Thursday, March 29, 2007

If Ketchup is Ketchup, is Beef Beef?

There is a disturbingly hilarious Daily Show skit on Comedy Central on the subject of cloned meat. Beware, the subject matter may offend some viewers.

The author of “When Is Prime Not Prime?” (see Daily Business Life) took a more serious crack at the subject and has an interesting take. He argues that if cloning is used to produce a demonstrably superior beef cattle -- say, one that always grades USDA Prime – then eventually all beef producers will begin producing the same (cloned) beef, rendering the once demonstrably superior beef a commodity. Number 2 Corn, redux?

Seems that to be true, there would have to be such a thing as a singularly demonstrably superior beef cattle. There may be from the retail or production point of view -- uniformity could increase throughput and yield and thus improve marginal profitability. Consumers could foreseeably benefit, too, from a more consistent beef eating experience.

But is there really a single “flavor” of beef that is preferred by all people?

Malcolm Gladwell (“The Tipping Point”) wrote a fascinating article in The New Yorker titled “The Ketchup Conundrum.” Basically, he argues that there is no such thing as the perfect spaghetti sauce or the perfect mustard because different people prefer different tastes and textures. And that this rule appears to be true for every food category but one: ketchup. Somehow, Heinz ketchup offers a perfect blend of the 5 “primal” tastes in the human palate: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami. The article concludes with a taste expert shrugging “I guess ketchup is ketchup.”

Could it be true that beef is beef? Is there a perfect blend out there that appeals to virtually every individual in America?

My experience suggests an emphatic “no!” And I for one think this is something to celebrate.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Compliments To The Elliott & Ferris Families

My colleagues, Carl and Christopher Cosack, visited a Colorado ranch recently and sent me back some samples of the ranch’s dry-aged, grain-finished Charolais and Charolais-cross rib-eye steaks. I was saving the steaks for a special blind taste testing party but my husband didn't know this and accidentally cooked one up.

Hats off to the Elliott and Ferris families who raised this beef. The steak was full of flavor -- it even stood up to some fairly strong competition from the Montreal Steak salt used as a marinade. And it was plenty tender.

It’s worth noting that we cooked up a strip loin from our local butcher alongside the rib-eye. Not a perfectly fair comparison but the strip loin was milder tasting and thus in my opinion a bit overwhelmed by the marinade. FYI, the butcher couldn’t tell us the breed but based on my experience with taste testing, the strip loin was likely Angus-cross, as Angus influence seems to produce a lighter flavor (bland to me, yummy to others.)

Anyway, if you happen to like steak with a lot of flavor, try to get your hands on some dry-aged Charolais beef. Suspect the best way to enjoy the steaks is to serve them naked – once they’re cooked, drizzle a little olive oil and maybe a squeeze of lemon and a dusting of sea salt. But if you want a simple twist, here’s a simple recipe:


Charolais or Charolais-cross Rib Eye Steaks
At least 1” thick and preferably dry-aged 14-21 days
Montreal Steak salt (MSG-free)
Worcestershire Sauce (we use Lea & Perrins)
Hickory Chips
Aluminum Foil


Generously sprinkle both sides of the steaks with Montreal Steak salt and Worcestershire sauce. Let marinade at room temperature (covered) about 15 minutes while you prepare the grill.

Pre-heat gas or charcoal grill to high (about 475 F). While it’s heating, put a handful or two of hickory chips in a 12” section of foil and fold in the sides and top to create a pouch. Punch 10-20 small holes in the foil pouch and place it on the grill. It will start to smoke.

Sear the steaks on one side for 2-3 minutes (lid closed) and then flip them with a spatula or tongs and reduce the heat to medium high (about 400 F). Grill the steaks to rare or medium rare (or more if you like, though you’ll lose some flavor and tenderness). Let steaks rest at least 5 minutes before cutting and then serve ‘em up, sliced or whole.

Feel free of course to use your own grilling techniques. Just don’t pierce the steaks while they’re cooking or resting or you’ll lose the juices that keep it moist.

Note: I personally recommend that you choose from farm or ranch like Colorado's Best Beef Company that finishes their beef without the use of synthetic growth enhancers (e.g. sub-therapeutic antibiotics or growth hormones). At minimum, they can negatively influence the taste and tenderness of the meat.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Ms. Heifer USA

I have never seen such a thing: cattle being blow-dried, being groomed so each hair is exactly in its place.

Breeding cattle is serious business and these beauties here at the Western National Stock Show in Denver, Colorado, must be some of the most pampered on the planet. See if you can name the breeds.

A quick blow dry here....

And some fine tuning there:

And if these aren’t crop circles, what are they?

We’ll tell you the answer and come back to why this all matters on another date.