiraz or Zinfandel work well)
  1. Mix dry ingredients well. For pepper, it is best to use a blend of black, white, red, and even green peppercorns if you can. If you are using green peppercorns, do not crush them, but save them for the sauce.
  2. Rub liberally into steaks, preferably tenderloin.
  3. Sear steaks on both sides in a pan over medium high heat until a good crust is formed. Place on a plate.
  4. Deglaze pan with red wine. Add green peppercorns, or a tsp. or so of the rub mixture. Reduce, and add heavy cream to make a sauce. Heat through but do not cook it! Spoon over steaks and serve.

Tacos de Arrachera (Skirt Steak)
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp Black pepper
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp celery salt
1 tsp MSG
1 tsp corriander
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 1/2 tsp oregano
1 1/2 tsp green chile powder
1/2 tsp red chile powder
1/2 tsp sage
1/2 tsp marjoram  
  1. Mix ingredients together well. If you can't find green chile powder, substitute red for it. Likewise, you can substitute cayenne for habanero, but add them only if you like your food very spicy.
  2. Spread liberally over chopped steak or hamburger, brown in skillet and serve as you would for tacos.

    *NOTE: This rub is good for burritos and fajitas as well.

Braised Veal Shoulder
1 veal shoulder roast (approx. 2 lbs)
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 Tbsp arrowroot or flour
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 onion
2 carrots
1 stalk celery with leaves
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 tsp fresh thyme
1/2 tsp fresh lavender
1/2 tsp fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
  1. Chop onion, carrots, and celery and place in the bottom of a covered casserole dish.
  2. Add parsley and fresh herbs- substitute as you desire (1 Tbsp of Herbes de Provence would do quite nicely).
  3. Season veal with salt and pepper, brown on both sides in a skillet. When done, place in casserole dish.
  4. Deglaze skillet with 1/2 cup of wine, add liquid to casserole. Reserve 1/4 cup of stock to make a slurry with the arrowroot. Cover veal with remaining stock and wine.
  5. Cover casserole and place in 350 degree oven. After 2 hours, remove veal to serving dish and place in the cooling oven to keep it warm. Strain out vegetables and spices as best you can, and pour liquid back into the skillet. Add mushrooms and stock/arrowroot slury. Stir well and reduce liquid over medium heat. When mushrooms are tender and the sauce has thickened pour sauce over the meat and serve.

Serve with potato slices roasted with rosemary and the rest of the wine (unless you polished it off during the two hours of cooking time.

Savory Cheeseburgers
2 Lbs of gound beef
8 slices american cheese
2 tsp marjoram
1 tsp ground pepper
1 tsp green chile powder
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp summer savory
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp celery salt
1/2 tsp corriander
1/2 tsp ground sage
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp chipotle
1/4 tsp msg
1/4 tsp garlic powder
  1. Mix spices and herbs together well.
  2. Rub mixture into beef, making sure it gets mixed thoroughly.
  3. Form into 8 thin 1/4 patties.
  4. Grill or broil, top with cheese and serve on a kaiser roll or some bread of similar worth. For the love of God though, don't use those horrible supermarket hamburger buns.
*NOTE: Use REAL american cheese, not the individually wrapped processed cheese singles. You can get it from the deli, and it is much better than the singles, which is what has given american cheese a bad name to begin with.

Veal Sweetbreads with White Wine Mushroom Sauce
1 piece of veal sweetbreads
1/4 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 cup white wine
2 Tb butter
2 Tb flour

1 Tb chopped parsley

1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced

salt and pepper
  1. Soak sweetbreads in water for l hour and clean thoroughly. 
  2. Blanch sweetbreads in boiling water, remove membrane (if not already removed) with a sharp knife. Return to water and simmer 20 minutes.  Chill in refrigerator (can be left overnight if desired).
  3. Slice chilled sweatbreads into 1/2 inch pieces, season with salt and pepper and coat with flour. Sautée in 1 Tb butter until golden brown on both sides.
  4. Sautée shallots, and mushrooms in 1 Tb butter.  Add garlic and parsley toward the end.  Add wine, and raise heat to bring to a quick boil.  Add sweetbreads, reduce heat and cook until sauce thickensand sweetbreads are heated through . 
  5. Adjust seasonings and serve.

Garlic Terriyaki for Beef, Pork or Chicken
5 cloves garlic
1/3 c soy
3 Tb honey
3 Tb rice wine or dry sherry
1 Tb sesame oil
1 Tb peanut oil

1 Tb ginger
1 tsp pepper
  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender and purée.  Alternately, finely mince garlic and combine ingredients.
  2. Marinate your meat for 1-3 hours or overnight.  If using a tough cut of beef, such as short ribs, add a half of a kiwi fruit, minced, but do not marinate over an hour r meat will get mushy.
  3. Grill over hot coals until meat is done and lightly charred on the outside.

This popular Mexican dish has coincided with the elevation of arrachera, or skirt steak, to a premium cut of beef.  While enterprising restauranteurs often peddle "chicken fajitas," that's rather like selling vegetarian meatballs or turkey ham.  But hey, what's in a name? The chicken version is quite a treat as well.  My version here is pretty heavy on the seasonings, which I think enhance the dish, but you can "strip down" the recipe and still have a great meal.  The dry ingredients can make for a nice taco seasoning as well, anopther favorite use for arrachera.
1 lb beef skirt steak
12 flour tortillas
2 poblano peppers
1 red bell pepper
1 large onion
2 shots, tequila
½  lime, juiced
½ kiwi, mashed
2 tsp oregano
½ tsp. onion powder
½ tsp green chile powder
½ tsp coriander
½ tsp pepper
¼ tsp salt, sage, cumin
¼ tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp celery salt
1/8 tsp msg
  1. Remove excess fat from skirt steak and cut into strips across the grain.
  2. Mix one shot of tequila with the lime juice and the kiwi and marinate the steak for up to an hour.  Drink the other shot of tequila.
  3. Roast the poblanos and the red pepper over a gas flame or under a broiler.  Peel the charred skin off the peppers, remove the seeds and the core and cut into strips.
  4. Slice the onion in half and slice the halves into strips.  Sauté the onion and the pepper strips until all are soft.
  5. Combine the dry ingredients, remove the steak from the marinade and rub liberally with the spice mixture.
  6. Cook the steak over hot coals for three or four minutes until done.  Add the peppers and onions halfway through to heat them and char them a bit.  This can be done in a hot skillet as well.
  7. Serve with tortillas.
Note:  It's best to use a tight wire mesh on the grill to keep the goodies from falling through.  Alternately, cook the steak whole and slice it after grilling.    

Porcini Mushroom Sauce

From Cooking Light Magazine.  This is a delicious sauce for a lean meat.

2 Tbs dried porcini mushrooms (1/8 ounce)
1/3 cup boiling water
2 teaspoons butter
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
1/4 cup dry sherry stock
1 1/4 cups turkey stock
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1 tablespoon quick-mixing flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  1. Combine mushrooms and boiling water in bowl, cover and let stand 15 minutes. Drain mushrooms in a colander over a bowl, reserving 1/4 cup liquid.
  2. Rinse, drain and finely chop mushrooms Melt butter in small saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots, cook minutes or until tender stirring frequently.
  3. Add sherry, cook 1 minute. Add mushrooms, reserved liquid, stock and thyme. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes.
  4. Gradually add flour, stirring with a whisk. Bring to a boil, cook 1 minute or until slightly thick - stirring constantly with a whisk. Stir in salt and pepper. Yield: 6 servings (serving size = 1/4 cup).