What Good Beef Looks Like
Whenever you buy your beef, and however confident you are in your source and supply line, it certainly never hurts to know what good beef looks and feels like. Essentially, you are looking for clues that the animal has lived well and matured slowly and that the carcass has been well hung.
Once you become familiar with it and have cooked with it a few times, you’ll quickly begin to recognize good beef when you see it. The colour should be a pleasing deep red, almost purplish, not pink or bright crimson. It should look dry but shiny, rather than wet or sweating, and be pleasantly tacky to touch. If you are allowed to touch it, so much the better – prod it with a finger and it should be nicely yielding, not too firm or resistant (the opposite of fresh fish, in fact). A dent made with the thumb should remain, rather than bounce back.
Look closely at the grain of the meat for the all-important marbling. Marbling is the term used to describe the fine threads of fat that runs through the muscle meat. Those internal threads of fat, which you can see so clearly in the eye-steak of that forerib, are the holy grail of good beef, providing lubrication of the meat while it cooks, and brokering the beefy flavour of the meat on your palate even as you chew it.
On the subject of fat, I would say that a good outer layer of fat is also an excellent sign, providing the marbling is present, too. It indicates the likelihood that the animal was in rude health at the time of slaughter, and also that it was a suitable carcass for lengthy hanging (a good covering of fat protects a carcass from contamination while it matures). Add to this the natural basting property you’ll get as the joint roasts and it’s clear that fat on beef, pretty much wherever you find it, is a Good Thing. You want it there in the meat and there in the cooking – but, of course, that doesn’t mean you have to eat it.
It’s not that I would advocate that we all go out of our way to eat more lard and beef dripping. It’s just that when it comes to society’s problems with fat, the raw meat you take home for cooking simply isn’t the main culprit. For those who have a genuine problem with high cholesterol or excess body fat, it is not grilled steaks, roast leg of lamb or even a penchant for pork chops that are likely to be the cause. Highly processed, fat-laden snacks and sweets, deep-fried foods and perhaps an overindulgence in daily products do most of the damage. And when meat fat is a factor, it is highly processed sausages, burgers and pies – where all the unwanted fat and unsellable “meat” (often mechanically recovered) from intensive systems ends up – that do the damage.
So, don’t be afraid of naturally occurring fat, either outside or inside your meat. And if, as you change your meat-shopping habits from the supermarket to a more direct source, you begin to encounter more of it, don’t worry. It’s just a sign that the farmer and the butcher are doing their jobs properly. And if you do yours, you should be in for a treat.
General Cooking and Eating Quality
Intensively farmed meat is usually paler in colour, often looking wet and weepy compared to slow-grown, extensively reared meat, which should be shiny but not sweaty. To handle, poorer-quality meat is often wet and slippery, almost fish-like, rather than lightly tacky. When you come to cook it, it tends to shrink a lot and may leach watery juices into the pan. In a frying pan, for example, this can make it harder to brown the surface of the meat.
Despite the wetness, when you come to eat it, the mouthfeel of intensively farmed meat is usually dry and the texture is often soft and pate-like as if the meat has already been processed in some way. The flavour often seems to be on the outside rather than the inside of the meat.
With good meat, the flavour will increase and develop with chewing; with poor meat, it will diminish and dissipate rapidly. A few good chews of the best meat and it slips easily and pleasingly down the gullet. With inferior meat, you’re all too often generally left with a pith ball of dry, tasteless pap in your mouth, like squeezed-put cotton wool.
Very often people grow to like what is familiar to them. At the same time, there are many ingenious technologies now available to “enhance” the eating qualities of intensively farmed meat. The addition of beef extracts and other meat proteins to chicken, for example, is routine.
There is no doubt whatever that hanging is vitally important to the quality of meat. So what is hanging meat, and why does it matter so much? And why is it something that the industrial food sector can no longer be bothered with?
Hanging is the process of ageing or maturing the meat by hanging the carcass, or a part of it, from a meat hook. It needs to be done in a controlled, ideally cool, temperature, with a reasonable movement of air, ideally away from the danger of contamination by flies. Traditionally it is done in a walk-in cold room, either at the abattoir or at the butchers’.
