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

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
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Voices
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

News
i100
Life and Style
The Tinder app has around 10 million users worldwide

techThe original free dating app will remain the same, developers say

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

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album