Australia’s love affair with a good steak has come a long way over the past 15 years. It has become a sophisticated relationship with a deeper understanding that echoes our growing wine knowledge.
It’s no longer just about eye fillet or sirloin. A growing number of talented farmers have focussed on issues such as breed and feed regimen, while butchers have risen to the challenge with improved wet and dry aging and chefs have been spoilt for choice, focussing on provenance to offer diners an incredible range of cuts and styles of meat.
Industry champions such as Victoria’s David Blackmore have added the Rolls-Royce of beef, pure-blood Japanese wagyu, with intra-muscular fat marbling, to Australia. This has introduced an opulence previously unseen in locally-grown produce.
Now we’re in a era when even fast food chains are extolling the virtues of their Angus beef.
Business Insider spoke to Damien Brassel, executive chef of The Cut Steakhouse, the Sydney institution that’s recently branched out with a new Melbourne CBD restaurant, about what to look for when ordering steak so you look like a beef master.
First up, Brassel says, it’s all about provenance. It’s no longer good enough to just write “steak” on the menu. Any chef worth their chargrill will name who (the producer), what cut, finish (ie. grain or grass fed), marbling (the fat score) and aging.
“A restaurant that is proud of its producers will name them,” he says.
“At The Cut Steakhouse we’re extremely proud to work boutique producers, including Seven Creeks Wagyu, Cape Grim in Tasmania, and Rangers Valley”.
The Mt Everest of beef is Côte de Bœuf – it’s the ultimate cut, a rib-eye for two, with more fat and thicker cut, served on the bone for better flavour. Expect around 1kg of meat, so bring a friend to order it.
If you’ve looking to sign or celebrate an important deal, Côte de Bœuf is a great choice because it says your guest is highly valued and sharing a great beef is a great way to bond. It generally comes with a bunch of sides and sauces, so you have a complete meal.
There are about four or five key cuts of steak you’ll find in a good steakhouse.
Sirloin (sometimes called entrecote) is the best known and most popular. A good restaurant will cut it at least 2.5cm thick so it can be well charred on the outside and still rare inside. You want sirloins with good marbling, as well as a fat cap. That gives it better flavour and keeps it tender and juicy.
Fillet became popular amid an unfortunate preference for tenderness over flavour. It’s expensive, lean and needs a good sauce, because it pretty dull on the taste front.
Rib eye is best served on the bone (but rarely is), and goes well with rich sauces, such as Bearnaise. It’s leaner than sirloin, with medium flavour and reasonably tender.
Rump is for people who want flavour and don’t mind using their teeth to chew. As the name suggests, it’s from the muscles at the rear of the animal. Rump is a good option for making steak tartare because it’s also reasonably lean. But most importantly, it has the best beefy taste.
There are other cuts, such as chuck, from the shoulder, which are good for stews and braises. Yes it can be grilled, but when you have the alternatives above, why bother?
And amid those options, there are connoisseur steaks such as flat iron, from the middle of the shoulder blade. Chef Damien Brassel has a Rangers Valley flat iron steak on The Cut menu.
“It tastes amazing,” he says. “If you prefer a steak strong in flavour choose a cut from the leg or shoulder as these are working muscles that add flavour and texture.”
Another cut to keep an eye out for is onglet, also known as hanger or skirt steak. It’s a cut made famous by US celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and is sometimes called the “butcher’s cut” – a nod to their preferences. It comes from the diaphragm and is rare because you only get one steak per animal – so it’s likely to be a daily special rather than on the menu. It’s a little ropy, and has a strong flavour with hints of offal.
Bavette, which also gets called flank or skirt, is another aficionado’s steak, taken from the lower abdominal muscles. It’s a steak you should always have rare and it’s a little quirky, because it should be cut against the grain. It’s a good bistro cut.
Here are a few other things to keep in mind when ordering.
Brassel suggest you keep an eye out for dry-aged steaks.
“Certain cuts withstand longer aging better and have different flavour profiles,” he says.
“A T-bone or club steak will age faster as they have less fat and bone coverage. A steak aged between 40-60 days is best from these cuts. The rump and rib eye have very good fat, bone and meat coverage so age well for longer lengths of time. At The Cut we’re dry aging some steaks for up to 200 days.”
Beef aged and cooked on the bone has more flavour.
And yes, there’s something enjoyably primal about gnawing on the bone afterwards, although it’s probably best you don’t look like Bear Grylls in front of important clients.
Grass fed v grain fed is like starting a fight over Sydney v Melbourne.
Personally, I think grass fed as better flavour – you can taste the earth the cattle were raised on, and many will say it’s better for the environment, but grain finishing has its place too, because it produces richer meat with more marbling.
Brassel says when ordering grain fed steak, look for a high marbling score. He’s referring to wagyu – the Japanese breed sometimes known as Kobe beef after the region where it’s produced.
The marbling score goes up to a maximum of 9+. That’s a a measure of the intra-muscular fat, which gives the meat a rich, buttery and juicy flavour.
But think of it like eating bread with butter and remember less is more with wagyu. About 180g of 9+ wagyu is like eating 400g on lean beef, so if you want a big steak, don’t order wagyu.
Brassel has Seven Creeks full-blood wagyu scotch fillet with a MB 9+ score on The Cut’s menu.
“Finished on grain for the last 600 days, it’s buttery in flavour with soft texture,” he says.
Incidentally, an F1 wagyu means the animal has been cross-bred, often with angus cattle, and not full-blood, but because saying wagyu makes it sound like the Chanel of beef, it’s called an F1.
The final word on ordering steak like a pro is how to cook it. Of course you can have a well done steak if you really want it, but you surrender your right to complain that it’s dry or tougher than you expected.
Rare to medium-rare is the go – you should get a great charred crust and the beef flavour, with contrasting textures inside.
And here’s a little trick if you’re in a group at lunch. Order first – that way you set the standard for others to follow. And you get your steak just the way you want.
This post is sponsored by The Cut Steakhouse.