Beef, Q&A, Science

Just meat it.

A reader asks why his skirt steak and round roast weren’t tender like those pricier cuts of meat. Read about the anatomy of tougher cuts, and how to cook them, on the Tough Times page.

Beef, Lamb., Leftover Recycling, Pasta, Quick Meals

Mystery meat.

One of the risks of digging around the freezer for leftovers to recycle is that sometimes you think you’re getting one thing when actually you’re getting quite another. This risk increases significantly if the packets of frozen food aren’t labeled. As is sometimes the case in our freezer.

One morning last week, before leaving for the office, I rummaged around the plastic tubs in the reach in looking for something I could recycle quickly in the evening. Our recent eatdown has been fairly successful – we’ve used up most of the scrap short rib and had some terrific pork belly earlier in the week – and pickings are getting slimmer. The problem is that many frozen, vacuum packed, unlabeled packets of leftover meat look the same, and when we returned home that evening, I puzzled about the lumpy brown contents before deciding to make something else. What were they?

The answer came the next night when, after a bad commute back from DC, I decided it was time to use the mystery meat. Whatever it was, I’d work something out. Sealed within thick plastic, it looked like giant soy crumbles, but it couldn’t have been, since we don’t eat that stuff. I sliced the packet open, and the contents rolled free. Koftes! Of course. I made the koftes – among other things – for my mother in law’s 75th birthday party after someone facetiously suggested I buy a couple of bags of Swedish meatballs from IKEA and heat them in a crockpot with some Kraft barbecue sauce. Well, I wasn’t going to do that. But I liked the idea of a meatball – something easy to prepare for 50-60 people, easy to eat while sipping a glass of wine. And I really liked the idea of these meatballs – spiced with cumin and coriander, and dressed with both sweet-tart pomegranate molasses and a savory, garlic-spiked yoghurt sauce, and a little different from the conventional meatball. I like them hot, but my husband likes the cold. It’s up to you.

Perhaps you only eat half of the koftes one night. Recycle the remainder as I did, by tossing them with pasta and yoghurt to emphasize their Levantine flavors.

rigatoni/kofte/beet green/coriander

Rigatoni, koftes, beet greens, coriander

Unlike me, you probably won’t just find these koftes in your freezer, so start from the beginning. For a lighter, less fatty meatball, use ground bison instead of some of the lamb or beef. Because these contain no filler, do not use preground beef and do not overwork the meat. Preground beef tends to be overemulsified and will form hard, tough meatballs. If you plan to serve these as a hors d’oeuvre rather than as part of this dish, garnish with yoghurt-garlic sauce and pomegranate molasses.

Sumac powder is an essential in Middle Eastern cooking and comes from the drupe fruits of the Rhus genus. It lends a slightly tart, almost smoked-fruit flavor. Although some describe the taste as “lemony,” I disagree.


1 lb lamb shoulder or beef chuck, ground
1 large onion, minced
4 cloves garlic confit
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 c minced parsley
2 tbsp mint, chiffonade
olive oil

Saute the onion and garlic confit in a small quantity of olive oil, until soft and translucent, and lightly golden. Add the spices and saute a minute more. Combine in a bowl with the ground meat, parsley, and mint, and add the salt. Make a test meatball, cook it, and taste – adjust seasoning if necessary.

Form meatballs – 1 inch more or less – by pinching off a small amount and rolling until it just holds. Do not overwork. Place a large skillet over medium high heat and, when hot, add olive oil. Fry the meatballs, in batches, on all sides until cooked through.

If making the pasta dish, prepare koftes and:

1/2 lb rigatoni
greens from a bunch of beets, both leaves and stems (omit the stems if using red beets as the result is quite lurid), sliced thinly. If not using beet root for another purpose, you may substitute chard
3 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp Aleppo pepper, or 1/2 tsp hot paprika
olive oil
1/2 c greek yoghurt, or 4 tbsp each plain yoghurt and sour cream, plus a little extra if necessary
sumac powder
salt and pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and add the pasta.

While the rigatoni cooks, place a large skillet over medium high heat and, when hot, add olive oil. Add the garlic and, when fragrant, add the shredded beet greens and stems, the Aleppo pepper, and the coriander. Saute until tender and add the koftes. You might not use them all – my husband believes they make an excellent cold snack, so bear that in mind (and consider the yoghurt-garlic sauce below).

