“For an average middle-class bloke in our foodie age, going to a proper butcher’s has joined shopping at a local hardware store as a trial that must be passed. Men are supposed to know what cut of meat they want, just as we’re supposed to know what kind of screws we need. Real men do know these things, or so we imagine.”
-Pete Brown, Pie Fidelity: In Defence of British Food
Sometimes you can go into the butchers and be spoilt for choice….or completely confused! There seem to be various names for exactly the same cut. What exactly are all those different cuts of beef, and how should you treat them?
To help in this post we give the Saucy Dressings’ definitive guide to all the various types of steak, as well as to other cuts.
With regard to steak there is all sorts of choice, but in the end there is nothing like a fillet steak. Nevertheless, point, featherblade and skirt are all also worth experimenting with. Steak is usually defined as being tender enough to quick fry.
Sirloin (from the French, ‘on the loin’):
This comes from the middle of the back of the animal. The steak is a reasonable size but in spite of some marbelling it still doesn’t have that much flavour and it’s often left on the bone (see T-bone below) to try to solve that. It’s also tougher than fillet.
Fillet (also known as filet mignon or tenderloin):
This is from the inside of the sirloin and is VERY tender with no fat. It’s so tender because it is a muscle which hardly used. Many people complain it doesn’t have that much taste, but if you serve it with delicious sauces, butters, vegetables the flavour comes from them, so naturally Saucy Dressings thinks this is the best steak of all. Unfortunately it’s small (around 500g per animal) so it also tends to be the most expensive…. Follow this link for the best method for cooking steak.
A tournedos is a small, round slice taken from near the end of the tenderloin, it’s usually fried or grilled. Because it’s so lean it’s often wrapped in bacon, suet or pork fat before it’s cooked. See tournedos Rossini for much more information – where it gets its name, how to cook it etc.
is a particular thick cut from the centre of the fillet. It’s delicious but because it’s so thick it’s difficult to cook without it being overdone on the outside and completely raw on the inside, for which reason it’s a good idea to use a meat thermometer – the internal temperature should reach 54°C. It’s too large for just one person, perfect for two. Normally served with new potatoes and béarnaise sauce. It was first prepared 200 years ago by the Vicomte de Châteaubriand’s chef, Montmireil and so he’s no longer around to referee the contention as to how thick it should be, but it shouldn’t look like a steak!
“Through the ages many signature dishes have been dedicated to the patrons of famous chefs – Steak Chateaubriand, for example, is named after the Vicomte Châteaubriand, whose voracious pursuit of pleasure both physical and edible continued unabated till his very last breath.”
-Lana Citron, Edible Pleasures
Comes from the backside (as you would imagine!). it has a lot of flavour. Best to buy from a butcher you know as it needs to be well hung. Buy really thick pieces (5cm/2”), flash fry in smoking hot oil, and then slice very thinly. Because it’s so thick there is the same problem as with chateaubriand, above.
Not surprisingly a strange triangular, pointy shape! from the pointed, thin end of the rump, where it joins the sirloin. It has the flavour of rump with the tenderness of sirloin (but not fillet).
Feather blade (also known as butler’s steak or flat iron):
You don’t often see this. It’s a small steak, coming from the shoulder blade. It has a lot of flavour and is better cooked rare.
Rib-eye steak (sometimes called entrecôte):
Rib-eye is marbled with a central piece of fat gives it taste and juiciness. It comes from the fore-rib (top of the prime rib). Because of all the fat in its marbling you have to keep a look out if you try to grill it, but the advantage of the fat is that this bestows additional flavour. This is without the bone. With the bone, this massive cut – large enough for two to three people, is known in France and Britain as a côte de bœuf, and sometimes a tomahawk steak.
“He showed me a côte de boeuf, a prized cut that sells in the restaurant for eighty euros for two people, turning it from one side to the other. “It takes at least thirty days—minimum—to age a côte de boeuf properly,” he said. “If only I could double that. Sixty days . . . now, that would be exceptional,” he added dreamily.”
