Ramblin’ Man

Ramblin' Man

“Lord, I was born a ramblin’ man.” (The Allman Brothers)

I

My wife and I sat down to a grass-fed, grain-finished steak on Monday evening: a cut of beef a colleague in the organic retail industry put in my hands to get my candid impressions of it. Carrie Oliver of the Artisanal Beef Institute rates beef according to three categories: “Grandma’s Beef”, “Gateway Beef”, and “Seductive Date Beef”. Grandma’s Beef: nice and sweet but rather boring (of course, I wouldn’t place my own grandmother in this category; she was anything but). Gateway Beef: beef with an enjoyable–even interesting–flavor profile that awakens a sleeping palate and helps bridge it for even more adventurous, exotic flavors. Seductive Date Beef: beef with adventurous taste and a complex flavor profile; it leaves you wanting more. The steak in question fits squarely in the “Grandma’s Beef” category: plain, little to no flavor profile, and–as a result–assessable to anyone. Bud Light of beef. Though sufficiently tender, I could not distinguish it from conventional beef. My wife was speaking this week to friends of hers whose property boarders a cattle farm. They bear witness to the trucking in of black–presumable Angus–cattle to feed for a time on their pastures. How much of what’s out there labeled as “grass-fed” beef spends the majority of its time on grain? I wonder whether this was the case of the steak we had on Monday night.

II

Yesterday, a shipment of Dundonald Highlands Highland beef arrived. A couple of the steaks (a chuck tender steak and a tenderloin steak) were cut so small that they ought not be sold to customers which provided a perfect excuse to do a little quality control. The chuck tender steak, which comes from the tougher chuck of a beef, needs a slow, wet cooking method that will tenderize it (sous vide is ideal for this cut). Nevertheless, we were hungry, and the steak was prepared in a saute pan at high temperatures. The tenderloin steak, too, was prepared in this manner (the high, dry heat method is the preferred cooking method for the more tender cuts). What I discovered was that while the tenderloin was pleasantly tender, it was the chuck tender steak that packed more flavor. I’ve read that certain cuts of beef contain a higher concentration of flavor. This seemed a confirmation.

As enjoyable as a steak is, I’ll admit that it’s our burger that we most look forward to eating: because of its flavor (and economics). I wonder whether it’s the tougher parts of a beef that are the more flavorful parts, parts which–because of their toughness–get turned into very flavorful ground. This is a hypothesis, one that I intend to test when next week I meet with one of our butcher.

III

In our most recent order of Highland beef, we asked our butcher to achieve a lean-to-fat ratio in our burger meat of 80/20. This was something that the Artisanal Beef Institute referenced above suggested that we give a try. I was excited to see what effect this would have on the highly-acclaimed Highland burger meat that we sell. Surprisingly, I found that this burger has less-intense flavor than our previous batch of Highland beef. The texture was great, but the flavor was not as intense. In more than one place I’ve read that fat contributes as little as 10% to the flavor of beef. Presuming our previous batch had a higher lean to fat ratio, could it be that the addition of more fat helped diffuse the flavor of the flavor-dense lean? This requires some further digging…

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