The sizzling secrets of a good steak

Know your cuts and your meat will be a treat, says Simon Usborne.

Steak is having a moment, we're told, which sounds like a silly thing to say about what is arguably a staple. Do you know what else is really popular right now? Potatoes. But then even that's probably true given the quantities of chips being fried and twice-fried to accompany all the red meat flying through new restaurants.

London is sizzling with them. Hawksmoor leads the way with its new fourth branch, ahead of pretenders such as Moo Grill and Mash (the Modern American Steakhouse... from Denmark). STK, a "female-friendly" American chain with no time for macho meat (or vwls) opened last autumn while, outside the capital, Argentina-inspired chains including Gaucho and CAU are expanding as fast as our appetites.

This carnivorous utopia is evident in our own kitchens, too, where our tastes are changing. I'm told this by Martin Eccles, who, armed with a chain mail glove and a fearfully sharp knife, is about to attack a lump of meat. Eccles is a master butcher who first drew blood as a teenager near Preston. "I did all the menial tasks," he says of his apprenticeship. "Washing up, making pet food, anything people didn't want to do."

Eccles now works for the Quality Standard mark, an industry distinction slapped on sufficiently good beef or lamb. Whereas steak-seeking customers used to play it safe with cuts such as sirloin, there is now growing interest in cuts traditionally seen as inferior, including those Eccles used to issue to the dogs of Lancashire. The quality (and price) spectrum runs from "frying" steak to fillet via rump and sirloin, but innovation and demand is shifting the order. Good beef butchered, prepared and cooked well can make good steaks of almost any part of a cow, each offering its own texture and taste.

To show me how, Eccles sinks his knife into the forequarter hunk of meat found between the animal's shoulder blades. With the knowledge and manual dexterity of a surgeon, he immediately locates a thick band of rubbery gristle, separating the good meat above from the inedible white connective tissue. It takes several more cuts and trimming before he produces a slightly-marbled red cut about the size of a large ciabatta. "That's your flat iron steak," he says, standing back.

The flat iron is one of the most popular "new" steaks now finding their way into menus and shopping baskets. It's the name a of a London restaurant that opened in Soho last month, serving flat irons and nothing else on chopping boards with a miniature cleaver.

It's also helping to drive up beef sales in stores (we spent £2bn on beef last year, 2.6 per cent more than the year before). Morrisons, Sainsbury's, and Marks & Spencer stock the cut, as well as more than 1,000 butchers and other producers. At Waitrose, where sales of pre-packed steaks are up 12 per cent, flat irons are up 19 per cent as part of the supermarket's "forgotten cuts" push. "There is certainly a trend away from fillet towards to other steak meats," says Waitrose meat buyer, Andy Boulton. "Customers are looking for more than just tenderness."

It's easy to see why tastes might change in a recession. Prices for steak at Waitrose, for example, range from about £11 a kilo for frying steak to £40 for organic fillet. But, as Eccles is keen to demonstrate, belt-tightening doesn't necessarily require sacrificing taste or tenderness. He moves on to a 6kg lump taken from the cow's rump. After a few minutes of knife work, he has separated it into three more cuts: prime rump, bistro rump and picanha.

Pi- what? Also known as a rump cap, picanha is a popular Brazilian cut and the topmost muscle of the rump. Eccles cuts some of it into steaks and sets aside a thicker chunk as a small roasting joint. Meat from this muscle is typically tastier than the tender cuts we pay a premium for. "Sirloin is nice and the most popular steak but won't have as much flavour," Eccles says. "Fillet is lovely and tender but personally I find it a bit bland." Eblex, the industry body behind the Quality Standard mark has launched a website and guide to several cuts of steak with ratings for flavour and tenderness. There are recipes, too, many of them developed by Denise Spencer-Walker. She has joined Eccles to turn meat into lunch.

Cooking steak is one of the simplest jobs in the kitchen, she says. Her basic tips include allowing the meat to come to room temperature for at least half an hour, leaving a heavy-based pan to become searingly hot on a high heat for 10 minutes, not using extra virgin olive oil, and resisting the urge to move the meat around. For inch-thick steaks, Spencer-Walker suggests four minutes for a medium steak or down to two and a half for rare. Less-lean cuts such as flat iron will be at their most tender cooked rare, she adds.

Soon, a selection of juicy, sliced steaks appear. It's time to taste. We start with the sirloin. "Now that tastes like steak," I say, perceptively. I mean it offers a textbook taste of beef, whereas other cuts are perceptively meatier in their flavour. The hanger steak or onglet, as the French call it, sadly isn't on offer today but thanks to its proximity to the kidneys and liver, it's known for its almost offaly richness. It, too, has found its way from the butcher's mincer to the best menus. We finish with the flat iron, while the looks on our faces between chomps speak for the quality of a once-neglected cut.

For recipes and more information visit SimplyBeefandLamb.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment
Dennis Stinchcombe, of Broad Plain Boys' Club in Bristol, by a Banksy artwork, titled 'Mobile Lovers', where the sale and handover have been completed at the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, where it was on display to the public.
artHuge price will help to keep a 120-year-old youth club in Bristol open
News
i100'Geography can be tough'
News
newsVideo targets undecided voters
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
Cooked up: reducing dietary animal fat might not be as healthy as government advice has led millions of people to believe
healthA look at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Life and Style
Evan Spiegel, the founder of Snapchat, dropped out of Stanford University just before graduation to develop his app
techAnd yes, it is quite a lot
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

    Prepare for Jewish jokes...

    ... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
    Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

    From strung out to playing strings

    Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
    The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
    Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

    Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

    The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
    On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

    On the road to nowhere

    A Routemaster trip to remember
    Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

    Hotel India

    Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
    10 best pencil cases

    Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

    Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
    Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

    Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

    Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
    Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

    Pete Jenson: A Different League

    Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought