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Don't Argue With The Meat Fairy

June 7, 2020
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How you slice meat makes a difference. Sliced thinly across the grain makes a delicious tender bite of steak.

Last week, I shared a method where I cook a steak at a high temperature to sear the surfaces to create a golden, caramelized crust that gives the grilled flavor to meat. Then, I lower the heat to finish cooking. This should be enough, right? But the Meat Fairy appeared in a vision and reminded me that's not the end.

She told me that after I remove the steak from the heat, it keeps cooking, and were I to cut into it, the juices would escape. My plate would be juicy, not my steak. 

That fairy said, "Let your steak rest (i.e., sit still on your plate) for at least 5 minutes. The steak will finish cooking, and the juices will stay where they belong – in the meat."

OK, I'll show restraint and wait for my steak to rest before I eat it, but the Meat Fairy had even more to say.

"How you cut your meat has a lot to do with how it tastes," she said. "Compare two hanger steaks, both cooked to a perfect 130°F medium-rare in the same pan, cut from the same piece of meat, and having achieved a beautiful brown, crackly crust. They look the same, but one is as tender as butter, while the other has more in common with a rubber band. What was different? "The slicing!" said the know-it-all Meat Fairy. "Slice thinly against the grain for a tender bite of steak," she added, and then vanished.

She confirmed what I've been telling you. Namely, because a cow is front-heavy, those muscles work hard and get tough, while the easy-livin' muscles in the back end stay nice and soft. 

Look at your meat. You'll see that it looks (not tastes) like wood; it's got a grain. In some muscles, like the loin or tenderloin, that grain is fine because it's from muscles that don't get much exercise. That meat will be soft and tender no matter how you slice it.

However, cuts from the harder-working, more flavorful muscles from the front of the animal, like skirt steak, hanger steak, or flank steak, have thicker muscle fiber bundles with a clearly defined grain. Slice these cuts of meat thinly across the grain, and you will be rewarded, not just with flavor, but also with tenderness. 

You might not believe in the Meat Fairy, but she believes in you, and she wants you to cook smart and dine sumptuously.

Carole Soule

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