It was a cross between an anatomy lesson and a Masterchef showcase, but the end result was a presentation that left an audience of Brisbane ‘foodies’ buzzing.
The occasion was an ambitious ‘Nose to Tail beef appreciation night’ staged last week by innovative Central Queensland beef producers, Blair and Josie Angus, whose Kimberley Red and Signature Beef brands have established a solid presence in domestic and international markets.
The six-course dinner event was built around a running commentary from Blair as master butcher Jamie Wright, a third-generation Townsville tradesman who operates the city’s popular Butcher on Bundock retail outlet, carried out a full bone-out and seaming work on a hindquarter and forequarter.
Large plasma screen TVs and closed-circuit cameras in the Pig N Whistle restaurant venue ensured that everybody in the room got a great view of what was going on.
From his entertaining and enlightening commentary, Blair obviously possesses a deep fascination with butchering as an art-form, and the discovery of lesser-known muscle cuts that have huge potential to be re-valued, in the customer’s eye. He equally shares a passion for cooking, and was able to describe in detail how best to prepare and cook each item, as they emerged.
New and unfamiliar beef cut names like hanger steak, picanha, Denver steak, Del Monico steak and flat iron were introduced and explained to the gathering.
The six-course dinner featured some of the unfamiliar cuts described during the presentations.
A short video of part of Blair and Jamie’s presentation can be seen here.
The pair have done similar carcase cutting and commentary demonstrations recently overseas, including to an audience in Shanghai.
As part of Blair’s presentation, he ran through a ‘Top 10 muscles for tenderness’ list (see full list at bottom of page), which contained a few surprises. An extremely popular grilling cut like sirloin, for example, did not even rate in the top 10, figuring at number 15.
“Many people identify sirloin as their favourite cut of meat, but its popularity is more about convenience and dimensions, rather than its tenderness,” Blair said.
“Here at the Pig ‘N Whistle, the flank steak is one of the menu favourites, cooked to medium rare, sliced thinly across the grain and served with Paris butter. It is an extremely good piece of meat,” he told diners.
Another cut somewhat similar to the flank steak was the hanging tender, or hanger steak, a full-flavoured cut harvested from the thick skirt.
“The thick skirt is a magnificent piece of meat, but while the Japanese love it, you don’t see it on many Australian menus,” he told the audience.
He also introduced the crowd to what he termed the Hip-Pocket steak.
“Recently a customer asked us to come up with a steak that nobody else has got,” Blair said.
“The hip-pocket steak is a little gem. It comes from up inside the hip-bone, and has been much prized by people who butcher their own cattle at home for years. It is quite small, and does not produce a high yield, but it’s a very tender, flavourful piece of meat that is usually quite heavily marbled. The challenge is to make it a more consistent size and shape for restaurant use, but we’re working on that,” he said.
One of the muscles seamed out of the rump group, the rump cap, is much prized on Brazil where it is called the Picanha. The rump cap appeared on the dinner menu as beef carpaccio.
Questions came thick and fast. One customer had heard of a tomahawk steak, which Blair explained was the rib fillet with the extended rib left on. “Our customers in Singapore love them, and they complain if the rib bone is too short: they like it the longer the better, for novelty value.”
Blair rated the brisket as one of the most under-rated cuts on the beast.
“It has a lot of flavour, and a fairly high fat content. I like to cure them and smoke them, and they make great beef bacon. If you’ve tried beef bacon made with brisket – which looks like a rasher in shape – you may never go back to pork bacon again, because it has a fuller flavour and is a tremendous piece of meat.”
While he had no evidence to prove it, Blair said he believed the brisket fat was higher in omega 3 anti-oxidant fats.
The knuckle was seamed-out into three components including the medallion, which while a fairly lean item, rates at No 8 on the ‘tenderest’ list.
Blair said the knuckle also played a handy role for the beef producer.
“When we’re selecting cattle for reproduction or for a competition, the knuckle is a great indicator, because it’s not affected by fat. If I look at an animal in store condition and this muscle is prominent, I know it’s going to have a high meat-to-bone yield.”
“Ultimately, for me as a producer, that’s something that’s very important, because firstly, what I produce is grass. I turn that grass into meat the best and most efficient way I can, so I need a beast that has a high meat-to-bone yield,” he said.
