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.