June 2007 Issue
Three new cuts of beef give variety and great flavor to your cookouts.
Grilling season is here, the time to enjoy one of summer's biggest perks - the smoky, delicious flavors that only cooking over an open flame can deliver.
As much as we love burgers, babybacks and ribeyes, it seems a shame to limit your grilling to just a handful of cuts, especially when your average supermarket meat department is the size of a small farm. So carnivores take note: Three relatively new cuts of beef are turning up at local meat counters, prepared to challenge the stereotype that steak is just for special occasions.
Known as the flat iron steak, petite tender and ranch steak to consumers (and often called a blade steak, chuck tender and a chuck middle, respectively, by your butcher) these less-common cuts cost less than other steaks and are tender enough to be grill friendly, making them the perfect addition to your next al fresco adventure.
"The main trend with beef right now is to offer a leaner and more tender product," says Trent Fredenburg, the director of promotions and programs for the Ohio Beef Council and the Ohio Cattlemen's Association. Fredenburg traces the three cuts back to a 2000 study conducted by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association in conjunction with the University of Florida and the University of Nebraska. In it, researchers determined that if you butchered the chuck (traditionally the source of pot roast and other less-tender cuts) a different way, it yielded more tender, high-quality pieces of beef. "The flat iron is the second most tender cut next to the filet," explains Fredenburg. "It's also a lot more economical."
How much more? We price-shopped at Giant Eagle in Dublin last month, and found filet mignon stickered at $16.99 per pound - more than double the $6.59 per pound price tag on the flat iron. Even more surprising, the ranch steak was priced at $4.59 per pound, and the chuck tender just $3.99 per pound.
We decided to put these new darlings of the butcher's block to the test to see if they have what it takes to be on your Father's Day picnic table. For help, we turned to the chef team of Michael Petruso Sr. and Michael Petruso Jr., two men who clearly did most of their father-son bonding over a hot grill in the back yard.
Chef Michael Petruso Jr. gives the following tips for great grilling.
1. Start with a clean, hot grill. Pre-heat the grill on high for at least 10 to 15 minutes, says Petruso, then brush the grates with a wire brush to remove debris. This helps prevent items from sticking and gives food those nice grill marks.
2. Oil the grill before you begin cooking. Dip a clean, rolled-up towel in a small amount of vegetable oil and, using a pair of tongs, brush the grates with the oiled towel. Your meat won't stick, and because you won't need to add oil to your grill items, it's less likely to catch fire.
3. Don't press on your steaks. The more you do this, the more moisture you lose, and you will end up with a dry piece of meat.
4. Never let your meat sit directly in the fire. Too much oil or a fatty piece of meat can cause a small fire. If this happens, move it, warns Petruso; otherwise you'll end up with a bitter, smoky piece of meat.
5. Clean when done. When you're done grilling for the day, leave the grill on high for another 5 minutes and then brush the grates clean with a wire brush before you turn it off. Your grill will be clean and ready for your next barbecue.
Restaurants are a family affair for the Petrusos - Michael Jr. and his younger brother Matthew both worked in their family-owned steakhouse while growing up - and they have a combined 45 years of experience in the industry (not bad, considering Michael Jr. is just 26). "We're all busy, but I still get together with my parents at least once a month to grill," says the younger Petruso.
Currently, the elder Petruso is the Regional Specialist and Executive Chef for the Columbus area for Giant Eagle Inc. The younger Petruso, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, is the sous chef at Mitchell's Steakhouse in downtown Columbus. He admits that even after a busy night, when he'll send as many as 300 plates out the kitchen door, he's still inclined to fire up the grill and have a steak at home.
The father-son team agrees that the three new beef cuts make good grilling companions. But they have some advice for getting the most out of your meat.
"The petite tender looks a little like a pork loin before it's cut," says Michael Sr. "The ranch steak is a little less tender than the petite. Both cuts can be grilled, but I would marinate them for at least an hour," he says. (The slightly more tender flank steak doesn't need the help of a marinade, but it will give it a flavor boost, the chefs agree).
