Chef Johnny Gnall went “back to the farm” recently, to observe the production of Certified Angus Beef. His report follows. If you have questions or ideas for other articles, email Chef Johnny.
I was recently invited with other journalists to spend a few days in Wooster, Ohio, home to the headquarters of Certified Angus Beef, LLC (CAB), to get an in-depth look at Angus production.
From birth to butcher block, CAB takes great care to ensure that their Certified Angus cattle, and the beef they produce, meet rigorous standards and are handled properly, humanely and safely.
Angus is a breed of cattle;* there is much Angus meat to be had in grocery stores and restaurants. But 51% of Angus genes is all that’s required to call beef Angus or Black Angus There are no other standards that ensure flavorful meat, humanely produced.
Hence the formation of the nonprofit CAB, which aims to educate consumers and chefs about the Certified Angus Beef™ trademarked brand and how its ranchers strive to keep the bar high on the Angus production.
While there is plenty of less responsible beef production in America and elsewhere, there are also plenty of dedicated people, ranches and organizations with a mission to provide the alternative: cattle that are humanely raised, healthful and ultimately sustainable for man and beast.
Only 12% of all Angus cattle make the cut to become Certified Angus Beef, after passing through a set of stringent criteria. From feed, to age, to marbling, the beef that gets the CAB stamp gives consumers the assurance that what they are eating is of high quality in both tenderness and flavor.
Visiting one of the CAB ranches outside Wooster, we observed firsthand the time, cost, and human care that goes into the ranching of Certified Angus Beef cattle. The feed, health and overall comfort of the animals are carefully monitored.
After all, happy cattle make tasty steaks. If you’d like to see the operations for yourself, there are CAB ranches in all 50 states. Head to the organization’s website to find a ranch in your area.
While at CAB headquarters, we had time to play around in the food lab. The first step was getting our hands dirty breaking down sides of beef (taking a hacksaw to a cow carcass was a new experience for me).
Once we butchered some specific cuts, we traded butcher coats for chef coats and took the beef to the kitchen. In particular, we were working with the subscapularis muscle, commonly called Vegas steak, and teres major, commonly called bistro filet or hanger steak.
HOW TO COOK VEGAS STEAK
The Vegas steak is similar in shape to a Flatiron steak, but smaller; very thin and lean, it can easily get tough if not cooked properly. This is why there were a number of high-profile chefs in our group: It was their job to experiment with the cuts and find out which cooking methods worked best to bring out optimal flavor and tenderness.
Angus cattle. Photo by Scott Bauer | US Agricultural Research Service.
With the Vegas Steak, the chefs tried oil and butter basting, stir frying, even wrapping the beef in caul fat.
But in the end, the only successful foil to the toughness was marinating the steak and cooking it sous vide (pronounced soo VEED).
While most home cooks won’t have access to a sous vide water bath (THE NIBBLE has two of them!), marinating the steak overnight with some acid and fat (try olive oil, red wine, garlic and rosemary), then giving it a two-to-three-minute sear on each side, should do the trick.
As for the teres major (which is cheaper than genuine tenderloin and still quite tender), try rubbing it with a paste made of chopped herbs, room temperature butter, kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper, then searing and roasting it. You’ll get a lovely, aromatic crust.
Both of these cuts are currently under-marketed, which means if you can get them, they will be cheaper than other, more popular steaks. Keep an eye out for them, and if you visit a real butcher shop (independent butchers are a disappearing lot of craftsmen), ask about them.
See all the cuts of beef in our Beef Glossary.
ASK & YOU SHALL RECEIVE
Ask your butcher about the recommended methods of cooking for any cut you buy, as well as where your steak came from.