|Cube steak: it's a bit of a misnomer if you ask me. I don't think there's anything cubist about it. But hey, I guess it sounds a lot better than "perforated meat" which is what cube steak really is. Now why would you perforate a perfectly good piece of meat? Well, to convert a flavorful, but tough, hunk of meat into something that is flavorful and tender.||
Now where might
you find such a bit of goodness? Well, of all the primal cuts, I would say that the round is the best
candidate. Of course, it's divided into the top round, the bottom round, and the
knuckle. And of all of these, the bottom round is ideal for cube steak. It's
lean, fairly tough because it does a lot of exercising. But, it's also got a
great deal of flavor in it. And it can be had for a very, very reasonable price.
Now when shopping for a cube steak, you're probably going to run across two different types: cube steak, and special cube steak. What's the difference?
AGENT #1: According to The North American Meat Processors Association, item #1100, a.k.a "cube steak", can be prepared from any portion of the carcass excluding the shank and heel meat. However, item #1101, a.k.a. "beef cube steak, special", is to be prepared exclusively from the round, loin, rib, or chuck sections. Additionally, the knitting together of two or more pieces of meat, or the folding of the meat during the cubing process is permissible only in the cut sold as "cube steak", not as "cube steak, special".
That's right, he said, "knitting". But in this case, he's not talking about
making a sweater. He's talking about the process of melding multiple pieces of
meat into one single Frankensteak.
Now these look pretty good. But in some cases, you may not be able to tell which body parts went into your cube steak. And for me, well, that's reason enough to just avoid them altogether. Besides, a two-pound bottom roast—a bottom round roast—when perforated personally in the privacy of your kitchen, will taste better and it will probably be a good bit cheaper. Now you can cut this yourself. But if your butcher is ready and willing—and most are—just ask them to slice it down into 1/2-inch pieces. That'll be perfect.
GUEST: The Dungeon Master
Now if we are going to cube our meat ourselves, we will need a device: a device of lethal cunning capable of going medieval on a piece of meat. To that end, I put a call in this morning to my dungeon keeper.
GUEST: The Dungeon Master
AB: Hello, anybody home?
DUNGEON MASTER: [is typing on a laptop.]
AB: What are you doing? You're supposed to be building stuff.
DM: Oh, Master, don't be jealous that I've been chatting online with babes all day.
AB: You know, that's fine. I'll get what I need from "W".
DM: Oh no, master mustn't. Mean and cruel she is. She hateses us. Look, look what I made for you, Master, with my own loving handses. [Grabs AB and drags him to the next room]
DM: Look, master. Look [uncovers a professional knitting machine]. Ha ha he heh heh heh heh. Eighty-six tenderizing blades. Eleventy hundred and eighteen cutting edges. Slices and knits meats simultaneously from both edges.
DM: And if you happen to have any bad bunnies around ... [goes to put a stuffed bunny in to the machine]
AB: [stops him] Hey, hey, that's, that's fine. I get the point.
DM: Not if you use the hand guard. Safety first, master.
AB: This is, this is very snazzy. Made it yourself, did you?
DM: Oh, yes. I had a lot more time on my hands since you made me cut back on the torturing and all.
AB: Yeah. I can't help but notice it says here, "Made in Switzerland".
DM: Why do you hate me so, Master?
AB: You bought this on the Internet, didn't you?
DM: Oh, a couple of parts, perhaps.
AB: How'd you pay for it?
DM: Oh, this little plastic thing with the numbers on it.
AB: It's my credit card!
DM: Ohhhhh ...
AB: [indignantly] How much?
DM: Oh, not much. Fifteen ...
AB: ... dollars?
DM: Oh, please, have mercy on us. We only wishes to please and maybe cube a guppy or two.
AB: No, no, no, it goes back now. I'll find another way of doing this. And you, Sir, you've been a very bad Dungeon Master ...
AB: ... and as punishment, I want you to go skim the moat.
DM: [happily] Oh, ha ha. [reaches for a used straw] Lucky straw. [runs away gleefully] Hoo hoo hoo hee hee ha ha.
If, like me, you are not willing to part company with 1500 dollars just to cube
some steaks, there are some alternatives. For instance, hunters really like this
little hand-crank model that supposedly cubes meat. But I think it really just
kind of cuts it into pieces. No, no good. Oh, you can go with a more classic
tool. For instance, every American home has one of these. It's called a meat
tenderizer. It isn't. It should be called a musher, because that's all it does
is mush things into, you know, blech. There is another little device,
though, that not too many people know about. I like to think of it as my own
little personal secret. Check this out.
