Depending on the country, cuts of beef often have different names, even being butchered differently, but here is the British version:
Starting at the neck end and working across the top to the rump we begin with the neck and underneck both of which are well-flavoured but need long slow moist cooking to make tender. Generally sold cubed or minced.
The top of the shoulder - the chuck - is usually sold as chuck steaks, and also sold cubed for stewing. Again this needs long, slow and moist cooking.
Under the chuck is the shoulder blade, which can be cut in different ways to yield steaks for braising etc. This meat is fairly lean, although some cuts have a thick strip of gelatinous tissue running through it which melts down and becomes tender through slow moist cooking.
Returning to the top of the cow we have back rib, a tender cut which makes a good slow roast. The bones can be left in or removed and the meat rolled and tied.
Then comes the forerib, usually cut into 2 or 3 rib roasts. This meat is very tender and should be roasted on the bone for the best flavour. Single ribs are excellent grilled.
Now we are nearer the rear end of the cow - the cut here being sirloin, again a very tender meat which can include 3 wing ribs. This can be roasted on or off the bone or cut into various steaks to be grilled or fried. Sirloin steaks have the bone removed, Porterhouse steaks include the bone from the rib end. T-bone steaks contain a piece of the fillet.
When the fillet is sold separately, it can be roasted whole, or cut (across the grain) into steaks or strips.
The rump meat is boned and sliced across the grain and sold as tender steaks for grilling and frying. Large pieces (3 lb in weight or over) can be roasted whole at a high heat.
The topside, silverside, aitchbone and top rump are cuts obtained from the upper hind leg. Topside should be slow roasted or braised; silverside has a coarser grain.
The rest of the hind leg is usually sold thickly sliced or cubed and makes excellent stewing meat.
Working from the rear end, under the belly is the skirt, very often sold as it is the butcher's favourite cut because of its good flavour so they like to keep it for themselves. Although coarse-grained, it can be grilled or fried, but only if serving rare. Otherwise treat as a stewing meat.
Around that region, is another cut called the flank. The flesh contains tough membranes which need removing and the texture is coarse. Suitable only for stewing although sometimes added to mince.
Thin rib, best poached as the flavour is good and the fat helps to keep it moist, in appearance it is much like belly pork (or streaky bacon).
Brisket, a long piece of meat, usually boned, rolled and tied. Often salted. Needs moist cooking, the longer the better and poaching is recommended.
Now to the forelegs. From here comes shin beef , usually cut across the grain into rounds, or cubed for stewing. Lastly, the thick rib - above the leg in the chest region. A good- sized cut of well-flavoured meat, boneless, which needs slow-roasting. Sometimes cut into steaks for braising.
Cooking temperatures and methods.
Unlike pork which needs to be well cooked, beef can be cooked rare, medium or well-done according to individual tastes. Chefs differ as to the temperature for slow roasting, one might say roast at 180C, 350F, gas 4; another 130C, 250F, gas 1/2 (that's a half, not 1 or 2). Start with the average (150C, 300F, gas 2) then alter accordingly. A lot depends upon individual ovens.
The prime cuts are best roasted at a high heat, starting off with the oven at very high which helps to sear the joints and the temperature can then be reduced for the remaining time. Timing should include the initial roasting at the higher heat. The times given relate to minutes per 1lb (500g). If the meat has been chilled, allow it to come to room temperature before cooking.
Rare: 10 - 12 minutes on the bone / 8 - 10 minutes boneless
Medium: 12 - 15 mins on the bone / 10 - 12 mins boneless
Well done: 18 - 20 mins on the bone/ 15 - 18 boneless
Sear at 240C (475F/gas 9) for the first 15 minutes, then roast for the rest of the time at 180C/350/gas 4.
Low-heat Roasting: (no difference in timing whether on the bone or boneless)
Medium: allow 20 - 25 minutes per lb
Well done: allow 30 - 35 minutes per lb
Roast at 150C (300F, gas 2 ) for the total time.
All cooked meats (roasts and steaks) benefit from resting in a warm place for about 15 - 20 minutes, after removing from the oven. This gives the meat a chance to relax and absorb back its juices.
Stewing beef should be cooked at a bare simmer, and the timing depends upon the cut of the meat. The tougher the meat the longer it needs - anything from one and a half hours to three (hob or oven).
Really tough cuts of meat are best poached in that meat is cooked just under the simmer (for more details on how to poach, see yesterday's posting on pork). Never boil the tougher cuts of meat or they get very stringy and chewy. The really tough cuts of meat can be made wonderfully tender by cooking them all day (or overnight) in a slow cooker at the lowest heat. Always add liquid, but no vegetables except onions as these are the only ones that become tender at such low temperature. (Protein will cook under boiling point, vegetables cook best above boiling point, as when steamed).
When it comes to buying small packs of mince or cubed/sliced beef from the supermarket, very rarely (if at all) are we told from which part of the cow the mince or stewing beef comes from. The above details may help us to recognise certain cuts, but certainly with mince, what we see is what we get - probably all sorts of offcuts shoved through the mincer. Minced steak should at least come from a more tender cut. Also supermarket beef is so very red. This shows the meat has not been hung long enough, giving far less flavour. Beef that has been hung longer turns a rich mahogany colour and is much the best. Some supermarkets do sell this , but of course we have to pay a lot more. I cannot see why hanging beef a couple of weeks longer should make the slightest difference to the price, but of course it does.