What happens to the meat during hanging is that natural enzymes begin to act on the fibres of the muscle meat, making them softer and more elastic, so that the meat becomes more relaxed and tender. Effectively this is the onset of the beginning of decay – but it’s nothing to be alarmed about. Under carefully controlled conditions, putrefaction, of the kind that will taint the flavour of the meat.
The meat will also begin to lose moisture as it hangs. Paradoxically, this is a good thing when it comes to cooking. Wet, fresh, under-hung meat carries too much water, which expands as the temperature rises during cooking, stretching the fibres of the meat and leaching out between them – especially when the meat contract again after cooking and during carving. This means that wet meat ends up driver after cooking and vice versa. Well-hung meat is, quite simply, tastier and more tender than unhung or under-hung meat.
In NamNam Singapore, we use Angus grass fed-beef, coming chilled from South West Victoria, Australian. The cut we are using for our Pho Australian Beef slices & Pho Truffle Australian Wagyu Beef Slices comes from the cut called Rump. Considerably cheaper than fillet, RUMP STEAK is also tastier and chewier, though if it is not properly matured it can be less than tasty and far too chewy. It is also suitable frying, grilling and barbecuing, in thickish slices.
When you are sure of the quality and maturity of a piece of rump, and if it has particularly good marbling, then a large piece of the “eye” (a muscle that can be separated from the rest of the rump) makes a fabulous roast, which can be cooked fast and served rarely. The meat from the lower muscle of the rump is rather tougher. It should be separate from the piece from which you cut your rump steak and used as silverside. Good, well-hung rump steak makes the best steak tartare, but you must scrupulously remove any sinews.
The Australian beef
In Australia, cattle are mostly grazed on large areas of semi-arid and arid rangelands. This method of production is unique to Australia, which means overseas figures and data on environmental impact do not apply to the Australian industry. Their distinctive production systems and commitment to continuous improvement have led to Australian cattle producers being recognized around the world as leaders in producing some of the best red meat, while also leading the way in environmental farming practices.
Cattle graze on open pasture and most are exclusively grass-fed. Australia has nearly 29 million head of cattle, and their breeds are divided into two main varieties—temperate breeds and tropical breeds.
Temperate breeds of cattle are generally European derived—breeds such as Hereford and Angus. Cattle of this variety are most predominant in the southern parts of the country, where the climate is milder and the land is rich, fertile and abundant in the pasture. Tropical breeds of cattle are generally derived from Bos Indicus type breeds, such as Brahman and Droughtmaster. These breeds are ideal for Australia’s northern areas, which are tropical with monsoon rains in the summer.
Grass-fed beef is mostly from Australian cattle that are raised and fattened exclusively on pasture. As the demand for natural, wholesome foods increases globally, Australian grass-fed beef is being seen as an important component of a healthy diet. Raised exclusively on pasture, Australian grass-fed beef is naturally low in fat and cholesterol while offering a higher level of Omega 3 fatty acids. For these reasons, consumers are increasingly seeking out lean, grass-fed meats.
Grain-fed beef is derived from cattle that have been fed on nutritionally balanced, high-energy-finished rations for a minimum specified number of days. This feeding regime results in a more consistent product and enhanced marbling that contributes to improved tenderness, juiciness and flavour. Grain-fed beef from Australia generally yields consistent fat and meat colour.
Across the country, many livestock producers manage weeds, pests, and feral animals; help to maintain biodiversity, and reduce the risk of destructive bushfires. They implement a variety of efficient water management measures in their grazing systems, including maintaining healthy soils with adequate nutrients, minimizing runoff through vegetation management, and monitoring the frequency and intensity of grazing to make the best use of pastures.
In 2005, the Australian meat industry proactively developed and implemented the Australian Meat Industry Council (AMIC) ‘National Animal Welfare Standards for Livestock Processing Establishments’. The standards integrate Australia’s Model Codes of Practice, relevant state and commonwealth legislation, commercial requirements and community expectations into a single best practice animal welfare standards for livestock processors.