Sunday, July 27, 2008

Love My Tender

I have fought more battles over beef tenderloin than any other product. I have five menu items that are garnered from beef "tenders" including my biggest sellers filet mignon, in 8 or 12 ounces. I also serve tournadoes of beef, twin steaks cut from the tapered ends of the tender, beef satay using smaller trimmings and a steak sandwich. It's important that I get good tenderloins. They are not created equal. The U.S.D.A inspects and grades most commercial meat products in this country. Any beef products for sale to the public must be inspected. If the product is shipped over state lines it must be Federally inspected. USDA grading is voluntary. So if you see meat for sale at the local grocer that says USDA inspected it is usually meant to confuse the customer. ALL meat must be inspected.

The grading system for beef is "Standard" (sometimes referred to as commercial), "Select", "Choice" and "Prime". Within each category are sub-categories in regards to marbling or "yield grades". So when I order USDA "Choice" from a purveyor it may not be the same quality as another suppliers "Choice" product. Also there are some unscrupulous suppliers that will fudge the system and try to pass off "Select" for "Choice" and "Standard" for "Select". I specify USDA Choice for all my beef products. I also require yield grade 3 to 5. The higher the yield grade the more marbling (flavor) there is. I also want to mention "Angus" isn't a grade, it's a type of beef cattle. Because something is "Angus" does not make it better. The Angus folks have done a nice job of marketing. I usually try and avoid it. It's not worth the added cost.

Alot of restaurants serve "Choice" beef. Few serve "Choice" tenderloins. The reason? They are very expensive. Even some of the big "steak houses" don't serve "Choice" filet mignon. What is usually served is the same product you'll find in the grocery store, "cow" tenderloin or "Commercial" grade. An eight ounce cow tender will cost about three bucks. The same portion of "Choice" product is between 10 and 12 bucks. So when you're looking at a menu, think about the cost of the steak, and everything that comes with it and ask yourself if this restaurant is selling me a quality filet mignon at $19.95?

In addition to the grading, age is important. I like to "wet" age for 21 days then dry age for another seven. Proper ageing makes for a firm yet tender steak. My test for for tenderness is literally "fork tender". You should be able to cut through an eight ounce filet with a fork. Granted it won't cut easily but it should cut through.

Within the tenderloin itself is a difference in quality. The best cuts, typically filet mignon, come from the "barrel" or "Chateau" section of the tender. That's the very center from which only three "barrel" steaks can be cut. (The photo above is a 12oz Choice, barrel cut filet.) Next is what is referred to as "center cut", the portion of the tender that begins to taper. Then there is the "butt" and the ends. All quality product but best suited for specific uses. If you look at the beef tenderloin video in the side bar you'll notice the smaller steaks being cut from the tapered section of the tender and the larger ones from the center.

We serve a "barrel cut" filet mignon and tournadoes which are "center cut", if you watch the tenderloin video on the video bar you can see the larger steaks being cut from the barrel and the smaller filets from the narrower sections of the tender.

Most steak eaters have their preference of cut. I happen to be a "filet guy", many people I've talked to believe the filet lacks flavor and prefer a New York or ribeye. I contend that they probably haven't had too many good quality filets. In my opinion a well marbled, aged, "Choice" filet eats as good or better than just about any other cut. Just be prepared to pay top dollar for it.


Michael Walsh said...

I'm assuming you are butchering your own tender from this piece. What do you do with the head? I've worked in placed that cut out the silver skin and tied it up to cook. boy would i be pissed if i got that piece! I prefer to cut that into two pieces, usually get one 8 oz out of it and the rest for tournadoes, or satey.

I was unlucky enough to get a sample of glued together "perfect" cut filet. It was the absolute most perfect looking steak, but the grain went all wiggy wack as it was glued together from scrap. what junk!

I like a rib-eye, or a strip as you mentioned alot of people do. I think it's easier to cook to temp. Where a 4 inch thick filet can easily have a well done 1/2 inch making the whole thing taste livery to me. If you have the time to sear and roast and rest it, i'm sure it's great. I just love a whole roasted tenderloin for a party or wine dinner, that is a great piece of meat.

Scott Sebastian said...

I do the same, split it and cut tournadoes, steak sands and satay. I think cow tenders taste livery. (And look livery for that matter)

A couple of my videos show me slicing whole roast tenders at service.

Anonymous said...

You got to try a Niman Ranch Prime Tenderloin. OMG you will poop urself its so good!! Price is heady, but for a rare treat, you cant go wrong.

Scott Sebastian said...

Niman Ranch is available to me but I don't know enough people flush enough to move it. Tre expensive! And I mean TRE!

Mark Czerniec said...

What's your opinion of the grass-fed beef that's becoming so trendy?

Scott Sebastian said...

In our quest to be more local and organic I've tried a few organic or natural grass fed beef. The bottom line is it can't stand up to grain fattened beef, period. I've tried and wanted it to be as good but it simply is not. IMHO.

Anonymous said...

What an informative post. Thanks for all of the details. Your aging technique certainly works. I had a bite of one of your tenderloins recently and it was excellent. Why do you serve “choice” versus “prime”? Is the prime too expensive for your clientele or is prime just not that much better for the significant increase in cost?

I agree completely about corn fed beef. I have had grass fed, alfalfa fed and corn fed beef and I much prefer the corn fed. A couple of years ago I visited some friends in Buenos Aires and they took me to the “Peter Lugar” of Argentina and while the grass fed beef was fine, it was not as good as American corn fed beef.

Your point about aging to achieve a tender yet firm steak is spot on. I’ve had tenderloin at a rather popular (for reasons unknown to me) expensive downtown steak restaurant that serves very tender beef tenderloin but it has a “mushy” mouth feel and is unpleasant.

I would look forward to reading a similarly informative post about tuna.


Dave Risch

Scott Sebastian said...

Prime is great stuff but frankly not worth the price IMO. The strips and other sirloins aren't as bad price wise but still pricey.

A good quality, hand selected, nicely aged USDA choice is the best bang for the buck. Also it would be difficult to tell the difference between prime.

Thanks for the idea about tuna. It's also a pet peeve of mine. Stay tuned for a tuna topic.

Jeff said...

I find most tenderloins at your typical grocery store to be very mediocre. However I got some at Sam's club (I believe they were choice) and I was very impressed with the taste and texture. They had a more marbling than anything you see at Pick n' Save. I did a very short marinade and topped them with grilled mushrooms.

Paul Raphaelson said...

I might be spoiled coming from NYC, but personally I can't fathom buying anything but prime, dry aged tenderloin.

I hear from chefs and foodies all over the country things like "tenderloin has no flavor" or "it has no marbling." Of course it doesn't, if it sucks. Or if it's only mediocre. And in this country, choice beef is mediocre. So is wet aged beef.

I know retail markets outside of the major cities almost never have prime meat, but as a chef I think you can get it. And the price increase for dry aging shouldn't be that much ... tenderloin can only handle a couple of weeks of it anyhow. Wet aging can improve texture but not flavor.

When I cook at home, I see no point in anything less than the best prime dry aged beef. It's more expensive, so I eat it less often. And at a restaurant, when I'm paying restaurant prices? Any quality level lower than this is insulting.

Scott Sebastian said...

You ARE spoiled. Around here you're lucky to get Choice.

Scott Sebastian said...

P.S. I can get it but I won't be able to sell it consistantly. Wallets are much tighter here.

I've run it as a special occasionally but that's the only way I'd be able to deal with it. Believe me I'd LOVE to serve it on a daily basis.