Years ago in England, a small group of American students studying abroad proposed an American-style marketing campaign to revive the beef industry post-mad cow disease. The program became a hit among their marketing student peers, inspiring trips to McDonald's for British Big Macs, lunch runs to Marks and Spencers' for roast beef sandwiches with horseradish mayo, and steak cookouts on the hot plates of their closet-sized flats.
Now we might need to tell people to eat less of it. Yes, less beef. And not for health reasons; Morgan Spurlock can attest that even making a popular film on the dangers of the fast food industry is not enough to keep people from eating hamburgers.
No, we might be compelled to eat less beef because there is actually a beef shortage right now. The New York Times reported this week in the Dining and Wine section in an article titled “Demand and Costs Rise for the Best Cuts” that the shortage of corn for feed due to an increasing demand for ethanol along with an exceptionally cold winter, means that there are fewer cows this year and those that are around are of generally worse quality. This situation is even more dire for prime beef and free range cattle. My friend who manufactures an all-beef hot dog from grass feed beef told me he is going to have to limit his production this summer because there is just not enough high quality beef to go around.
Then again, it is summer and telling people to not grill steaks on the weekend when it is sunny and 75 degrees out is like living by the ocean and being told not to go on the beach. So what does this mean for the home cook? First of all, if you haven’t noticed already, the price of steaks in the grocery store has already gone up dramatically. So getting your beef fix and watching your budget means you might have to turn to some cheaper cuts that are now enjoying a renaissance thanks to the shortage.
For example, the once shunned skirt steak--previously known best for its role in such highly seasoned Mexican dishes as carne asada--can now be found on many a restaurant menu adorning salads and stuffed in sandwiches. The flank steak is a similar beast, surprisingly tender when cooked to medium rare and sliced across the grain. Then there is the less commonly seen hanger steak from a steer’s diaphragm, which the French have enjoyed for years under the name onglet. It is the cut commonly used for steak frites.
With all these lesser cuts, the key to avoiding a steak that chews like leather is all in the preparation and the service. Ideally, these cuts improve with a good marinade. But in a time crunch, that is not always an option, which is why the sauces served with these cuts of beef are the key to success. If you are cooking these steaks anywhere beyond medium rare, a little compound butter, topped on the steak right off the grill is just the thing to mask any dryness or toughness that might be lurking in your dinner. A great herby, garlicky sauce can take an ordinary steak to a new level with enough flavors to make a marinade almost completely unnecessary.
American advertisers brought beef back to the American dinner table and the Brits got over the bad PR brought on by some sick cows. Only now there might not be enough quality beef to go around. But just because you might not be able to serve filet at this summer’s cookout doesn’t mean you can’t get your share of beef. Just look to some parts of the cow that don’t get as much attention as the New York Strip, and this summer’s barbecue will be as beefy as ever.
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