It's called a needler. Check this out.
For the sake of illustration, let us pretend that this slab of gelatin is a steak to be cubed. Observe. [uses the needler on the gelatin] Now remember, the goal is to break down as many fibers of connective tissue as possible. So I like to make four or five passes across the meat in one direction and then turn the device 90 degrees, and make four more passes. Flip and repeat on the other side.
Check it out. See all those little perforations? [sees that the camera angle and lighting makes this difficult] Oh, let me help. [turns on a back light] There. Now you see them? Imagine if each one of those was cutting a piece of connective tissue. Imagine the tenderizing power that would have. Of course, before we actually puncture a perfectly good piece of meat, we should consider some cooking options.
Want to cube?
Feed your favorite search engine "48 blade meat tenderizer".
GUEST: Diner Server
If you want to research cube steak, then you really ought to get yourself down to your local roadside diner ...
SERVER: [puts a plate of food down in
front of AB]
AB: [to his server] Thank You!
... because there is no better place. Of course, if you could pick the diner up and move it around the country, you would probably find that cube steak-related terms and definitions change with the topography.
|For instance, in North Carolina I know for a fact that ordering country-fried steak will get you a cube steak which has been dredged in flour, browned, and then braised in a brown sauce.||
Now up in Maryland, this might be served to you as Salisbury steak, which is
odd because I'm pretty sure that Dr. Salisbury himself ...
animated Dr. Salisbury on a bicycle rides by]
... designed his dish around ground meat.
|Stranger still, in parts of Minnesota this dish might be served to you as Swiss steak even though it doesn't have any onions or tomatoes on it.||
Minnesota welcomes you!
|And in the great state of Texas, order a country-fried steak and you'll probably get a battered cube steak, pan-fried, and served with a peppered cream gravy.||
Now Entering Texas!
Lunch Dinner OPEN
|In other words, no matter where you roam, cube steak confusion is sure to follow.||
United States of America
Well, in the name of culinary clarity, I'm going to stick out my neck and declare that a cube steak, lightly dredged in flour, lightly pan-fried, and then braised in a brown sauce is indeed, country-style steak. It's a beautiful tune and here's how it goes.
GUEST: Swiss Girl
|Here we have our two pounds of beef bottom round trimmed of excess fat. We will liberally season on both sides with salt and pepper and then, before we perforate, we will dredge lightly in all-purpose flour. Why? Because the flour will help the meat hold on to moisture as we poke holes in it. Plus, it'll help the flour to stick and that will make a better outer coating.||
2 Lbs. Beef Bottom Round,
Trimmed of Excess Fat,
Cut into ½ Inch Steaks
2 tsp. Kosher Salt & 1 tsp.
¾ Cup All-Purpose Flour
So, punch in both directions, both sides of the meat. It'll take a few minutes, but it's fun. And then we return to the dredging pan for another coating of flour. Make sure you dust off all of the extra and then lay that out on a wire rack over a sheet pan.
|Begin by placing a four to five quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat; cast iron is always a good idea. Then add just enough vegetable oil, canola oil, or what have you, to ... Oh, what the heck. Cover just the bottom of the pot. Watch it closely. Because as soon as it starts to shimmer, like that, it's time to add the meat. And the goal here is to get this done without overcrowding it. So kind of be careful how you arrange it. There. As long as there is some space between the meat and the edge of the pan and each piece of meat, you will have thorough browning instead of stewing. It's going to take about two minutes per side.||1/4 Cup Vegetable Oil|
When they are nicely browned on both sides, move them to a plate, or in this case, the pot lid, and cover with a nice big piece of foil until you are done with the rest of the meat. When those last pieces are ready to exit the pan, you want to get them out pretty quickly because you don't want the little brown bits on the bottom of the pan to burn. I know, you can't see it, but they're there.
|So get two cups of chicken broth, canned or home-made, into the pan to deglaze, and flavor that up with one teaspoon of dried thyme. Whisk, not only to combine, but also to help get those bits off of the bottom. As soon as the liquid comes to a boil, it's time for everybody to get back in the pool. Now I know this liquid isn't much of a sauce now, but it will be. It will be. And remember when positioning the meat, even distribution means even cooking. There we go. Now lid up!||
2 Cups Chicken Broth
1 tsp. Dried Thyme
This now goes into the middle of a 300 degree oven for 1.5 to 2 hours, or until the meat is the consistency of butter.