Drain the cooked pasta and reserve a little cooking water. Add the pasta to the greens-kofte mixture over low heat. Add the yoghurt (or yoghurt-sour cream mixture) and salt to taste. Toss well to coat, adding a little pasta water if necessary to keep the mixture moist.

Plate and season with sumac powder.

If serving with yoghurt-garlic sauce:

1 cup greek yoghurt
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp salt
Pomegranate molasses

Combine the yoghurt, garlic, and salt to taste. Set aside in the refrigerator, covered, until you have cooked the koftes and are ready to serve.

Drizzle the koftes with pomegranate molasses. Serve with the yoghurt-garlic sauce.

Beef, Potatoes, Quick Meals


McDonald’s used to cook its french fries in beef tallow. Back then, McDonald’s french fries were insanely delicious and, as a kid, I was addicted to them and would do anything to get my paws on a little paper envelope of those tallowy, salty, crunchy potato sticks. Back in the early 70s, my dad would pick me up from Montessori every day and, if I was lucky, we would stop by the McDonald’s in Waukesha, pull into the Drive-Thru, and he would hand me a small paper bag. This is my favorite childhood memory.

They’re still tasty now, and all, but it’s just not the same. Sometime around 1990, McD’s switched to vegetable oil. That move caused them a load of trouble, as it turned out that a) they added beef tallow flavoring – of animal origin – to the oil in an effort to retain that savory goodness, angering a lot of vegetarians who felt duped by the “100% vegetable oil” claim and causing numerous people to violate their own religious beliefs unwittingly, and b) as it turned out, all that hydrogenated vegetable oil contained trans fats, which might be even worse for our health than the saturated fat in the beef tallow.

Tonight, I told my husband that I planned to fry the potatoes for our steak frites dinner in beef tallow. I have both beef tallow and duck fat in the reach-in, you see. The confit-making operation has yielded quarts of creamy white duck fat, and several rounds of beef rib roasting provided nearly a quart of pure tallow. He did not object. “I wouldn’t say no,” were his exact words, I believe. Those are always his exact words.

You don’t need to use the 93% tallow/7% vegetable oil blend that McDonald’s used to use to enjoy ridiculously good french fries. Enough tallow to perfume the oil with beefy goodness will do the trick. Also, as a committed twice-fryer, I was skeptical of this cooking method (from Joël Robuchon) until I tried it a few years ago and was amazed – you cannot use it with russets or other high-starch potatoes, which will break, but it produces a perfectly crispy fry with a fluffy interior. It also eliminates a step, and yields a less greasy fry. Even my brother, who was sure that once-fried frites would be soggy, withdrew his objection upon tasting these over New Year.

What do frites accompany? Steak. Hanger steak, to be exact. Time was when you could buy hanger steak for next to nothing as it – along with such other flavorful but chewy cuts as skirt steak, tri-tip, and flatiron – once was considered a garbage cut, suitable for nothing better than the meat grinder. Times have changed. Now the hanger, also called onglet in bistro argot, is coveted for its rich, beefy flavor and solid texture.

A large, tough piece of sinew runs lengthwise down the center of the hanger. Unless you are cooking the hanger sous vide for several of hours – which may turn the hanger to mush if you’re not careful – you must remove the sinew and any silverskin from the meat. Don’t be tempted to eat this cut blue-rare, even if you like your other steaks that way – it tends to be a bit gelatinous when undercooked. Cook it to medium rare. 130-135F/55-57C is the way to go if you’re cooking sous vide, but even then you should remove the sinew and cook not more than an hour.

Dinner of champions.


Allumettes – “matchsticks” – of 3/8″ are the right size cut for these frites. A little smaller is fine – 1/4″ is good – but if you cut them too small, the potatoes may disintegrate during frying.

4 large yellow (medium starch) potatoes, allumettes (3/8″)
6 cups grapeseed or canola oil (peanut is good also and yields an interesting taste)
2 cups beef tallow
sea salt

Place potatoes and both fats in heavy pan deep enough for oil to cover potatoes and leave at least 4″ at top. Bring to a full boil and cook, moving potatoes gently so they do not stick, from time to time, until deep golden and crisp – about 20-25 mins.

Remove to a rack over a pan to drain. Season and serve immediately (or hold in 200F oven up to 20 mins for service).


Hanger Steak, Weekday Pan Sauce

I call this the “weekday pan sauce” because it’s so simple, you can make this on a weekday. Once you take the steaks out of the pan to rest, the sauce comes together in about 5 minutes. Since you’re making the sauce while the steaks rest, the whole thing is pretty efficient.

