A GUIDE TO BEEF

GRAM - - Contents - Charley May

Aus­tralia is renowned for pro­duc­ing top qual­ity beef. Our cat­tle are free from all ma­jor epi­demic dis­eases and our farm­ing stan­dards are among the best in the world, so you can feel con­fi­dent that your juicy steak isn’t go­ing to drive you mad. But be­yond the plate, the world of beef can be a lit­tle con­fus­ing… Grass-fed vs. grain-fed, dry aged vs. wet aged, blade steak vs. brisket and the list goes on. So here we’re go­ing to stroll through the pad­docks and then chew the fat with an ex­pert to give you the low down on beef with no bull.

THE FIRST STAM­PEDE

Cat­tle were first brought over to Aus­tralia in 1788. Five cows and two bulls were picked up in Cape Town be­fore the first fleet dropped an­chor in Botany Bay. Things got off to a bad start though when these an­i­mals es­caped into the bush. Pre­sumed dead, these es­capees were then dis­cov­ered a cou­ple of years later and had mul­ti­plied to 60. Luck­ily for us, farm­ing im­proved over time.

The early herds were based on a few Bri­tish breeds that were com­ple­mented later by other

Amer­i­can and Euro­pean breeds in the 1930s and 1960s re­spec­tively. These in­tro­duc­tions in­creased breed diver­sity and meant farm­ers could select an­i­mals that were suited to dif­fer­ent parts of Aus­tralia. As a re­sult, new ar­eas that were ini­tially too hard to farm be­came suit­able and to­day we have a plethora of breeds and a na­tional herd of 29 mil­lion beef cat­tle.

COW CHOW: GRASS OR GRAIN While diet af­fects the flavour of the beef, it’s worth not­ing that one type of beef is not nec­es­sar­ily bet­ter than the other, they’re just dif­fer­ent.

Grass-fed beef feeds ex­clu­sively on pas­ture and as a re­sult of its lower en­ergy diet takes much longer to ma­ture and fat­ten. Gen­er­ally grass-fed beef is leaner, deeper red in colour and earth­ier in flavour com­pared to its grain-fed equiv­a­lent. It ad­di­tion, the colour of the fat will be creamier yel­low in colour.

Grain-fed beef comes from cat­tle that have been fed pre­dom­i­nantly on a nu­tri­tion­ally bal­anced, high-en­ergy diet. This life­style lets them gain weight quickly and be­cause they’re not roam­ing around the pad­dock all day their meat has a more con­sis­tent tex­ture and is mar­bled with more fat. The ul­ti­mate grain-fed beef comes from the fa­mous Ja­panese Wagyu breed that is fed a spe­cific grain diet to pro­duce in­tensely fat-mar­bled meat.

When it comes to mak­ing a choice, how you de­cide to roll comes down to per­sonal pref­er­ence. If you’re af­ter meat that’s soft and juicy try grain­fed and if you want some­thing that’s more ‘beefy’ and dense try grass-fed.

Some­times you would be for­given for think­ing that porter­house, scotch and fil­let steaks were the only cuts on the cow. But af­ter speak­ing with Adam North, beef ex­pert and sup­plier to Aus­tralia’s top restau­rants, it might be time to ex­pand your hori­zons:

COULD YOU GIVE US A RUN DOWN ON THE CUTS OF BEEF?

Ev­ery coun­try in the world butch­ers and names the var­i­ous cuts of the an­i­mal dif­fer­ently. How­ever, here in Aus­tralia there are 11 pri­mal cuts from which we pre­pare a larger range of re­tail cuts such as oys­ter blade, top­side, rump and brisket to name a few.

WHAT ARE THE DIF­FER­ENCES BE­TWEEN THE VAR­I­OUS CUTS OF BEEF?

Meat is a mus­cle and be­cause these cuts come from dif­fer­ent parts of the an­i­mal they dif­fer in ten­der­ness and tex­ture as a re­sult of how much ‘work’ they do. Cuts that come from the an­i­mal’s back are the ten­der­est whereas those that come from hard work­ing re­gions like the shoul­der or leg are ex­tremely tasty but a lit­tle tougher.

SO RUN US THROUGH SOME OF THE CUTS AVAIL­ABLE AT THE BUTCHER?

The cuts can be bro­ken down into what we call prime cuts and sec­ondary cuts. Prime cuts or loin cuts are the ones peo­ple are most fa­mil­iar with and in­clude things like porter­house, rib eye, scotch and fil­let steak. Sec­ondary cuts in­clude things like oys­ter blade, hangar steak, rump cap and brisket and at a time when our purses are un­der more pres­sure of­fer heaps of value.

ARE SEC­ONDARY CUTS DIF­FI­CULT TO PRE­PARE AND COOK?

No, they just re­quire a bit of time and love. Many of the sec­ondary cuts are lay­ered with in­ter-con­nec­tive tis­sue that when cooked low and slow be­come de­li­ciously juicy, gelati­nous and ten­der – beef brisket be­ing a clas­sic ex­am­ple. How­ever, two of my favourite cuts, oys­ter blade and hanger steak, are per­fect for quick cooks too. Oys­ter blade can be grilled and served medium rare just like any other steak – you just need to give it a long rest­ing time. Hanger steak is su­per tasty and works well finely sliced in Mex­i­can cui­sine but it needs to be cut against the grain and cooked rare.

WHAT IS THE DIF­FER­ENCE BE­TWEEN WET AND DRY AGED BEEF?

Dry aged beef hangs in spe­cial con­di­tions to help ten­der­ize and add flavour to it. Whereas wet aged meat is vac­uum packed in plas­tic to help pre­vent mois­ture loss and pre­serve it longer on shelf.

I love dry-ag­ing be­cause it dra­mat­i­cally af­fects both the flavour and tex­ture of the beef (in a good way!). It’s got to be done at the right tem­per­a­ture and hu­mid­ity oth­er­wise things can go pear shaped. Dur­ing the dry-ag­ing process the nat­u­ral en­zymes of the meat start to act on the mus­cle fi­bres mak­ing them softer and ten­derer and some of the mois­ture in the meat evap­o­rates which re­ally helps con­cen­trate the flavour. Due to the fact it takes time and re­sults in some weight loss, dry-ag­ing is an ex­pen­sive process so you’re very un­likely to come across it at the su­per­mar­ket. But you can find dry-aged beef at good butch­ers and meat sup­pli­ers. It isn’t cheap but in my hum­ble opin­ion I reckon it’s worth it.

SO WHERE CAN WE LEARN MORE ABOUT BEEF AND HOW TO COOK WITH IT?

I be­lieve the key to cook­ing with con­fi­dence is learn­ing what to do through hands on prac­ti­cal ex­pe­ri­ence and this is some­thing I can help with. Not only do I sup­ply pre­mium An­gus beef from the Grampians in Vic­to­ria, I run mas­ter­classes for con­sumers to un­der­stand how to uti­lize the en­tire an­i­mal. The for­mat of these classes is pretty flex­i­ble and I can run them in peo­ple’s homes, busi­nesses or restau­rants. For me, I just love shar­ing my knowl­edge so ev­ery­one can eat well and en­joy great beef re­gard­less of their bud­get.

GIVE IT A GO

If you and your mates fancy learn­ing how to cut and cook a cow then check out Adam on Instagram @Adamhen­rynorth for the siz­zle on his meat mas­ter­classes or drop him a line at: adam@hop­kin­sriver.net.au

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