Dissecting beef

old-cattleOne of the interesting things about Australian, British and American butchery is that it cuts across so many muscles, when each muscle in the bovine geography (thank you John Newton for that term), is so utterly different from the next.

Head into the supermarket and see blade steak at the bottom price point of the shelf – and yet, within that cross-section of shoulder reside some of the most delicious muscles in the whole beast. The Americans have cottoned on – the flat iron steak is one of the hottest (excuse the pun) steaks on the market in New York, and for good reason. It’s a version of the Australian oyster blade steak (the infraspinatus muscle), but cut to remove the connective tissue that runs through the middle of the Australian cut. The steak is marbled even in lean animals, and being in the shoulder, where there’s plenty of activity, it’s one of the tastiest as well. Pay attention: if you care about trends this is the ‘new’ hanger/onglet/skirt steak. But I’d prefer if you didn’t pay attention because there are only two on every beast. And at least one of them should be mine.

Learning the muscle names is very helpful when you wish to eat well, and to your preference. For some, nothing surpasses the (in my opinion often frankly mushy) tenderloin, however, could I suggest that muscles just as tender, but tastier can be found? It’s just a matter of poking about. Try the ‘butter of the beef’ which is actually often discarded – I know, crazy – from the outside of the tenderloin, the spinalis. Or consider three muscles/French cuts in the rump of the animal to rival onglet – le poire, le merlan and l’araignée.

After months of reading on this topic (see the Beef Compendium) I’m still interested in finding experts. In Victoria at Warialda Beef they have been marketing a ‘new’ steak from the heel (I think I know what it is but I won’t say), and in the US, Mexican and South American cuts are making headway – things like the rump tri-tip and the matambre (a large piece of skirt).

I haven’t even dipped into Korean beef cuts (what they don’t know about the subsections of rib meat truly isn’t worth knowing). A factoid that I cannot substantiate – even though I have tried for six months now – is that the Koreans and the Bodi tribe in Ethiopia have the most designated cuts for the beef carcass. If you can give me any more information (particularly on the Ethiopian side of things) then a good bottle of wine is coming your way. But as far as I know, the Bodi tribe claim was created by an anthropologist (and that’s never happened before…). Two bottles of good wine if you’re actually from the Bodi tribe, as well as providing The Answer.

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