Four trimmed hanger steaks
3 tbsp butter
2 thyme branches
2 tbsp cognac
1/4 c dry white wine
1 tbsp Dijon mustard (especially green peppercorn mustard)
Up to 3 tbsp beef stock or water
2 tbsp glace de viande (optional)

225F oven.

Before cooking, season steaks with salt. If you season in advance and they shed any liquid, dry with a clean towel before proceeding.

Place heavy pan over high heat. When hot, add oil and then steaks. Reduce heat to medium and add the butter and thyme branches. Baste with butter. Turn over after 4 minutes and baste 2 minutes. Place in oven. Baste and turn over after 8-10 minutes and roast another 8-10 minutes more (depending on size), basting once. Test for doneness.

Rest steaks. Discard thyme branches and pour off excess fat. Pour in cognac and flame off alcohol. Add white wine and reduce. Add Dijon mustard and juices from rested meat and whisk. Loosen with beef stock or water, if necessary. If using, finish with glace de viande. Taste and season with salt (may not be necessary). Add chives. Return meat to the pan and coat well with sauce. Slice, spoon additional sauce on plate.

Hanger steak, weekday sauce.

Beef, Mushrooms, Random Thoughts

Oranges and beef.

The inimitable Nathalie Dupree, James Beard Award-winning cookbook author, chef, and host of numerous television shows, posted today to praise the caramelized orange tart in James Peterson’s Baking book. “It might be the best thing I’ve ever eaten,” she wrote.

Lawyers, journalists, and others who are paid to assess the credibility of others are familiar with the mantra: “Consider the source.” I don’t even particularly like sweet foods and I almost never eat dessert, but Dupree’s endorsement got me thinking…could these syrupy, glazed oranges work as part of a savory dish? Some suggested pork, but I went right to the beef.

Orange and beef form a classic pairing. Consider the Provencal daube de boeuf, in which orange peel brightens beef braised in red wine with olives. Travel around the world to China’s Hunan Province, and find thinly sliced beef dry-fried with hot dried chile peppers, orange peel, and ginger. Perhaps a little bit of caramelized orange to accompany a beef dish isn’t such a crazy idea.

If I were going to incorporate caramelized oranges into a savory dish, this is the one to try. The complex spices and bright tangerine notes complement the rich beefiness of the hanger steak. And I suspect a small quantity of tart and sweet caramelized orange would work well. I’ll post an update once I have a chance to try it out. For now, enjoy the dish as I’ve made it before.

Onglet (hanger steak) with licorice, star anise, and tangerine reduction; maitake

Onglet, licorice, star anise, and tangerine reduction, maitake

If you can’t find hanger steak – a shame, but there’s only one per cow – try the tri-tip (bottom sirloin). That’s an undervalued cut, delivering beefy flavor and meaty texture at a low price. Skirt is an excellent choice as well.

Licorice root is available at health food stores that sell herbs and spices for infusions. If you can’t find it, don’t sweat it. Double the amount of fennel seed.

Glace de viande provides body and deep savoriness to the reduction but it is not strictly necessary. If you don’t have it, be sure your wine, stock, and juice mixture is well-reduced before straining. You may want to mount slightly more cold butter into the sauce at the end to achieve a glossy sheen.

Four 1 1/4 inch hanger steaks, trimmed
2 shallots, minced
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 1/2 c dry red wine
1/3 c tangerine juice
2″ fresh tangerine peel (remove any white pith before using)
2″ piece licorice
2 star anise
1/4 tsp fennel seed
large pinch five spice
3 thyme branches
1 bay leaf
2″ cinnamon stick (preferably true cinnamon)
1/2 c veal stock or beef stock
1/4 c glace de viande
4 tbsp cold butter, divided

250F oven.

Prepare the sauce:

Place the shallots and half the wine in a small pan on the stove, and bring to a simmer; reduce to au sec (until the wine has reduced almost to a sticky glaze on the bottom of the pan – do not burn). Given the volume of wine this may take about 20 minutes. Add the rest of the wine and reduce again to au sec.

Add the stock, orange juice, spices, bay leaf, thyme, and orange peel; simmer until reduced by 3/4. This will take at least 20 minutes. Strain through a chinois. Discard solids.