Ahh, this is what we call DMT: Deep Mahogany and Tender. So tender, you don't
even need a knife to cut it. You know, the long, slow, covered, moist cooking
method, or braising, that we used, not only converted the humble liquids that we
added into a delicious sauce, it finished what the needles began, that is, the
complete decimation of connective tissue.
Now this is a cooking method that lends itself well to a wide variety of dishes all based on this same cheap cut of meat. Now one that comes to mind right off the top of my head is Swiss steak, which, uh ...
SWISS GIRL: [Brett dressed in Swiss drag, appears in the window and winks at AB]
... is not really what it seems, like ... never mind.
Although conventions of culinary nomenclature would suggest that Swiss steak would originate in a place called Switzerland, the term actually comes from an old British word, 'swissing,' which is a process of running a piece of fabric through a set of rollers in order to soften it. Now the beginning of the procedure is exactly, precisely like the browning phase of our country-style steak, which is where we will pick up the action.
|[removing meat after browning in the Dutch oven with a little bit of oil] Remove the meat and tuck it under our tent just as before, then we'll introduce some aromatics to the party: one large onion sliced thin, two stalks of celery chopped fine, and two cloves of garlic minced. And just sauté that, again, over medium-high heat for about two minutes or until the onions turn golden brown and delicious.||
1 Large Onion, Thinly Sliced
2 Stalks Celery, Chopped
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
According to the Texas
Restaurant Association, some 800,000
orders of chicken-fried steak are served daily.
|We will require the services of one tablespoon of tomato paste, one 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes, one tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, one teaspoon of dried oregano, and one teaspoon of smoked paprika. Now for those of you who are not familiar with this fine spice, smoked paprika hails from the La Vera region of Spain, and it's available in sweet, bittersweet, and hot varieties. You can get them from online spice merchants and some well-stocked megamarts. Now if you can't get hold of the smoked stuff, you can use just regular old paprika, but the final dish will be missing a certain smoky goodness. Oh, and you're going to need a cup and a half of beef broth.||
1 Tbs. Tomato Paste
1 (14.5) Can Diced Tomatoes
1 Tbs. Worcestershire Sauce
1 tsp. Each Dried Oregano
& Smoked Paprika
1½ Cups Beef Broth
Bring that brew up to a boil, and then add the steaks back to the pot being careful to thoroughly submerge them. Be certain that you literally wiggle the steaks down into the vegetation because if they float up to the surface during their time in the oven, then they'll only get half the flavor that they so richly deserve.
Now park this in the middle of your oven, 325 degrees, 1.5 to 2 hours, or until the meat is ... that's right ... like butter.
GUEST: Deb Duchon, Nutritional Anthropologist
Ahh, what a delectable device, smothered in onions, and infused with a smoky goodness that can only be called good eats.
DD: Hey mister, you can't bring your own food in here. You gotta order
AB: You know, I used to have to say, "nutritional anthropologist" to summon you up. Now you just pop in and out whenever you want. What's up with that?
DD: Well I just happen to be here doing undercover social research on middle-age suburbanite males and social bonding through caffeine consumption.
DD: So, what are you gonna have?
AB: Well, I think I'll have a CFS—that's chicken fried steak, the unofficial state dish of Texas, which just happens to be based on ...
DD: ... weinerschnitzel.
AB: That is correct. But what I want to know, is how a nice little German cutlet became the cornerstone of Lone Star cuisine?
DD: Cultural adaptation. You see, during the 19th century, thousands of Germans actually emigrated into the hill country of central Texas.
AB: Which explains why I like Texan beer so much, I guess.
DD: When they got there, they found there was lots of beef, but no market for veal. And so they just adapted their weinerschnitzel recipe by tenderizing tougher cuts of meat. Even that light gravy that they put on chicken fried steak, that has roots in German cuisine, from ramenschnitzel, which is a fried cutlet with cream sauce. But over time, chuck wagon cooks started making it and that resulted in the myriad varieties we have today. Even our genius chef here in the diner is experimenting with using crème fraiche, and chanterelles.
AB: Ew, well, you know, in that case, Deb, maybe I'll just take matters into my own hands. See 'ya.
CHEF HAL: [off camera] Order up, Deb!
