If you’ve ever wondered, “What, really, is the best cut of meat?” you are certainly not alone. It is actually a topic of debate in the food and cooking world.
Just days after I went through the fun but arduous process of crafting a Beef Wellington, with its layers of prosciutto, mushroom duxelle and English mustard all wrapped in a soft blanket of puff pastry, I read an article about the most overrated cuts of meat. You know what nearly all the chef’s choose as the worst cut? Beef tenderloin. You know what was inside of my stunning Beef Wellington? Beef Tenderloin.
At first I was too annoyed to pay much attention to their opinions as they went on and on about the flavorless tenderloin. My rebuttal, to my computer screen where I was reading this article, was “but it was so tender!” And, “Who cares if the meat didn’t have much flavor? It was wrapped in buttery pastry!” I stood by my tenderloin even when chef John Besh, Tom Colicchio, Bill Telepan, Michael Symon and others all chose it or the Filet Mignon (which is cut from the tenderloin) as the most overrated meat. But as I read through their recommendations of the most underrated meats and their cuts I started to come around because often what they were recommending were the less-expensive cuts of beef: the shoulders, chuck, etc.
“It’s [tenderloin] one-dimensional. Give me a shoulder or a piece of chuck, and I’ll give you something that’s really rich in flavor.” John Besh
When it comes to Wellington it’ll always be tenderloin because you need something tender to be able to easily slice through when you have all of that other stuff going on. But for regular everyday cooking I’m choosing the harder working muscles like the shoulder cuts and roasts.
The reason why so many chefs are gravitating towards those tougher and less expensive cuts of meat is because they are marbled with fat and flavor. The thing is though, you can’t just sear the meat and serve it as you would a steak. No, these cuts take time to simmer and break down the fat and connective tissues that make them tough.
Tenderloin is so tender because it’s tucked deep inside the animal’s belly and rarely gets used. The reason why it lacks much flavor is because there is very little fat. The muscles on an animal that are used frequently, that get stretched, pulled and worked are the ones that have the most flavor.
How to cook the tougher cuts
Pork shoulder or beef shoulder (also known as beef chuck) needs to be cooked at a low temperature for a long period of time and along with a bit of liquid.
The process starts with searing. Searing has to be done in a very hot pan with a bit of oil. The reason for the sear is not about locking in the juices as we’ve been told for decades but rather it creates deep caramelization of natural sugars and through the Maillard reaction and that produces a depth of flavor that we all love. For certain roasts it is actually more beneficial to sear after a long braise.
Once the meat has been seared aromatics like carrots, onions and celery are added. But this is only the start. Quite often when I’m cooking pork shoulder it is with tacos in mind. I’ll add onions, oregano, chiles and loads of garlic to the pot to flavor the meat.
After the aromatics, liquid is added. For Boeuf Bourguignon the liquid happens to be red wine (I love the French). When it comes to beef chuck my favorite is to simmer the meat in a hearty Belgian beer as they do in Belgium for their national dish, Carbonnade. For the pork shoulder I like to braise in fresh citrus juices like orange and lime.
So what should you choose?
That choice is best made when you understand the pros and cons of the cuts and the outcome you are hoping for: a flavorful, hearty dish or a tender steak? For me, most often I choose flavor: the more heavily used muscles and lacy marbling of the shoulder cuts. But I won’t go as far to say that there is never a time for a flavorless tenderloin, like our Christmas Eve Beef Wellington.
Find the recipe for my favorite pot roast here.
Then, add even more flavor to your favorite cuts! Demystify the art of the slow simmer with Molly Stevens as she walks you through the essential steps of creating perfectly braised meats.