Return to a clean small pan and bring back to a simmer, stirring well. Add the glace de viande and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and add the cold chunks of butter, swirling the pan to incorporate and taking care that the butter does not separate. Set aside off heat. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

15-20 minutes before cooking if possible, season steaks with salt.
Place heavy pan over high heat. When hot, add oil and then steaks. Reduce heat to medium and add several knobs butter and thyme branches. Baste with butter. Turn over after 4 minutes and baste 2 minutes. Place in oven. Baste and turn over after 10 minutes and roast 10 minutes more, basting once. Test for doneness.

Maitake mushroom

1/2 lb maitake (hen of the woods) mushrooms, washed well and sliced 1/2″
2 tbsp butter

1/4 c dry white wine

1 tbsp sherry or grappa
1 tsp usukuchi (white soy)
juice of 1/2 lemon

several sprigs thyme, leaves only

small handful flat-leaf parsley leaves, minced
salt (black truffle salt is great) and pepper

Place a deep, heavy pan over medium heat and, when hot, add the butter to the pan. When the butter foams, add the mushrooms, browning well.

Add the white wine and sherry to the pan and cook until the mushrooms absorb the wine; add the soy and cook, stirring once or twice, until the mushrooms are glazed with soy. Finish with lemon juice, parsley, and thyme and season.

Slice the steak. Sauce the plate with the reduction. Plate the steak and the mushrooms.

Beef, Holidays, Potatoes, Vegetables

Happy holidays!

Happy holidays to everyone! Hope you’re all having a great time with family or friends!

My mother in law is in town for the holiday, and tomorrow night, we’re going to have the big turkey and trimmings with some family friends. As previous postings here have established, I’m not crazy about turkey. So, when deciding what to cook tonight, I ruled out the big bird pretty quickly. Instead, my husband agreed that nothing says holidays like a giant beef rib roast.

Do you want to impress a bunch of carnivores? Cook up a rib roast. It’s easy, foolproof, festive, and delicious. For perfect medium rare meat, roast at 400F for the first 20 minutes, and then reduce the heat to 265F. Roast for 20 minutes per pound at 265F (25 minutes per pound if using a conventional rather than convection setting). And don’t forget carryover cooking – the heat on the surface of the roast will continue to convect through the meat, increasing the interior temperature by 5-10 degrees, depending on the thickness of the roast. Be sure to factor that into your roasting time.

While the meat roasts, you can prepare the accompaniments. To keep it simple but delicious, serve the roast with potato purée and a straightforward steakhouse vegetable, like sautéed spinach with garlic, creamed spinach, or a mushroom ragoût.

Beef rib roast

1 3-rib roast, about 7.5 lbs
3 tbsp kosher salt
2 tsp coarsely ground coriander seed
2 tsp coarsely ground black peppercorn
1 tsp sugar
8 cloves garlic confit, mashed to a paste
about a dozen sprigs thyme

Oven 400F.

At least 3 hours before roasting, combine all the seasonings except the thyme, and prepare a paste. Coat the rib roast thoroughly on all surfaces except the bone. Tie the roast, and tuck thyme sprigs under the twine in contact with the surface of the meat. Refrigerate, covered.

Before roasting.

One hour before roasting, remove the roast from the refrigerator and preheat the oven. Once the oven is hot, roast for 20 minutes at 400F in a roasting pan on a rack, ribs side down (rotate the roast 180 degrees after 10 minutes if your oven is uneven). Then reduce the heat to 265F and roast for 20 minutes per pound (convection) or 25 minutes per pound (conventional), turning the pan 180 degrees each hour, until the roast registers 125F in the center. Remove from the oven.

After roasting.

Turn the roast upside down (bone side up) and rest, tented with foil, for 30-45 minutes. Slice away the bone first, and then carve the roast into slices of even thickness. Or, if you’re serving super hungry people, slice chops through the ribs.

Potato purée

With the exception of low-starch, high-moisture potatoes (like Red Bliss), which you should not use for this type of potato purée, you can use either a medium starch yellow potato, or a high starch russet. Russets will yield fluffier, lighter purée; if you use a yellow potato, it will taste richer but have a stiffer texture.

3 lbs medium starch potato, like Yellow Finn or Yukon Gold, or russet potatoes (either type is fine)
up to 1 c milk
between 2 oz (4 tbsp) and 8 oz (1 cup, or two sticks) unsalted butter, divided into chunks
salt and white pepper

Place clean potatoes, with the skin on, in a pot of filtered water. Bring the pot to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the potatoes are tender in the center. Drain. When cool enough to handle, remove the skins and rice the potatoes. For an exceptionally light, smooth texture, pass the riced potato through a tamis (this step is optional).

