The Knife and Fork

One man's opinion on cooking (and drinking)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Chuck Eye Steaks

In the early 1990’s my friend Sean and I would often go to San Francisco Giants games at Candlestick Park. This was before the new ownership group brought in Barry Bonds and erected real bleachers in the outfield. We sat in the multipurpose stadium’s equivalent to bleacher seats  – “General Admission”. They were real seats, not benches, in the left field corner but were at a strange angle due to the fact that Candlestick was designed for several purposes but excelled at none of them. Despite their deficiencies, the $3.25 per seat price tag was all the incentive we needed. At one point we realized the open seating allowed us to choose seats near the left field foul pole, a scant few feet away from the high rent Lower Box Seats. One game a General Admission patron heckled nearby Box Seat customers and basically informed them they were suckers for paying six times more for essentially the same seats.

So what does this have to do with steak? The cow is a lot like seat prices at a baseball park. Someone in the Meat-Government complex divided up the cuts with strict lines and assigned varying quality and price levels to them. The cuts from the rib and short loin command a much higher price point than cuts from the chuck or round for good reason. A quality rib eye or porterhouse may be the greatest expression of steak but the rib/loin borders its inferiors neighbors, the round and the chuck (think Canada and Mexico),  in a contiguous stretch . So how different can the north end of a rib loin be than the south end of the chuck?  I don't think it's a precise anatomical line so someone arbitrarily decided where the rib eye ended and the chuck began. It was this thought that intrigued me when I saw some “chuck eye steaks” I saw at the store the other night.

My understanding was that the chuck eye was essentially the extension of the rib roast (i.e. rib eye). I found a couple chuck eye steaks with beautiful marbling and an overall shape similar to a rib eye. They were each about 8 oz. and were priced at $5.49/lb. For $6 I figured they were worth a try. I couldn’t make them for a few nights so I sprinkled them with kosher salt and drizzled them with olive oil, having great success with this process in the past.

Friday night came and my emotions ran the gamut from thinking they could be as sublime as the outer ‘ring of heaven’ on a prime rib (or rib eye) to dread, imagining them to be tough and livery tasting. I conjectured that, like other pieces of chuck, they would benefit from long and slow cooking. Perhaps they would become meltingly tender with slow, gentle heat in the oven. With a half-formed plan I started dinner. I began by using my trusty confit method – rendering excess steak fat trimmings in a cast iron pan for searing the tied-up steaks. So far so good but I could already see a different hue and grain structure than a rib eye. I started getting nervous. After developing a crusty exterior I put them in a 250 degree oven and browsed the internets for comments or recipes on this cut. It seemed clear that cooking them beyond medium rare was a mistake, so naturally I panicked. I pulled the steaks out of the oven and used a thermometer to test one. It topped out at about 150 degrees so I figured I had screwed that up (although the finger push test told me they were just right). The obvious antidote to a tough or dry or poorly flavored steak is augmentation - specifically sauce or toppings. I sautéed mushrooms and made a red wine pan sauce, hoping they would cover any shortcomings.

The wife made a mashed potato recipe that used Yukon Gold potatoes through a food mill and lots of olive oil and I sautéed up some swiss chard. We had a bottle of Carmenere from Argentina that turned out to be fantastic (we’re going to Cost Plus tomorrow to see if any is left). The mashed potatoes were excellent and deserving of a separate entry. The steaks – they were good. They weren’t out of this world and superior to their rib eye neighbor. If they were I wouldn’t be the first to discover this. They had a different flavor like other chuck cuts do (i.e flat iron and baja steaks). It might be off-putting to some but it’s not that strong. I was amazed how tender they were. I braced myself for some serious chew but mine was more tender than most rib eyes I’ve had. The flavor was less buttery than a rib eye or New York (or Porterhouse or T-Bone) but it was good and definitely not bland. They would take very well to a marinade.

Conclusion – if you see real “chuck eye steaks” and they look well-marbled I suggest you give them a try. Season liberally, sear over high heat (pan or bbq) and finish with some slow roasting. It could be replace the Flat Iron as the hip new steak (not the new hip steak).


Blogger The Dog Cobbler said...

What do you think about Top Sirloin? I often find it, especially around 4th of July priced at a mere $2.49 a pound at Safeway. I usually stock up.

11:09 AM  
Blogger TasteBud said...

Top Sirloin is one of my favorite steaks, when it's good quality. Great flavor, decent tenderness and an excellent price point. The trick is making sure it has some marbling. It can be so lean and the result is tough, dry and flavorless steak. I also like it about an inch and a half thick. Costco has been selling Prime Grade Top Sirloin (yes, Prime Grade) for $4.99/lb. It tastes as good as any NY I've had.

12:16 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

I love chuck eye steaks braised with red wine, carrots and onions. They absolutely fall apart around 4 hours in and make the best meat sauce for pasta for a second meal. The price you grabbed these for was much higher than what I can get them for in Southern Oregon, which is normally around 3 bucks/pound. I've been meaning to try them on the grill, as I've seen some with pretty amazing marbling. Let's hope this doesn't become the next big thing, I hate paying the prices that come after the hype.

6:20 PM  

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