Thursday, April 3, 2014

Beef - how it is graded. Filet Mignon - how to cut your own (G)

Meat markets are a mystery to most of us. We see words like choice, prime, select and probably think they will help us to make an educated meat purchase. Unfortunately, unless we are in-the-know, we don't know!

According to Prime Time Steak Houses, "...of all the beef produced in the US, less than 2% is certified as USDA Prime. Typically you will not find USDA Prime in the supermarkets since its limited supply is snapped up by fine meat buyers who sell it to upscale restaurants and wealthy consumers."

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)  grades beef we eat. Only inspected beef may carry the USDA stamp. The grading system measures the amount of marbling in the lean, ribeye portions and compares this with the age of the beef. The fat marbling determines tenderness, juiciness and flavor. The age of the beef determines the texture and flavor of the beef.  A younger beef will have finer texture and the meat will be more red. More marbling + younger beef = higher grade.
Only young, well-marbled beef will have the USDA Prime stamp. The package below was purchased at a Sam's Club. It contained a whole beef tenderloin and cost $125.00 in February 2014.

There are usually only three USDA grades of beef we would see in a supermarket, meat market or a restaurant. They are USDA Prime, Choice and Select.

Lower grades are "Cutter" and "Canner" which are the grades of beef typically found in hamburgers and processed foods. USDA Select is at the low end of the beef barrel. Be very careful: some major chain stores will try to make you believe that Select is tender and tasty - they will often market select with words like Manager's special or Special Select.

Another trick to fool customers is to use the words "prime" and "choice" without the USDA stamp or shield. And, to make matters worse, there are actually three grades of choice. So confusing!

At a recent culinary school seminar, the chef let us all in on another little secret: if a whole beef tenderloin is purchased in a vacuum wrap package, it may be held in the refrigerator for a few weeks and this will allow the natural enzymes to relax the meat fibers - even more tender meat!

There are only two whole tenderloin pieces per beef. No wonder it is so expensive! When purchased, whole, it will need to be trimmed substantially. Notice the photo below: the fat and silvery fibers will have to be removed.

  Use a very sharp knife to remove these undesirable parts and set aside. Also, trim off the large lobe of meat near the top of the tenderloin to leave a cylinder of meat which tapers at one end.

 Decide how thick you would like your filet mignon steaks to be and slice the cylinder of beef accordingly. I was able to create eleven filets from the tenderloin purchases.

 What to do with the meat/fat trimmings: I used a meat grinder and ground the trimmed meat. This gave me six nice-sized hamburgers.

*The lobe of meat trimmed from the cylinder was used to make Italian beef. This wonderful recipe will be featured at a later date as will the directions on how to cook the perfect Filet Mignon!

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