Culinary School Week 8: Where’s the Beef?

Greetings again. Red meat, specifically beef, was the main focus of this week’s lecture and kitchen time. In retrospect, this isn’t surprising, as beef is arguably the most served animal protein in America (especially if you count the BILLIONS and BILLIONS of burgers from Micky D’s).

On Monday, Bob Noel, a representative from the Washington State Beef Commission came to talk to us. This is a trade association representing the beef producers and slaughterhouses in Washington State. I grew up in rural Eastern Washington, and know a bit about this industry.  It was a very enlightening lecture.

Bob showed how the industry works. There actually is much more specialization in the industry than I thought. There are family owned farms that specialize in breeding calfs, which are sold to feeding operations that raise them to a certain age. These are then sold to a stocker, that raises them to the point where they can be sent to a feedlot. This facility finishes feeding them and ship them to be slaughtered and processed.

He spent quite a bit of time quelling myths and misunderstandings put out there by critics, and general are misconceptions:

  • ALL beef is grass fed. They are raised in pastures or fed stored hay until they go to the feedlot.
  • What most of the industry calls grass FED is really grass FINISHED.
  • The main slaughterhouse in Yakima adheres to the tenets of Temple Grandin, who has done a huge amount of research on animal behavior and has made recommendations on humane slaughter practices.
  • A whole bunch of other detail about nutrition in beef, etc.

This was followed the next day by a lecture from Chef Sakai on red meat in general. How the animals are structured, the main cuts of beef and cooking methods used.  The gist of this last part is that the middle part of the animal, in general, does less work, and thus has less connective tissue. Because of this, dry heat (grilling, broiling, roasting) can be used and the meat will be tender. Any cut that is used a lot when the animal lives, such as the legs, shoulders, and rump, will have more connective tissue, and have to be cooked via moist heat methods (stewing, braising), or processed in some other way to break down the connective tissue, such as corning (pickling) of beef brisket, and grinding into ground beef.

Also, there is a standardized code system that is used to order various cuts of meat from the food service providers. I understood primal cuts, toughness, etc, pretty well, but this was a detail I did not know.

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Chef Sakai getting ready to open the cryovac with the shoulder clod.

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Breaking down the clod

We then went into the kitchen and watched Chef Sakai break down a cut called a Shoulder Clod. This cut is ordered weekly by they CULA 120 class for use in our onsite Chef City Grill. I had broken down other cuts, like ribs, tenderloin, and loin (New York) purchased from Costco and Cash & Carry,, but had never broken down something like this with so many muscles interspersed. I was able to spend a half hour or so breaking this cut down. The muscles there are mostly ground into hamburger commercially, but any sort of braise can be done on most of it. One exception to that, and one of the most flavorful cuts that comes with this primal, is the Top Blade Steak, AKA Flat Iron or Top Boneless Chuck Steak. (More on this in a minute)

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That towel will cook evenly!

After that we practiced roast tying techniques. We used a rolled up towel for practice. This is something that I have done many times, learning my technique by watching Anne Burrell on Secrets of a Restaurant Chef. There are as many ways to do this as there are chefs, it seems, but the overall purpose of this is the same. You tie something to either hold it together if you have rolled it and possibly stuffed it, or to make the meat about the same dimensions for easy cooking. You can watch her demo this here.

The next day we split into groups and cooked the various cuts off the shoulder with different moist heat techniques. We also took the spiny rockfish we’d cleaned the previous week and cooked these in different ways as well. The three combinations were:

  • Braised short ribs and whitefish meuniere
  • Boef Bourguignon and Fish En papillote
  • Braised with SE Asian Chilies and Fried breaded fish

Our group did the 2nd combination. Both of these are classic french dishes, the beef dish was made famous by Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It is basically beef stew with a hearty red wine added (ie, Burgundy) added to the stewing liquid. Classically, it does not have potatoes and carrots like American beef stew, but is just stewed meat pieces with pearl onions.

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Spiny Rockfish en Papillote

En papillote means in parchment. You wrap the fish, along with seasonings and some veggies in little heart shaped parchment cutouts. You then crimp them together and pop them in the oven. The moisture in the fish steams the contents. The disadvantage of this method is that you can’t really tell when it’s done, you just have to guess or do one ahead of time and keep the size of the portions the same for service, and do it by time.

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Our goodies on the right, the beef with chiles and fancy potatoes on the left

We also had to do a starch dish. We made Cous Cous. The picture shows all three dishes, with the Beef and Chilis on the left, our Boef Bourguignon in the middle, then the Cous Cous in the bowl, and the fish En papillote on the sheet pan behind the bowl. Everyone did a great job on this assignment. All the dishes were very tasty.

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Steaks on the grill. Mine is the one lowest on the screen

On Friday we reviewed for Quiz #3, then went into the kitchen to grill the flat iron steaks we trimmed out of the shoulder clod. I got to use the commercial grill we have in our kitchen.  I’d used it before to make sliders, which I burned. (I blogged about that here). This time, I absorbed the idea of turning down the burners to get the right heat. (What a concept. :-))

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Great grill marks. Juice on top indicates medium-medium rare

One thing that Chef Sakai talked about was grill marks.  I’ve been making grill marks on my grilled food for many years, but he actually explicitly said something I had not known, but was doing instinctively. To make grill marks, you put the steak on the grill at an angle, after letting the bars heat up really well. After you cooked it half the time for that side, you turn the steak. But here is the thing I found interesting. You don’t turn it 90 degrees, you turn it 50-70 degrees.  The idea is you want the grill marks to be diamonds, not squares. As you can see, the steak turned out great.  It was very tasty.

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Yep, medium rare, just the way I like it

The quarter is starting to wind down, but we have some more good stuff to talk about before finals. Stay tuned.


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