-Ann Mah, Mastering the Art of French Eating: From Paris Bistros to Farmhouse Kitchens, Lessons in Food and Love
Minute steak is from the rump cap. It’s thin and needs to be fried quickly. Then it’s perfect in a sandwich. Quite often this is like old shoe leather.
Onglet (butcher’s steak or hanger steak):
Onglet comes from the centre, near the diaphragm. It has a lot of flavour (it’s quite dark meat, a gamey flavour), but tends to be tough. It has a tough membrane which runs through – make sure the butcher removes this. Often butterflied to make it flatter.
T-bone (also known as Porterhouse):
This steak has rather a macho reputation. As Heston Blumenthal describes it
“a gargantuan piece of meat cut from the wing-rib end of the sirloin or the tail end of the foreribs”
It does look huge on the plate – and the cut is part sirloin (technically this is the Porterhouse part) and part fillet -served on the bone. The two different sections and the bone all cook at different rates. It isn’t named after the fictional Cambridge college, but after the drinking houses where it was first served. Be warned. In the process of Blumenthal’s search for the perfect steak, he reports that back in the UK he sends for six porterhouse steaks from six different suppliers.
“Three suppliers had sent porterhouse cuts; the rest had got it wrong. It brought it home to me just how unfamiliar a cut the porterhouse is in this country.”
-Heston Blumenthal, In Search of Total Perfection
Goose skirt (also known as flank steak or bavette):
Goose skirt comes from near the bottom of the diaphragm, above the liver and kidney. It’s long and flat with a soft texture (almost crumbly when correctly cooked) and delicate flavour. This steak needs to be sliced against the grain to maximise tenderness – try also marinating.
Goose skirt is sometimes referred to as the ‘butcher’s cut’. This is because, although comparatively cheap, it has a lot of flavour thanks to being heavily marbled. The marbling is fine, so the meat can easily dry out. Best cooked quickly and at high temperature.
“At the butcher’s she deliberated over a fillet of beef but could only afford a cut called bavette which I now understand is tasty and cheap.”
-Hannah Rothschild, The Improbability of Love
Other cuts of beef:
A glorious roasting joint, the first five bones (it can be bought boneless or boned) of the loin. Lots of rich, marbled fat running through, which keeps it tender and intensifies the flavour.
Topside is a roasting joint, lean, with a separate piece of fat which is tied around to keep it moist. comes from the hindquarters of the animal.
Silverside is a roasting joint, a bit tougher than topside, also from hindquarters.
Braising or chuck (term ‘chuck’ is used more in the US) steak:
best used for very slow cooked stews – but shin of beef is better – see below.
The breast of the animal. As cattle don’t have collar bones the muscles here take a lot of the weight, so the meat needs a lot of tenderising. Marinate AND cook slowly.
Most often cooked as BBQ ribs…. a lot of work and mess and sugar for hardly any return!
Shin of beef:
shin of beef looks less attractive than braising or chuck steak as it has lots of unappealing connective tissue. Delia Smith, however, points out that this melts and adds flavour and richness. Get the butcher to trim off the silvery sinew on the outside first and cook for an additional half hour. In Food in England, Dorothy Hartley declares “the scotch dish potted hough is the best use for shin of beef.” She goes on to quote the donor of the recipe, who begins:
“Take a hough and bash it well with an axe. No’ just break it, but have at it until the pieces are no bigger than a wee hen’s egg”
and finishes by saying the hough should be drunk with
“a tankard of ale – ’twill fill them fine – ’tis all guid meat”.
Hartley comments that it probably was quite rich and filling as this lady was the mother of four champion blacksmiths. ‘Nuff said on shin of beef then…..
Again, needs slow cooking. often made into mince
What it says on the tin. bony and gelatinous, although animals store reserve fat in their tails so a winter oxtail may have more meat than expected. Famously made into a stew, and often used for making stock.
“‘The day when artists and intellectuals appreciate anyone, is the day when they bury their ego, and they cease to be artists and intellectuals.’
‘It’s the same with butchers.’
‘Definitely, if they are masters of their trade. If they are paid workers, no.'”
-Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, Los Mares del Sur