PREPARING YOUR STEAK PRIOR TO COOKING
‘As fresh as possible’, is often the key statement when it comes to most food product. Most often, the freshest fish, seafood, chicken, vegetables, fruits, grains, etc. command the highest price in the markets. While this doctrine is applicable to a lot of food products, it is quite the opposite when it comes to beef. Infact, freshly slaughtered beef is not very nice to eat and tends to be very dense and tough. Therefore, the next secret we will reveal is the process called ‘ageing’.
Ageing is a process in which freshly slaughtered beef is hung and kept in a cold room for a period of time. This enable natural enzymes to break down the connective tissues in the muscles, making the meat more tender and also more flavoursome. It’s a bit like ageing wine in cellar. The cold room must be kept at the right temperature and humidity. If it’s too cold, the ageing process cannot happen and if it’s too warm, the meat would spoil.
Ageing of beef can take up to 3 to 4 weeks and takes up valuable storage space. As time is money, aged beef is always sold more expensive than freshly slaughtered ones. It is often only purchased by reknown restaurants and steak houses.
Due to time constraint, most meat nowadays is not aged for as long as it should be. Reknown restaurants and famous steak houses are known to have their own dedicated cold room for the purpose of ageing beef.
So the next time you go shopping for beef, try to get your hands on some aged ones. They would make a difference to the final outcome of your steak. Aged beef are normally specified on labels or you might have to specially request for it from reputable beef suppliers.
It is not recommended to do your own ageing in a normal home refrigerator unless you really know what you are doing. If proper temperatures and humidity are not maintained, dangerous bacteria can develop on the meat and cause severe food poisoning. In some cases like botulism, it can be fatal.
Cutting Beef for your Steak
There are certain techniques in cutting beef into portions. The way a beef is cut can greatly affect the texture and also chewability of a final mouth-size piece. Some people do not realize this. They would just cut and slice a piece of beef without first studying the direction of its muscle fibres and without noting the position of its vein of fat.
Generally, beef should always be cut across its grain of muscle fibres. Muscle fibres are made up of strings of protein fibres that are relatively strong and elastic. It is relatively tougher to break these strings of protein fibres than to tear them apart. Therefore, by cutting a piece of beef across its grain, we effectively slices the strings of muscle fibres to shorter lengths which makes it easier for us to tear apart when we chew.
The thickness of a piece of steak is also an important factor to take into consideration when aiming for a great steak. Thick steaks are truly satisfying to tuck into as it allow one to savour the natural flavour of the beef. They retain the natural juices of the steak better during cooking especially when cooked to medium rare. However, cutting a piece of steak too thick could make it too chunky and consequently requires more chewing effort. Therefore, one needs to strike a perfect balance when deciding the thickness of a steak.
Generally more tender cuts of beef can be cut to thicker portions while less tender cuts need to be in thinner portions. If less tender parts like Rump are cut too thick, the result would be a very tough and chewy steak which is not very easy to eat, unless it is heavily pounded with a mallet. Therefore for Sirloins, Rump, Round and Flank steaks, my preference is not to cut them any thicker than 20mm.
For thicker steaks, you would need to spend on better quality cuts like Ribeyes and Tenderloins. My personal preference for most Ribeyes is to cut them at least 25mm thick. Sometimes slightly thicker if they are of better quality. Tenderloins on the other hand has finer muscle fibres and are more delicate thus they can be cut pretty thick, even upto 50mm for good quality ones.
Thick steaks are truly gratifying to eat but it requires a much longer cooking time to get it right. One needs to have patience to get to savour a good thick steak. Due to the demands on speedy service from consumers these days, many restaurants prefer not to cut the steaks too thick to minimize complaints from impatient diners. This is the reason why a lot of eateries prefer to serve thinner steaks.