What makes a great steak – flavour or tenderness? In today’s modern world we are conditioned to eating meat from grain-fed animals raised in feedlots, and slaughtered when relatively young. Consequently they have taken away all the flavour, and so push the tenderness of the premium cuts to increase profits. The food industry has skilfully marketed the fillet steak as the premium cut, and charges us accordingly.
But ask any real meat-lover, and the first word they use to describe to steak is certainly not ''tender'', but rather ''flavour''. Chefs, restaurateurs, and butchers the world over rate steak according to two main criteria - flavour [60%] and texture [40%].
Iron Chef Michael Symon: "I would love to take the fillet off the menu. I just find the fillet the most boring cut of meat. ... It has no fat. It has no texture. There's nothing really exciting about it."
The tenderness of steaks is related to the amount of work that the muscle does. The premium cuts are those that that come from two muscles that do relatively little – the Longissimus dorsi and the Psoas major.
So…now you know where we get the Tenderloin (aka Filet, Filet mignon, Fillet, Chateaubriand). The taste is particularly tender with a buttery texture. It’s very low in fat, and hence low in flavour. What you need to know though, is that from these two muscles come a number of cuts. Here's what you should be ordering.
Cut From: The front end of the Longissimus dorsi. The closer to the head of the steer you get, the more you’ll get of the cap of meat that wraps around the fatter end of the steak.
Taste: Highly marbled with a juicy dose of fat. Fat = Flavour…making ribeye one of the richest cuts.
The Strip (aka New York Strip, Top Sirloin, Top Loin. Not the sirloin – that’s a totally different cut)
Cut From: The Longissimus dorsi muscle, but towards the rear-end
Taste: Moderately tender, but still with a bit of chew. Decent marbling and a strong flavour, but not as robust as ribeye.
Cut From: it’s a two-for-one cut—consisting of a piece of tenderloin, and a piece of sirloin. Separated by a…T-shaped bone.
Taste: The sirloin section tastes like sirloin, and the fillet tastes like….fillet.
So if you like Andrew Hudson batting, or Nigel Mansell behind the wheel – you’ll probably opt for a fillet every time. Me - I like my steak with a bit of George Best.