The very best way to buy meat is from a butcher who knows just about everything about all meats, makes sure the meat has been hung properly and he will gladly give guidance. Also we can buy only what we need and not the amount in supermarket packs (which is often too much, or not enough so we end up buying two packs).
Perhaps worth mentioning here, that when I was really, really short of money (and having no pride), I would go into the butcher, slap coins down onto the counter, say that's all I'd got and ask him to weigh me up mince to that amount (which might be as low as 30p in today's money). Which he gladly did. This is often quite an easy way of buying. Even now I write up my meat order like this: £2's worth of diced stewing steak; £2.50p worth of minced steak; 5 thick sausages; £1's worth of lamb's liver...and so on. This way I can control my spending and once the price per pound has been tapped into the electronic scales, all the butcher does is add meat until the selected price is reached. Not a penny more, not a penny less.
Personally I have found large joints bought from supermarkets are far tougher and have less flavour than similar joints bought from a butcher. Again due, I think, to them not being given enough 'hanging time'.
However much we shop around for bargains, I always believe we should buy the best meat we can afford, so hunt out a local butcher and make him your friend.
This recipe uses a definite cut of beef, so worth buying it specially so that you become familiar with the different steaks. The stock can be made from a cube or use a spoonful of the concentrated beef stock which is now available in jars, diluted with water. The recipe calls the stuffing by the old name of 'forcemeat'.
1 lb (500g) thinly sliced shoulder steak
1 pint hot beef stock
butter and oil for frying
1 0z (25g) plain flour
for the forcemeat:
3 rashers streaky bacon
3 tblsp fresh breadcrumbs
1 beaten egg
1 tblsp fresh berbs, chopped
milk or stock if required
First prepare the forcemeat (stuffing) by chopping the bacon as finely as possible and mixing it together with the other forcemeat ingredients, adding milk or stock to bind, but only if needed, as the mixture must be stiff.
Cut the meat into strips about 2" x 4" (5 x 10cm) and place between sheets of clingfilm. Beat well with a rolling pin or meat basher until thin. Cover each with the stuffing and roll into parcels. Secure each with a cocktail stick or tie with string. Put a knob of butter in a pan with a couple of teaspoons of oil and when hot lay in the beef olives and fry, turning, until brown on all sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the flour to the pan and stir into the oils with a wooden spoon, cook for one minute then gradually stir in the hot stock, whisking to prevent lumps. When thickened, return the beef olives to the pan, cover and simmer for about one hour or until the meat is tender. Alternatively, transfer contents of the pan (olives and gravy) to an ovenproof dish, cover and cook in the oven at 325C, 170F, gas 3 for one hour.
Pot Roast of Brisket in a Mustard Sauce:
3 lb joint of brisket or silverside of beef
3 large onions, quartered
3 large carrots, thickly sliced
2 tsp cornflour
3 tsp dry mustard (could use ready made)
3 tblps tomato puree
beef dripping or oil
2 tblsp sunflower oil
1 tblsp vinegar
2 shallots, diced
1 dessp brown sugar
1 tsp dried herbs
1 wine-glass red wine
In a large bowl mix together the mustard with the vinegar, add the tomato puree, the sunflower oil, the shallots, sugar, herbs and wine. Place in the joint of meat and leave to marinade, turning once, for 12 hours or overnight in the fridge.
Remove from the marinade (reserve this) and pat the meat dry with a kitchen towel. Heat the dripping or oil in a casserole pan and sear the meat in this, then reduce the heat, put the prepared onions and carrots around the joint and pour over the remaining marinade. Cover tightly and simmer very gently for at least 3 hours until the meat is tender. Remove the meat to a warm serving dish, and using a slotted spoon take out the vegetables and place around the meat. Thicken the liquid in the pan with the cornflour which has been slaked with a little cold water. Boil for one minute then pour this sauce over the meat. Serve hot. If you wish to serve any remaining meat sliced cold, then serve the sauce separately.
This is a fairly simple way to cook shin of beef. Use a beer stronger than lager, but not as strong as Guinness. The beer could be diluted with water if you wish, alternatively use beef stock (but it won't taste as good). The advantage of this dish is that it can be served with a wide variety of carbos: take your pick from mashed potato, noodles, crusty bread, serve in a large Yorkshire pudding, or even just add dumplings to the stew.
Stewed Shin of Beef:
2 lb (1kg) boneless shin beef
salt and pepper
bottle of beer (approx 1 pint)
1 tsp dried herbs
8 oz (225g) shallots or small onions
8 oz (225g) carrots
4 oz (100g) mushrooms
half a pint frozen peas (thawed) or canned peas
Remove fat from the beef and cut into chunks. Put the flour in a bag with a pinch of salt and pepper, add the cubed meat and toss to coat. Heat some oil in a pan and when hot, add the meat and cook until browned all over. Do this in batches or the oil will tend to cool down too much. Remove meat with a slotted spoon and place in a warmed ovenproof casserole. When all the meat is done, add the herbs and cover with the beer. Cover and cook in the oven at 150C, 300F, gas 2 for about 3 - 3 1/2 hours.
Slice the carrots and peel the onions, fry in a little melted butter, then add to the casserole. Cook for a further half hour, adding the peas ten minutes before the end. Serve with a carbo (see above) and a green vegetable to make that perfect balanced meal.
One final tip - when meat is expensive, use far less than you need in a casserole, and then blitz up some dried porcini mushrooms to a powder (they have a very meaty flavour) and stir these into the stock to cook along with the rest.