Sunday Food: Beef Steak for Memorial Day
(Picture courtesy of Liz Lowley at flickr.com.)
While a lot of the U.S. will have weather that isn’t ideal for outdoor cooking, one of the traditions of Memorial Day celebrations is a barbeque, often featuring steaks on the grill. We all hear varying tastes for cooking and dining on steaks, but this is a review of ‘common’ knowledge as featured on wikimedia.
A steak is a cut of meat sliced perpendicular to the muscle fibers, potentially including a bone. When the word “steak” is used without qualification, it generally refers to a beef steak. In a larger sense, there are also fish steaks, ground meat steaks, pork steak and many more varieties.
As a “top-quality ingredient”, beef steaks “are perfect if properly grilled“, but they can be pan-fried, orbroiled. Steak is often grilled in an attempt to replicate the flavor of steak cooked over the glowing coals of an open fire. Steak can also be cooked in sauce, such as in steak and kidney pie, or minced and formed into patties, such as hamburgers.
The word steak originates from the mid-15th century Scandinavian word steik, or stickna’ in the Middle English dialect, along with the Old Norseword steikja. The Oxford English Dictionary’s first reference is to “a thick slice of meat cut for roasting or grilling or frying, sometimes used in a pie or pudding; especially a piece cut from the hind-quarters of the animal.” Subsequent parts of the entry, however, refer to “steak fish”, which referred to “cod of a size suitable for cutting into steaks”, and also “steak-raid”, which was a custom among Scottish Highlanders of giving some cattle being driven through a gentleman’s land to the owner. An early written usage of the word “stekys” comes from a 15th-century cookbook, and makes reference to both beef or venison steaks.
Many types of beefsteak exist. The more tender cuts of beef, from the loin and rib, are cooked quickly, using dry heat, and served whole. Less tender cuts from the chuck or round are cooked with moist heat or are mechanically tenderized (e.g. cube steak). Beef steak can be cooked to a level of very rare (bleu, a cold raw center), rare, medium rare, medium, medium well done, or well done. Pittsburgh rare is charred on the outside. Beef, unlike certain other meats, does not need to be cooked through. Food-borne human illnesses are not normally found within a beef steak, though surfaces can potentially be contaminated from handling, and thus, very rare steak (seared on the outside and raw within) is generally accepted as safe.
Beef steak is graded for quality, with higher prices for higher quality. Generally, the higher the quality, the more tender the beef, the less time is needed for cooking, or the better the flavor. For example, beef fillet is the most tender and wagyu, such as Kobe beef from Japan, is known for its high quality and commands a high price. Steak can be cooked relatively quickly compared to other cuts of meat, particularly when cooked at very high temperatures, such as by broiling or grilling.
The quality and safety of steak as a food product is regulated by law. In Australia, there are National Meat Accreditation standards; in Canada, there is the Canadian Beef Grading Agency; in the United Kingdom, the Food Standards Agency is responsible; in the United States, beef isgraded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as select, choice or prime, where “prime” refers to beef of the highest quality, typically that which has significant marbling. In 1996 in the U.S., only 2.4% of cattle were graded as prime, and most prime beef is sold in restaurants and hotels.
Eating red meat gets a lot of disapproval in some quarters, but I was always one who respects variety. I will have steaks, burgers, roasts, sometimes but think they’re best with a healthy green salad.