If your taste buds are set for a tender, juicy steak, it's the beef couch potato muscles that will deliver what you seek. Most steaks that come from these muscles have distinctive shapes and bones that make them easy to identify. Others fall far short in eating quality. So to help you avoid disappointment, here's a short lesson on steer anatomy. Also, we've included a great Mustard-Shallot Sauce to accompany your perfectly cooked beef entrée.
WHAT MAKES STEAK TENDER?
The tenderest beef comes from muscles that do the least amount of work. A higher proportion of fat is marbled through these muscles, and it's the fat that contributes to their flavor and juiciness. These muscles are located along the animal's back in sections called primal cuts: the rib (rib and ribeye steak), short loin (top loin, T-bone, and porterhouse steak), and sirloin (top sirloin, sirloin, and tri-tip steak). The most tender muscle of all is the tenderloin, or beef fillet, which is in the center of the carcass under the bone in the short loin and sirloin sections.
Well-exercised muscles, the ones the animal uses most - such as the leg (rump) and shoulder - can be tough and chewy if the meat is not properly cooked. But even though these cuts contain less fat marbling, they have great potential for flavor because the tough connective tissue breaks down and becomes delectably succulent when the meat is simmered. Only the eye-of-the-round from the leg (it looks like, and is similar in size to, the tenderloin) is very lean, firm, and usually dry-tasting - regardless of how it is cooked.
WHAT KEEPS A TENDER STEAK JUICY?
It's how, and how long, you cook a tender steak that affects its flavor and texture most.
Tender steaks do best with hot, dry heat: grilling, broiling, or pan-broiling. The high heat drives moisture from the surface of the meat fast enough for it to brown and develop rich flavors. This searing does not, as so often falsely advertised, "seal in juices." It just evaporates them. Juices continue to seep as long as the meat is cooking - and as it stands to cool. If enough of the juices are lost, as when cooked to well-done, the meat tastes dry, unless it's a tender cut marbled with fat. Some fat melts out (and promotes browning), but enough remains to add to the eating quality of the meat.
If you like steaks with red to pink interiors, you can use less tender cuts - from the top sirloin and top round. Cooked rare, they are juicy and easy enough to chew to be very palatable. When cooked past the rare stage, lean beef gets hard, dry, and very chewy.
PREP AND COOK TIME: About 5 minutes NOTES: Set any sautéed or grilled tender beef steak (3/4 to 1 lb. total) from the rib, short loin, sirloin, or round in a platter with this sauce. Slice the meat and swirl the juices through the sauce. Serve meat with sauce, adding salt and pepper to taste.
MAKES: About 1/4 cup
In a 6- to 8-inch frying pan over medium heat, stir 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1/3 cup chopped shallots until shallots are limp, about 3 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 3 tablespoons dry vermouth, and 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar and stir until hot, about 30 seconds.
Per tablespoon: 87 cal., 70% (61 cal.) from fat; 0.3 g protein; 6.8 g fat (0.9 g sat.); 2.7 g carbo (0.1 g fiber); 93 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.