We’re passionate about meat, particularly steak, at The Jones Family Kitchen and The Jones Family Project. With both our restaurants recently voted in the Top 10 steak restaurants in London we’ve learnt quite a bit about what makes great steak. I believe that there is nothing better than a beautifully prepared and cooked piece of beef. Choosing the right cut for you in a restaurant or at home can be both daunting and exciting as there is so much variety in terms of texture and flavour based on the location of the cut from every cow.
Before considering which part of the cow is best for each dish it’s important to check the breed of cow, the way it was raised, fed and slaughtered and the length and the method of aging. We use naturally fed traditional Longhorn cattle. Their hardiness is ideal for converting grass into meat, their calm nature produces relaxed meat and their strength creates intra muscular marbling leading to flavoursome cuts. Unlike other breeds which lay down too much external fat before the formation of intramuscular fat, Longhorns not only produce large fillets, sirloins, rumps and shoulders but also naturally have good marbling throughout which gives excellent succulence, tenderness and flavour.
We also firmly believe that good steak should be dry-aged. All meat needs to be hung before it can be eaten to allow it to mature and develop its flavour. While chicken needs a few days and lamb and pork about a week, beef benefits by being aged for longer. Dry-aging is both a science and an art and like a good wine it can’t be rushed. While the cool air circulates constantly and freely to prevent the growth of anything detrimental, the flavour of the beef is naturally altered by a combination of bacteria, enzyme breakdown and oxidation. The fibres in the muscles become tender and elastic and the flavour in the meat intensifies. Although Dry-aged meat is a little more expensive due to the additional time taken to hang, the loss of moisture and trimming of the bloom (a safe bacteria edging) the taste and texture means it is well worth it if you are interested in eating great steak.
As I mentioned, there is a huge amount a variety in the way you can cook beef and it’s important to choose the right cut for you at the butcher or in a restaurant. Here is a guide to some of the most popular cuts, where they are from and how best to cook them.
The meat closer to the front of the cow (the fore end) is sweeter and tastier. This is because the head, neck and front legs is where the majority of a cow’s movement takes place. All this movement increases muscles’ bulk and adds fat and marbling through the huge joints. The meat from this area needs to be cooked long and slow to break down the muscles and the extra fat in the joints adds flavour and naturally bastes the meat, keeping it moist. These cuts are usually the cheapest, but if not rushed and cooked with skill, they deliver unctuous flavours with robust textures.
Neck & Clod: These hard-worked muscles are very tasty and have good fat content. They need longer, slower, moist cooking and are delicious for pot roasts, stews, casseroles and burgers.
Chuck and Blade: Probably the most used muscle in the whole animal, the chuck contains a lot of connective tissue, including collagen. Collagen melts during the cooking of the meat, making the flavour intensely stronger. Chuck meat is excellent for stewing, slow cooking, braising, or pot roasting.
Brisket: This is a cut of meat from the breast or lower chest. It is a common cut of meat for use in Vietnamese Pho soup and corned beef.
Rib-eye and rib steak: As you’d expect, rib steak or rib-eye is from the lightly worked upper rib section. When cut into steaks, the rib-eye is one of the most popular, juiciest, and expensive steaks. The meat from the rib area is more tender and marbled than other cuts. This extra marbling makes rib eye steaks and roasts especially tender and flavourful and well suited to dry heat cookery. A rib eye is a boneless steak whereas a rib steak has the bone in. Leaving the bone in means that extra moisture and fat alongside the bone will enhance its flavour and succulence. I’d always recommend this cut to be served medium-rare to medium, as this will melt the fat in the meat which adds fabulous flavour.
Shin and Leg: These are the ultimate cuts when stewing or braising beef as they are filled with tasty marrow bone.
The middle of the cow offers excellent tasty meat with good fat marbling in the upper part of the body and great value in the flank. These tender lesser-worked muscles deliver a finer, more delicate flavour and texture that needs far lighter cooking techniques, such as quick flash-searing or grilling.
Fillet: If your preference is for tenderness over deep flavour in a steak then fillet is the cut for you. The fillet is a long, narrow muscle wedge inside the ribcage at the lower middle of the back starting, at its thinnest point, at the cow’s kidneys. It the only muscle these beasts do not use and is surrounded by a film of fat so thin you can rub it off with the tip of your finger. It is made up of three main sections: The tail, which is the flat end, used for steak tartar and medallions; The thick end or head, used for Chateaubriand, named after the French statesman and author Francois René Vicomte de Chateaubriand (1768-1848) and Beef Wellington, which it’s believed received its name because of that well known British Duke’s love of a dish made from beef, truffles, mushrooms, madeira and pâté cooked in pastry, and The middle of the fillet which is used for steaks and carpaccio. Fillet steaks are usually cut a minimum of 1 inch thick up to 2.5 inches and need minimum seasoning. Care should be taking in marinating a cut from the fillet as flavour will be absorbed quickly and if left from more than 20 minutes could overpower the meat.
Sirloin: Sirloin steaks come from the large back muscle section behind the ribs of a cow. They have a stronger and beefier flavour than fillet or rib-eye and can hold their own with strong flavoured sauces. You also get Porterhouse and T-bone steaks from the back section of the cow which contain both sirloin and fillet. Porterhouses, which are from further back than T-bones, are larger and contain more fillet.
Thin Flank: The belly of the animal is best when cut across the grain and marinated for several hours and thus is great for roasts, stews and casseroles. Additional tenderness can be added by marinating the meat in a tenderizing liquid, including acids like tomato-based products, lemon juice, wine, vinegar, pineapple or ginger. Because the marinades in Asian cuisine tend to be tenderizing, flank steak is frequently used in this cuisine.
The rear of the cow has less fat running through the meat. This part produces one of the tastiest steaks – the rump – and good joints for pot-roasting or roasting but these cuts do need careful cooking.
Rump: Prime rump, which comes from the lower back of the cow, is packed with flavour but needs to be dry-aged longer or marinated to bring the flavour to the fore. At Jones we use 55-day dry aged rump from The Ginger Pig butcher, and the flavour is outstanding. The rump area also includes the Picanha rump steak which we use for our Sunday Roasts. It’s a succulent and tender cut, sometimes known as top sirloin cap. Highly prized in Brazil and Argentina, Picanha should always be cut across the grain. It cooks particularly well in a Josper.
Silverside: Beef silverside also known as Top Round in the U.S. is a lean, tough cut of meat from the hind part of the animal. It gets its name because of the “silver wall” on the side of the cut. This is a long fibrous “skin” which has to be removed as it is too tough to eat. Silverside provides a great flavour and is superb for stews, casseroles, pies and mince.
Topside: Topside of beef is a lean boneless cut from the top of the inside hind leg, also called buttock steak. Topside is ideal for roasting as well as cold cuts and makes delicious spiced beef. Stews, casseroles and pies also work beautifully with this cut.
I hope you’ve found this guide to some of the most popular beef cuts useful. Do pop in and ask any of our team for advice if you have any questions.