For generations, Canadians have come to accept whatever cuts of meat happened to be on the shelves in grocery store meat coolers – the various roasts, the ribeyes, the sirloins – conveniently (if a bit aseptically) packaged in styrofoam and plastic. That approach also reinforced a certain distance between the consumer and the animal. And, whatever wasn’t neatly packaged ended up as generic ‘ground meat’ and nestled into a tray with its ‘meat diaper’.
The result is that we Canadians have only ever really enjoyed a very small cross-section of the many delicious parts of the cow. And that’s a real shame.
Given that the cost of beef is now on the rise, the team at Rustik stopped in to a neighbourhood butcher in New York City on the prowl for bovine bargains.
Why New York City? Well, for starters, Rustik happens to have a connection to the Big Apple. For another, Americans benefit from choice… lots of choice. North of the 49th, we somehow seem to lose out. But even more remarkably, we don’t complain about it.
Now’s the time to change that.
Just a few blocks north of the United Nations on First Avenue, Leonard Simchik and Company Meats has been the go-to neighbourhood butcher shop for the last 20 years. Simchik and his team know meat and they pride themselves on providing customers – who, incidentally, are princes and paupers alike – a tender cut of beef for every occasion and every budget.
The wisdom Rustik gleaned in our chat was pretty simple: want good beef? Go to a butcher, not a grocer.
After an hour-long discussion with Simchik about getting delicious but affordable beef cuts, here are (in no particular order) five reasonably-priced, absolutely delicious steaks with which you should acquaint your grill and yourself this summer. Note that these steaks love hot, dry heat but should not be overcooked – medium-rare to medium is best! And always let your meat rest before serving, too.
A quick note about charcoal
Do yourself a flavour (yes, flavour!) – use only real, hardwood lump charcoal and none of the processed and pressed briquettes that could contain fillers and chemicals. And don’t start it with liquid fuels, either. Get yourself a chimney starter – it’s much safer and has no chemicals. You’ll taste the difference.
Skirt steak is derived from the cow’s diaphragm muscle. If you can get past that visual, be prepared for incredibly delicious and flavourful meat. When purchasing, make sure the silverskin is removed – you don’t want to try cooking or eating with that in place. Tenderness can sometimes be an issue with skirt steak, but after cooking, carving it diagonally across the grain into thin slices helps a lot. This is a Rustik favourite!
Nicknamed the ‘butcher’s steak’ (they would keep it for themselves), this deliciously beefy cut is from the front of the belly and ‘hangs’ off of the cow’s diaphragm (hence the name). French bistros and brasseries often use it for their steak frites (they call the cut onglet). A good butcher will know how to prepare it for you before you take it home, or else provide guidance so you know how to trim it for maximum deliciousness. Another Rustik favourite.
Sometimes known as flank steak filet, or jiffy steak, or London broil, this lean and affordable cut can actually be found on the shelves of many Canadian grocery store coolers. The key to enjoying flank steak is to marinate it in order to tenderize it. Once it’s cooked, carve it across the grain into thin slices.
What this steak is called depends on your physical location because, as it turns out, flap steak, or flap meat, is also known as sirloin tip, which you’re not likely see as a whole in supermarkets but rather as cubes for kebabs or strips for frying. Get to a butcher and get a whole, unscathed flap. Bring it home and introduce it to the grill. Slice against the grain to maximize tenderness.
The tri-tip is known in some parts as the Santa Maria steak or, when sliced into individual portions, Newport steak. It’s lean and not as beefy as the other steaks listed, so season it generously and serve it with a flavorful sauce – chimichurri is great for the summer! But given its general lack of marbling, the tri-tip takes well to a spice rub or even some mild smoking to boost flavour.