Monday, October 10, 2011

Beef Eater

One of the advantages of travel is that you have access to some of the finest food from around the world. If you are lucky enough to buy the raw material, transport it to your kitchen and cook it in the comfort of your home, you are in business.

This is a post on the glories of Beef in general, of steak and hamburger in particular. Beef is my second most favourite protein, pork being my most favourite. Steak is King, steak is all American its stuff that a man will ask for as his last meal. Steak is aspirational, steak is a symbol of good times, of capitalism of wealth power and fame. Steak is blood and guts, a mans food. Steak is also something you order when the rest of the menu looks nerdy, esoteric or unexciting. A hamburger can be sublime, a thing of beauty. It has taken a French chef Daniel Boulud fancy and he serves sophisticated burgers at his restaurants all over America. The bun is a buttery Brioche, the meat patty is garnished with barbecued pulled pork in a delicious Franco American fusion.

It is one of life’s paradoxes is that while our Hindu/Jain culture has made provision for the welfare of cattle, animals and birds by establishing old age homes for them, `Panjrapoles’, we really do nothing to create a good life for the animal during its younger days. Stories of buffaloes being abused as beast of burden, horses being driven mercilessly, birds being caged and sold abound. Oh yes, we do love feeding pigeons at temples, cows on the street and crows in the balcony, something to do with being deeply symbolic with feeding ancestors, I believe.

India has one of the world’s largest populations of ruminants. However, I don’t know of a single instance where cattle or goat are bred for the table. No one cares. Despite having a large meat eating population, we still do not rear animals with any respect or degree of care so that they are absolutely at their prime at slaughter. Our chicken is all battery raised in small cages in disgusting conditions. Yet we eat loads of chicken. Our cattle and goats happily eat plastic bags out of garbage dumps, and are in a wretched state by the time they are slaughtered. But this is not a lecture sponsored by PETA. Far from it.

While in London, we went to Jack O Shea a rather well respected butcher. As his name indicates, he is Irish. He has a couple of outlets in London as well as in Belgium. The meat sold is absolutely top quality. While buying some bacon, I saw that he had some great looking 28 day dry aged USDA certified Prime Rib Eye steaks. Do have a look at the photo and admire the fabulous marbling (fat content).

28 day dry aged USDA certified Prime Rib Eye
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) meticulously grades beef at the request of a meat packer. Only beef that is USDA inspected may carry the USDA shield of authenticity. Although there are eight levels of USDA graded beef there are generally only three USDA grades of beef that you would buy in a supermarket, a butcher shop or a restaurant. They are USDA Prime, Choice or Select which is the order of grade from the highest to lowest. Two lesser grades are Cutter and Canner which is what you would typically find in things like ready-to-eat dinners, microwavable foods, hamburgers and other processed food products. The system of grading is complicated, dependent on the marbling in the meat, the age and so on.

The steaks at O Shea’s were really good looking and 50% more expensive than similar UK beef. In the US cattle are not fed grass but are fed corn/grain which is not the natural diet for cattle. This results in the meat being more marbled and the animal grows faster and with corn having a higher sugar content the meat is sweeter. We bought two steaks.

To cook them, I first thawed them and sprinkled some smoked salt on the steaks. These were grilled on a grill pan 3 minutes each side and allowed to rest under a tent made of foil. Instead of making a sauce, with such good meat we thought we should have them with just some compound butter. So we made some Anchovy Butter and had sides of chips and grilled Portobello Mushroom from Pali Market. The steaks were unbelievably good. The fat had charred, become crisp and the inside was buttery and smooth. With the resting there was hardly any release of the juices. Fully worth the money.
Cooked with Anchovy Butter
Not satisfied with the 2 American steaks we also bought 2 Organic, Aberdeen Angus 28 day dry aged Rib Eyes from our favourite butcher H G Walter. These steaks are very good too. But do compare them to the American beauties. A world of difference. Same cut, same dry aging but two different breeds of cattle and two different feeds. Corn for the American Rib Eye and grass for the Aberdeen Angus. These we cooked on a pan and made a delicious sauce with sautéed Morels, cream and Sherry. Wonderful. These steaks with their lesser marbling required a sauce.

28 day dry aged Aberdeen Angus Rib Eye
Many of you would have seen the Heston Blumenthal episode on Masterchef Australia Season 3 where he asked the contestants to make a burger. Well, Jack O Shea is the butcher Blumenthal uses to source his meat. Between the two of them they painstakingly developed the best combination of meat to make the most succulent and tasty burger. The meat patty for this burger contains 3 types of beef. One part Chuck which is stewing beef from the upper front of the animal, one part brisket which is beef from the lower front of the animal and two parts short ribs from the area just behind the Chuck. Jake O Shea sells hamburger patty pre made in 250 gram packs. This too we bought and got home to cook.

Hamburgers from Jack O Shea
It was an effort to find a burger bun that was large enough for the patty to sit in. The other stuff was easy, a bit of mature Cheddar, onion, tomato, pickles, mayonnaise, tomato sauce and lettuce. We also bought some bacon which we crisped up. We brushed the bacon fat on the split burger buns and toasted them. We pan fried the burgers with a dash of oil for 3 minutes each side. The finished burger was incredible. You could taste the meat. Deeply flavoured, moist, medium rare in the centre and the meat had a bite. We devoured the burgers with juices dripping down to our elbows.

I end as I started, lamenting about our total lack of awareness, care or desire to have good produce. We hear so much from the dietitians, nature cure lot about the cliché, you are what you eat. Despite that none of us demand better produce. 

1 comment:

  1. Mouthwatering visuals and description.I am reading this during lunch time so will look at the pictures and have my dabba.