Marinades generally contain an ingredient high in acidity (in the recipes here, that's the lime and cider vinegar), which helps to break down and tenderize the meat. They're also used to add flavor. "I use a lot of lime, cilantro and garlic at work, because a little goes a long way," says Michael Jr. "Here, I chose cider vinegar because it has a milder flavor than other vinegars," he says.
Another key to success for the petite tender and ranch steak, advises Michael Sr., "is to grill the meat whole and cut it after cooking. Otherwise you'll have too much surface exposure and the meat will tighten up." This is particularly important if your final product is a small piece of meat for salads or fajitas. Larger pieces (three or more ounces) can be grilled individually.
Here, the father-son chef team offers two recipes for a perfect but simple Father's Day feast. After all, time spent together trumps time spent cooking - at least for most people. "Some people spend their family time gathered around the TV," says the younger Petruso. "We spend ours by the grill."
Recipes courtesy of chefs Michael Petruso Jr. and Michael Petruso Sr.
Petite Chuck Tender Entree
½ cup olive oil
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
½ teaspoon kosher salt
18 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2-pound petite chuck tender (cut into 4-ounce steaks)
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 large zucchini, cut diagonally in ½-inch slices
1 large yellow squash, cut diagonally in ½-inch slices
1 pound portabella mushroom caps, stems removed, cut diagonally in ½-inch slices
1 large Idaho potato, cut diagonally in 1/2-inch slices
4 fresh rosemary sprigs for garnish
Combine the first five ingredients to make the marinade. Pour half of the marinade into a zippered plastic bag and add the balsamic vinegar and petite chuck tender steaks. Pour the remainder of the marinade in another zippered plastic bag and add sliced zucchini, squash, portabella mushroom and potato. Marinate steaks and vegetables for at least an hour, up to four hours.
Preheat the grill on high for at least 10 minutes. Place the potatoes directly on the grill or in a grilling basket and grill for 3–4 minutes, then add the rest of the vegetables and grill for 4 more minutes. Turn and cook until tender. Remove and keep warm.
Grill steaks on high heat for 5 minutes, turn over and cook for another 4-5 minutes for rare to medium-rare.
Arrange ¼ of the grilled vegetables across the top half of each plate and place two steaks below the vegetables. Drizzle a small amount of balsamic vinegar over the vegetables and meat, and garnish with a small sprig of fresh rosemary.
Ranch Steak Salad
½ cup canola oil (or substitute vegetable oil)
½ cup cider vinegar
¼ cup lime juice
1 bunch cilantro
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1-pound ranch steak
¼ cup light soy sauce
1 large sweet onion, skinned and sliced crosswise ½-inch thick
1 red bell pepper, quartered and seeded
1 yellow bell pepper, quartered and seeded
2 Anaheim peppers, halved and seeded
1 bag prewashed romaine-blend lettuce
2 stem tomatoes, halved and sliced
1 cup fresh salsa
½ cup sour cream
2 fresh limes, halved, for garnish
Combine the first five ingredients to make the marinade. Pour half of the marinade into a zippered plastic bag and add the soy sauce and ranch steak. Pour the remainder of the marinade in another zippered plastic bag and add onions and peppers. Marinate the steak and vegetables for at least one hour, up to four hours.
Preheat grill on high for at least 10 minutes.
Place peppers skin-side down and onions directly on the grill or in a grill basket, and grill for 5 minutes. Turn over and cook until tender. Remove from grill and keep warm.
Grill ranch steak over high heat for 5 minutes, turn over and cook another 5-6 minutes for medium-rare to medium steak.
Distribute lettuce on four large plates. Cut peppers into ½-inch strips and place peppers and onions on top of salad. Cut ranch steak into thin strips and place on top of lettuce and vegetables.
Garnish salad with tomatoes, fresh salsa, sour cream and halved lime wedges.