Also on the forequarter, the chuck primal contains two of the ‘top ten’ muscles for tenderness, when seamed out. One of these was the Del Monico steak, named after the New York restaurant of the same name, which contained a high proportion of the spinalis (ranked number 3).
“Break the chuck down, and you find these other muscles which are exceptionally good eating,” Blair said. “The challenge is that the five muscles contained in the chuck all run in different directions, so it cannot be simply sliced through for optimum tenderness. But if you see a Del Monico steak on a menu, try it – it’s an exceptional piece of beef.”
Where a more expensive eye fillet is normally used in a mignon presentation (wrapped in bacon), the Nose to Tail dinner included a roasted mignon using a much cheaper, but still very tender Denver steak, part of the chuck, wrapped in ‘beef bacon’ made from the brisket.
US interest also in cuts discovery
Australia is not the only beef producing country where greater scrutiny is being applied to lesser known and perhaps under-valued cuts. In the US, earlier muscle profiling research conducted by the Universities of Nebraska and Florida, financed by producer Beef Checkoff funds, brought attention to the potential use of under-utilised muscles for value-added products.
That study evaluated 39 different muscles from the beef chuck and round for many traits, including Warner-Bratzler shear force and sensory characteristics, such as tenderness and juiciness.
One of the most successful results, in the US at least, has been the Flat Iron steak, seam-cut from the oyster blade. Muscle profiling research demonstrated the exceptional tenderness of this infraspinatus muscle, and by 2008, more than 92 million pounds of Flat Iron steaks were being sold in the US, after being virtually unknown only a few years earlier.
Blair said oyster blade was his favourite cut of beef, with a high propensity to marble, but it rarely appeared on restaurant menus in Australia. But by peeling back the muscle from the oyster blade’s central seam of connective tissue, the Flat Iron steak was produced, which had much greater appeal as a menu item, and was likely to take off in Australia, as it had in the US. It rated number 2 on the top 10 list.
Dinner guests actually applauded as they admired Jamie’s dexterity in removing the oyster blade from the blade.
Surprisingly, No 10 on the Top 10 list is the biceps brachii, which sits in front of the shank, a relatively tougher piece of meat. Shank meat was used in the final course of the dinner.
“It’s my belief that if I can impart some of this knowledge on to you, maybe that consumer demand can provide some pull-through effect for some of these lesser known cuts, that eat so well,” Blair told the crowd.
“To me, the only way we can actually get more for our product and become more sustainable, is to educate the consumer about the value of cuts like these. We’ve lost focus on meal outcomes, and we’re in more of a commodity market in Australia – that’s where the problem lies.”
“Not enough people understand what they can do with different parts of the beast. The beast is an exceptional piece of protein, but it has a lot of variety in performance contained within it. It’s our job to help consumers understand that better, and give them the confidence to pay good money for a piece of meat they may be less familiar with.”
MLA zoning-in on cuts education
MLA’s general manager marketing, Michael Edmonds was in the audience for the Nose to Tail beef dinner.
“I thought the audience reaction was excellent, and I commend Josie and Blair on what was a great, well-orchestrated event,” he said.
“Because we operate in an industry where demand for the better-known and more popular cuts easily outstrips demand for the lesser-known ones, activities like this are priceless. It’s great to see people trying to promote those cuts in an enthusiastic and innovative way.”
“You could really see that the participants were enjoying the education. They realised there are parts of the animal that they are not familiar with that can have great eating qualities, when handled the right way. And those 150 people will go away and tell others about their experience, so the more of this we can do the better,” Mr Edmonds said.
“The foodies are the people you want, because they are the ones with the passion to help spread the word, and to challenge their butchers to go and seek-out these lesser known cuts.”
“There is a rise in people who are very interested in trying new things in meat and food generally, and they are the ones that will lead the trends. They are the sort of people MLA is trying to target in its new ‘foodie’ information booklet, ‘Meat & Co’.”
Top 10 beef cuts for tenderness*
No. 1: eye fillet, tenderloin
No 2: flat iron steak (from the oyster blade)
No 3: Spinalis (outer muscle portion of the rib fillet)
No 4: Denver steak
No 5: Multifidus dorsi
No 6: Subscapularis (from the blade)
No 7: Teres major
No 8: Knuckle medallion (Rectus femoris)
No 9: Rump Tri-tip
No 10: Biceps brachii (sits in front of the shank)
- * Source: “Ranking of Beef Muscles for Tenderness” US Cattlemens Beef Board. Click here to view full document.