Return the potato to the pan and add the milk. Stir with a wooden spoon until the potato purée is warm and smooth. Incorporate the butter, piece by piece. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Potatoes often require a great deal of salt, so don’t be alarmed if you add more salt than you expect.

Beef rib roast, potato purée, celeriac croquette, mushroom ragoût, celery salad.

Beef, East Asian, Soup

Noodle bowl.

My parents live in Taipei these days and I can say with confidence that no city in the world outshines Taipei in the street food department. You got your dumpling stands, your steamed meat bun guys, the green onion pancake specialists, the fried chicken people (more on that in a later post), the hot limeade, oyster omelettes, fried sausages on a stick…and then there are the noodle soups.

The noodle soup stands are ubiquitous and feature vats of noodles, and steaming broths, bowls of shredded or slow-cooked meats, bins of raw vegetables and eggs. Recently, the Taipei Main Station – the main railway terminal – opened an amazing food court featuring a wide array of noodle soups, curries, and other international meals. Their braised beef noodle soup – niu rou mian – is delicious.

Some specialists believe the best niu rou mian features separately cooked meat and broth. I agree but if you want to eat this on a weeknight, you can prepare a really good broth using just the meat. Both recipes follow – decide which way you want to go.

Braised beef brisket, noodles, gai lan.

Niu Rou Mian

2 lb beef brisket, cut into 1 1/4″ cubes – tendon and shank are great also
2 lb beef bones, preferably knuckle and oxtail
About 10 c filtered water
6 inch piece ginger, sliced 1/2″ thick lengthwise (slightly on the diagonal)
6 scallions, 4″ segments
1 onion, halved across the equator
6 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 tbsp bean paste
1 tbsp hot bean paste
1/4 c soy sauce + 2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp shaoxing wine
3 whole star anise
12 ounces wheat noodles (la mian)
1 lb green vegetable, like broccoli raab or chinese broccoli (gai lan)
Tiny red chiles, sliced into thin rings
Hot bean paste
Pickled mustard greens, chopped into fine dice – available in cans in Asian groceries
Scallions, sliced into thin rings
Toasted/black sesame oil

For the broth:

Note – see below for the easy way. Place a large deep pot over medium heat and add a small quantity of vegetable/canola oil. Add the onion. Do not stir but allow the onion to blacken. Remove from the pot. Add the garlic, ginger, scallions, and saute until aromatic. Return the onion to the pot, reduce the heat to low, and add the beef bones. Add 7c of water and bring to a simmer, skimming all the foam that rises to the top. Simmer for 3-4 hours. Strain through a chinois/fine strainer.

Meanwhile, in a separate heavy pot with a lid, combine the bean pastes, star anise, shaoxing wine, and soy with the remaining 3c of water. Add the beef and bring to a simmer. Skim the foam that rises to the top. Simmer until the beef is tender, about 2-3 hours depending on the type of beef and its fat/collagen content.

Combine the beef with its braising liquid and the strained beef stock. Bring back to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust with soy sauce. You can prepare this in advance and hold it for service (or freeze it and bring back to a simmer for about 10 minutes to heat the meat thoroughly before service).

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil, reduce the heat, and cook the greens until just crisp-tender. Remove from the pot, return the water to the boil, and cook the noodles.

Drain the noodles and divide into a number of bowls (4-6 depending on hunger level). Add greens, beef, and broth. Garnish with scallions, red chile, bean paste, sesame oil, and pickled mustard greens.

* Easy route:

If you don’t want to deal with beef bones and two pots, you can make the beef and broth all in one shot.

Place a large deep pot over medium heat and add a small quantity of vegetable/canola oil. Add the onion. Do not stir but allow the onion to blacken. Remove from the pot. Add the garlic, ginger, scallions, and saute until aromatic. Reduce the heat to low and return the onion to the pot. Combine the bean pastes, star anise, shaoxing wine, and soy with about 10c of water. Add the beef and bring to a simmer, skimming all the foam that rises to the top. Simmer until the beef is tender, about 3-4 hours depending on the type of beef and its fat/collagen content. Remove the beef chunks to another container and strain the broth through a chinois/fine strainer.

Note to slow cooker enthusiasts: Once you bring the mixture to a simmer, you can transfer it to a slow cooker and cook it on low all day or all night. You’ll have super tender meat.