Pandemic or not, consumers are looking for more from their meat, and chefs are obliging.
By Amanda Baltazar
There may be a plant-based craze going on right now, but vegan foods aren’t for everyone. Plenty of American consumers still seek meat-rich meals, which helps keep the art of butchery alive.
We checked in with some chefs to find out the trends in that world.
Less Expensive Cuts
Americans are looking for comfort food, given all the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, which means inexpensive cuts, says Chef Jeffrey Schlissel, president of the Palm Beach Chefs Association and an active ACF chef for more than 20 years. He has a passion for butchery and runs Bacon Cartel, an online pork resale and catering business based in Boca Raton, Florida.
One of his favorites is beef plate, which is near the flank and the brisket. “It has grain in two ways, but the fat content, with the marbling, makes it an amazing cut,” he says, adding that he smokes the plate to make beef bacon, offering a unique spin on a classic favorite.
He also expects to see more tri-tip, shoulder clods, flat meats like skirts, chuck roll, chuck steak and offal. There’s also the butcher’s filet, which was traditionally what the butcher took home because it was the beefiest, “yummiest” cut. Also known as the hanging tender, it’s located near the animal’s kidney. “It’s not the sexiest cut of meat, but it has the marbling of a filet and the beefiness of a ribeye, so it lives in the best of both worlds. I’ve ‘Szechuaned’ it with a glaze; done it with rubs; grilled it,” Chef Schlissel says.
Many chefs don’t want to cook these lesser cuts because they take so long, he says, “but the end products are phenomenal.”
Of the 42 menu items at Knife in Dallas, nine or 10 are dry aged. “Dry aging meat allows it to become richer, tighter and beefier,” says Chef/Owner John Tesar, who ages the meat for up to 240 days. Most popular are his ribeye and sirloin; he’s also featured short aged pork chops on the menu, which are aged up to 21 days.
Chef Tesar has been experimenting with white mold from his lox for the past six years and is hoping Knife will be the first restaurant in the country to use this natural white mold for beef. Others, he says, inoculate their steak to grow the mold, and typically buy the culture from a purveyor, rather than doing it in-house. He’s also experimenting with dry-aged foie gras, which “is quite amazing, because it concentrates the sweetness and nuttiness,” he says. “By eliminating the moisture, it leaves 100% fat, and changes the texture, allowing us to cook it several ways.”
All consumers are becoming professional diners, so dry aging is important, says Chef Marc Hennessy of Baltimore steakhouse Monarque. “Guests are looking for an experience and a stronger flavor of steak and a better texture,” he says, noting that dry aging has gone beyond being just a fad. “It’s going to stick around.”
Since Chef Hennessy started buying whole animals, he’s finding new cuts he didn’t use before. “There’s a country-cut, bone-in filet under the sirloin, after the short loin cut,” he says. “It’s the full end of the beef tenderloin, so it’s the fattest, thickest part of it.” Each cow has just four to six of these, “so it’s a luxury cut,” he says; he charges $150 for a 20-ounce steak.
Chef Hennessy has given some of these cuts their own names, such as the “Atlas Pin Chop,” a large cut from the same area with bone and sirloin intact, which is cut after the porterhouse.
He’s also found a way to remove the entire flat iron steak, bone in, which he dry ages for more than a month. “We created a really cool steak we’d never heard of cut this way,” Chef Hennessy says. “It’s really soft and super tender, and has an iron-y flavor due to where it is.”
Meat that has no hormones or antibiotics, and is non-GMO and grass-fed, is becoming increasingly important to America’s dining public and its chefs.
“I want things that are more wholesome for our guests,” Chef Hennessy says. And, he adds, these products have become less expensive while, at the same time, “guests are more willing to spend the money.”
At RARE Steakhouse — where, until recently, Hennessy served as executive chef — the grass-fed, local, all-natural beef products have their own menu category; that section constituted 35% to 37% of sales. During the COVID-19 shutdown, the steakhouse — which has locations in Madison, Wisconsin; Milwaukee; and Washington, D.C. — ran a butcher’s shop, and these products sold really well. “[They] never lost [their] demand. People are looking for healthier food and want to know where their food is coming from,” Chef Hennessy says.
Meat By The Box
Two years ago, Chef Justin Severino launched Salty Pork Bits, a retail charcuterie company that ships nationwide. Also the co-owner of Morcilla in Pittsburgh, Chef Severino started Salty Pork Bits as a subscription-based company; it now sells options such as Spanish, Italian or French boxes, each typically containing four salamis.
The boxes feature charcuterie, and Chef Severino, a whole-animal butcher and chef, is getting ready to add more meats like pancetta and bacon. In his repertoire are about 64 flavors of salami.
Chef Severino is most excited about his two-ingredient salamis because “we take things that are beautiful when in season and do as little possible to them,” he explains. Of course, they have salt, sugar, nitrites and starter culture, which makes the salami safe, but beyond that, he likes to add just one ingredient to the meat, such as padrone pepper, smoked apple, tomato, ramps or green garlic. “We focus on trying to perfect simple dishes, which is much harder to do than a dish with many ingredients,” he says.
The products are local as much as possible, as well as seasonal. “It’s such a great representation of where we are geographically and seasonally,” Chef Severino says.