When Blake and I sat back and looked at what food obsessed us in 2009, we noticed an unusual interest in beef. Pork is still the hippest meat around, and praise for beef sometimes seems limited to talk about steaks or short ribs. We wrote about both of those cuts this year, but we did it our way. We also managed to dress up mounds of round, tenderize brisket, turn chuck into the tender foundation of chili, and wax poetic about the humble hot dog. There was no intentional theme to these posts, though they all seemed to explore the idea of unlocking beef's cheaper side. Each recipe was designed to maximize the flavor of these humble cuts.
The glaring exception of this trend was the Butter Steak: What's the Best Way to Cook a Steak?, which took one of the most expensive cuts of cow and cooked simply in a glorious amount of butter. I'm not sure if it was the simplicity of a fatty cut cooked well or just that primal need to eat a big juicy steak, but it turned into one of our most popular posts, even if I'll probably only have the chance to make it once a year.
Speaking of steak, Blake dug up the best ribeye money can buy, down in Buenos Aires where the beef is opulent, ubiquitous, and dirt cheap. A glass of Malbec, endless side dishes, bloody rare ribeye and and a flute of champagne to finish cost about $25. So enamored of this steak he was, he started asking questions, ending up at the largest cattle market in the world outside the city, where over 10,000 head of live cattle are auctioned daily and herded about by authentic gauchos. It was a saga of steak, animal to plate.
On the opposite, cheaper front, the beef round cut, also known as butt, seemed to be in our heads all year long. It's one of the cheapest cuts of the cow, yet unfortunately also one with the least amount of flavor. Blake and I challenged each other to try and find round's potential, and try and create a tasty and affordable dish.
I went straight for the Italian beef. I'd been drawn to the sandwich after I ate at Al's #1 Beef on Taylor. There roasted round was sliced thinly and served with a richly spiced gravy haunted with nutmeg, and topped spicy giardineria. The result was an oddly meaty sandwich that exploited round in a really satisfying way. Blake, who was living in Estonia where the only beef they had was butt round, looked to German Sauerbraten, marinating it in a complex, vinegary sauce that created a roast that was the centerpiece of the table.
A few weeks ago I stretched the limits of a Sous Vide machine and tried the beef equivalent of turning water into wine. My attempt to convert round into a steak showed a little promise, but ultimately fell short. I had much better luck with some short ribs, which turned out beautifully medium-rare after 40 hours of cooking!
Of course, it's not really that hard to make short ribs taste good, which we also discovered this year. I had incredible luck with Korean short ribs earlier in the year, which differ from traditional short ribs in their cross-cut butchering style, also known as the flanken cut. They were dunked in a pear juice and soy sauce marinade and then grilled quickly over searing heat. As Blake also found out in L.A., Korean barbecue is never a bad idea.
This year also found Blake and I attempting to make our own batches of chili. I went the way of Texas, all in a vain attempt to win Time Out's Chili Cookoff. I used handfuls of chili and spices, three types of alcohol, a tad bit of tomato, and absolutely no beans to create my meat-heavy batch. Blake made his version by utilizing some of his leftover Sauerbraten, and approachable and balanced chili that taught him the importance of acidity as a seasoning agent along the way.
But these are just some of the bigger posts. I tried my first corned beef. Blake set about constructing the perfect Chicago-Style Hot Dog, and waxed poetic about South African Biltong, a jerky-style cured meat that's illegal to import to the U.S.
Not a bad year for beef on our site.