The Meat Report: make the cut

By Fred A'Court

- Last updated on GMT

Money saving: alternative cuts can have excellent flavour at a fraction of the cost
Money saving: alternative cuts can have excellent flavour at a fraction of the cost

Related tags: Beef

When it comes to meat, the best steaks will undoubtedly cost the most, but pubs can find great value with lesser-known cuts that are often eschewed by top-end restaurants.

little bit of innovation and imagination can go a long way in extending menu options and profit margins in pubs by offering underused and alternative cuts of meat.

The use of different and more unusual cuts can add to the marketing of food within the pub and, of course, to customer interest.

It is also another way of refreshing and changing a menu’s content so that it does not become boring or repetitive.

Furthermore, some alternative cuts can be great value because many catering butchers will have more of them left over after selling the prime cuts to top restaurants and specialist buyers.

The most popular item on many menus is steak. Everyone knows the rib eye, fillet, sirloin and rump but there are plenty of other steak options that most will not have heard of, according to Hugh Judd, senior foodservice manager for beef, lamb and pork at AHDB, the agriculture levy board.

So much more can be done by using alternative steak cuts such as the picanha, the flat iron and the denver, says Judd, who advises pub chefs to look out for AHDB’s Raise The Steaks​ campaign.

The picanha is part of the rump known as the cap muscle, the flat iron is from the feather blade, fully denuded, with the centre gristle removed, and the denver is a muscle out of the chuck that can also be called a five-fingers steak (due to the five lines of gristle that have to be removed from it at the butchery stage).

Getting your money back

All these cuts are surrounded by gristle and should be completely removed by your butcher for quick-cook dishes like grills, says Judd.

They have great flavour and are tender if properly butchered, he adds.

Although the cuts deliver flavour, he warns: “Don’t think of them as simply cheaper alternatives, as they involve more preparation and every time a knife is put into meat, it adds cost. But pubs can absolutely get their money back on them while adding variety to their steak offering.”

Here’s how to make them work: sell them as three options on the menu rather than one – as a standard steak; thin sliced in sandwiches, fajitas or buns; or shredded into items such as hot salads or topping noodles.

“With thin sliced and shredded, you are using slightly less meat cost because it is bulked out with other ingredients, so the meat goes further, reducing the overall cost, but with no reduction in flavour and value.”

Judd advises pub chefs to talk to their catering butcher about preparing the cuts and to shop around. He explains: “Use an assured and licensed catering butcher. It is all about that working relationship to agree specifications and pricing. Don’t be afraid to visit your butcher and see for yourself what is available.”

Throwing up surprises

AHDB has been carrying out research on tenderness in beef and has discovered some interesting results. Trialling 10 carcasses, it took 19 muscles from each and, on cooking, found that some muscles in the forequarter traditionally used for mince, dice or braising produced excellent tenderness if cut into thin steaks.

“It threw up some surprises,” says head of trade development Mike Whittemore. Forequarter cuts such as the denver, the blade and the leg of mutton scored well when the 19 muscles tested were ranked for tenderness.

“They have to be cut thin though,” Whittemore says. “If they’re cut thick they will tighten up on cooking.”

Russell Allen, managing director of catering butcher Aubrey Allen, also advises working with and talking to catering butchers about availability and possibilities, especially good-quality alternative cuts left over.

“Suppliers will often sell the prime cuts of meat to top-end restaurants, but will be left with other parts of a carcass,” he says. “These alternative cuts can have excellent flavour at a fraction of the cost.

“The top restaurants may take the fillet steak, for example, leaving the catering butcher with the tail end, which can cut into two 3oz medallions served on a plate. It’s still a great steak on the plate but for less money than a single piece tournedos.”

The same applies to the back end of the sirloin near the rump, Allen said. “Very often we have an excess of that but we can make them into pavés of beef.”

Specialist and rare breeds of livestock can produce expensive cuts of meat but, again, while the steaks may have gone for a high price, the trim from butchering the carcass remains. Wagyu, the Japanese beef cattle breed, has grown in popularity in Britain and is seen as a luxury or gourmet meat sold in top restaurants. The trim that remains can be bought at a fraction of the cost of the prime cuts but makes really good alternative burgers that can be marketed as Wagyu burgers.

More economically priced leg steaks can be sold in the spring rather than premium chump or rack of lamb. “Put on a pavé of lamb from the leg maybe, or a slow-roast shoulder,” Allen suggests.

Offal can be a useful alternative to more expensive cuts. Pork offal, for example, can be used to make faggots, a terrine or a pâté. Beef and ox liver is underrated, as is beef cheek, he claims. “Slow cooked with onions and mashed potato coming into autumn and winter, you’ll make great food costs on that.”

Allen also advises pubs to consider creating new ‘duo’ items as a single serve dish on their menus. For example, lamb cutlets can be combined with a slow-roasted slice of lamb shoulder. “Duos are very good ways of keeping costs down, but still provide a good meal for the customer.”

Martyn Pearn, chef at Oscar’s French Bistro in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, says duo meat combination dishes are a modern take on the old-fashioned ‘surf and turf.’

He suggests lamb cutlets with a rolled breast of lamb. “You have the best of both worlds, the two together are stunning because you’ve got two different textures and flavours on one plate,” he says.

“It’s using more and more of the carcass, which is a good thing.”

Combined hot and cold items on a plate can also create interest, he says, for example braised oxtail served with beef tartare. “It adds another dimension. The beef tartare is so tender and the oxtail has meat that just falls off the bone.”

Inexpensive cuts are getting more popular with customers in general and foodies in particular, he claims. “People are realising how flavoursome they are.”

He advises pub chefs to try a ‘Jacob’s Ladder.’ “They are what used to be known as short ribs and they are becoming more and more popular because they are cooked on the bone so you are getting the flavour out of the bone when you are braising them,” Pearn explains.

“Cut from the rib section and usually cut from a beef carcass, it is braised with the meat surrounding the ribs and is extremely tender. It’s got a real old-fashioned flavour of beef.”

Getting a good yield

Shank of pork and ham hock are inexpensive cuts that can make great meals. “You get a good yield out of them, good portions and they’re absolutely gorgeous. You can braise them slowly on the bone, you’ve got juices that you can make a pea and ham stock from, plus you’ve got a lovely piece of pork that you can get three portions out of.”

Pearn advises pub chefs to keep their eyes open in the supermarket to spot trends in meat cuts.

“If you go round the supermarket you see these different cuts of meat that used to go in the stock pot but are now sold with marinades on them to give them an extra dimension.”

When it comes to lamb and pork, Judd agrees with Allen that pub chefs should use legs.

“Pork shoulders are really popular and often used for pulled pork but butchers are left with the legs so they represent better value. More availability usually means a lower purchase price.

“The problem with legs of lamb is that when simply sliced across the leg, on cooking they can tighten up because of all the tendons and gristle in them.”

So the answer is to get the butcher to ‘seam out’ the leg muscles. ‘Seaming’ meat is a traditional European butchery preparation method where individual muscles or muscle groups are removed whole from a carcass portion rather than the traditional British butchery technique of cutting across muscles to produce individual items.

Furthermore, this technique leaves little waste because meat is removed right up to the bone.

“This can be done by taking the rump or chump off one end of the leg and the shank from the other end, leaving what is known as the leg ‘barrel’, adds Judd. From the barrel, the topside can be cut for single muscle steaks, the silverside for leg noisettes and the thick flank for roasting – brilliant as a mini joint.”

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