DD: Oh, keep your pants on, Hal!
|So, here we go again with another two pounds of beef bottom round, trimmed of excess fat, and cut into half-inch steaks. After the initial seasoning and dredging, and of course, needling, we'll go back into flour, knock off the excess, then into three whole eggs, lightly beaten. Be sure to handle the meat by the corner, so you don't get club hand. After the egg, we'll go with another layer of flour. That's going to help to create a nice, thick, chicken fried steak exterior. After the steaks are done, move them to a wire rack and allow them to sit for at least ten or fifteen minutes before cooking.||
2 Lbs. Beef Bottom Round,
Trimmed of Excess Fat,
Cut into ½ Inch Steaks
1 Cup All-Purpose Flour
3 Whole Eggs, Beaten
|Place a ten to twelve inch, sloped-sided fry pan over medium-high heat, and apply just enough oil or bacon drippings, to barely, barely cover the pan in a thin film. Now you'll notice that we have switched over from the Dutch oven. And that's because, well one, we're not making a stew this time so we might as well have a little more real estate to work in, but the main reason is that we will be building a gravy. And this type of pan is far more whisk-friendly. Let's introduce the meat to the heat.||
Vegetable Oil Or Bacon
Again, we do not want to crowd the pan but we don't want to waste time or energy either. Always place the rounded part of the meat towards the rounded part of the pan. If I do this right, I should be able to get three pieces in here. I've got a small one. There we go. Now these are going to cook for about four minutes per side. In the meantime, you want to make sure that you have a waiting place for these to sit. I've got a wire cooling rack over a half sheet pan.
Smoked paprika is made by drying ripe peppers in adobe smokehouses;
gently heated by slow-burning oak wood.
|As each batch of your steaks finish up, you want to stash them just on a wire rack set on a sheet pan in a 250 degree oven, to keep them nice and cozy. [In a faux German accent] Now we build zee gravy.||
|For that, we will require some starch, and we just happen to have some here. We also need a whisk which we've also got. So, this pan will go back over, let's say, medium heat, and we'll add a little bit more vegetable oil. Not enough to coat, just, eh, maybe a tablespoon will do. And I'm going to add three tablespoons of flour left over from the dredging process. Just kind of sprinkle it around the pan. One, two, three. If it's not exact, that's okay, and whisk.||
1 Tbs. Vegetable Oil
3 Tbs. Remaining Flour
|Why the whisking? Because we want every single little grain of flour to be covered with fat so that there won't be any clumping when the liquid enters the pan. Speaking of, we have two cups of chicken broth and just whisk until this comes just to a boil, and it will thicken up very nicely indeed. Why? Well, because that's what starch does.||2 Cups Chicken Broth|
[approaches a bunch of cans,
suspended with springs compressed inside them, to represent starch granules] I
mean, we suspended all those little flour granules in fat, right, so that
they're evenly distributed now through the broth. And as the broth gets hotter,
these little guys will all of a sudden open up delivering their starchy payload
all through the liquid. Ha ha ha ha. And of course, what does that do? Well, all
these little tangles form a mesh to trap liquid. Thus, we have gravy. [notices
that he has gone a little over the top] Sorry.
Chicken fried steak won't be chicken fried steak if it doesn't have a white gravy on it. White gravy means dairy. The question is, which one? We have some heavy cream here. Nice, but not for this kind of gravy because it'll separate, become greasy, before it even gets to the table. Half-and-half doesn't have as much fat, but it's still a little too much. It'll overwhelm the subtle peppery flavor that we are going to have. Skim milk, too far in the other direction. It's basically just, you know, white water. So the ideal suggestion: one-half cup of good old fashioned whole milk. You just can't beat it for saw mill gravy.
|As soon as the stock begins to thicken up—broth, rather, and it has—we'll add half a cup of that milk and continue to whisk while adding in about a teaspoon, or, we'll say, half a teaspoon of fresh thyme, and continue over medium heat until this coats the back of a spoon.||
½ Cup Whole Milk
½ tsp. Fresh Thyme
|There. We'll check ... and it coats the back of a spoon very, very nicely. How does it taste? Could use a little salt and a whole lot more pepper. We'll say a good heavy pinch of kosher, and we'll say about five good grinds ... ah, what the heck, we'll make it ten good grinds of pepper. That should do the trick.||
A Pinch of Salt & Pepper To
Now that, my friends, is cubed steak taken to its highest possible elevation. Ahh, chewy on the inside, a little crusty on the outside, all smothered in a peppery creamy gravy. Yep, there's only one thing missing from this picture. [a mug of beer comes into view]. Correction. Life's complete! Ha ha ha!
GUESTS: Gallery Workers #1 & #2
GALLERY WORKERS #1 & #2: [remove the cube steak from its display case]
Well, it appears that cube steak doesn't deserve to be in this exhibit after all. Cubing, like atom smashing, is a mighty force. But with a little know-how in your noggin, you too can use your power for good ... eats, that is.
Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger
Last Edited on 08/27/2010