Enjoyed all over the world, there are dozens of classic beef dishes, from the British Sunday roast, to French boeuf bourguignonne, German sauerbraten and Russian stroganoff. Beef’s popularity is party due to its versatility. There are many different cuts of beef, and many of these are suitable for a range of cooking methods. Tender fillet, for example, is perfect for cutting into steaks for grilling (broiling), strips for stir-frying, or baked whole, wrapped in pastry. Other cuts, such as the less expensive shin of beef, are unsuitable for roasting or grilling but are wonderful in stews and braised dishes – and are perfect for slow cooker cooking.
Above: Topside, also known as top round or top rump, is a fairly lean cut of
beef that is best slowly braised or pot-roasted.
Buying and Storing:
As with all meat, the flavor and texture of beef is determined by the breed of the animal, its feed, the environment in which it is reared and, ultimately, by the process of slaughtering and the treatment of meat before it is cooked. While pork and lamb tend to come from very young animals, beef usually comes from those aged between 18 months and 2 years.
Beef should be hung to allow the flavor to develop and the texture to improve, preferably for at least two weeks. Well-matured beef has a deep, rich burgundy colour, not a bright red hue, and the fat is a creamy colour, or yellow, if the animal was grass-fed. Maturing is an expensive process because some water content will be lost through evaporation, so expect to pay a little more for well-hung meat. The leanest looking joint isn’t always the best: for pot roasting, casseroling and braising, a marbling of fat running through the meat will provide flavor and basting to keep the meat moist.
Beef should be kept on a low shelf in the refrigerator, below any cooked foods and ingredients that will be eaten raw. When buying pre-packed meat, check and observe the eat- by date. Whether pre-packed beef should be used within 1-2 days of buying; chops and small joints should be used within 3 days. And large joints within 4-5 days.
Left (from top): Thick flank makes good braising steak; thin frank produces rich flavoured steaks and is best suited to slow, moist methods of cooking.skirt and onglet, which is taken from the skirt area, are lean cuts with a coarse texture that become moist and tender when slowly braised.
Cuts of Beef:
Butchering techniques differ according to regional and culture traditions, and also from country to country. Good butchers and large supermarkets offer a range of cuts and it is worth asking for their advice when buying.
Generally, cuts from the top of the animal, along the middle of the back, are tender because the muscles in this area do relatively little work. These are prime cuts that are good for quick cooking techniques, such as grilling (broiling) and pan-frying, and tend to be the most expensive. Cuts from the neck, shoulders and lower legs are full of flavor, but the texture is coarser and tougher because these are the parts of the animal that work the hardest. They require longer cooking by moist methods to ensure tender result – it is these cuts that slow cooker. Slow, gentle stewing results in meltingly tender meat and a further developed flavor.
Above ( from right ): Neck is one of the less tender beef cuts but is delicious braised or stewed.
Blade or chuck: These cuts come from the top forequarter and are relatively lean, marble with just a little fat that keeps the meat moist. They are usually boned and sold together as braising steak. The long, gentle cooking of a slow cooker helps to tenderize the meat and intensifies its flavor. These cuts suit pot-roasting, casseroling and braising.
Brisket: This may be bought on the bone or boned and rolled and comes from the lower part of the shoulder. It can be a fatty and somewhat tough cut of meat, but is excellent pot-roasted braised or stewed in the slow cooker. It may also be salted or spiced before cooking, and served cold in thin slices.
Clod and Neck: Sometimes referred to as “sticking”, these cuts come from the neck area and are fairly lean. They are often sold cut up as “stewing” steak. Slightly leaner than blade or chuck, they may also be sold minced (ground).
Fillet/Tenderloin, Rump/Round, Sirloin/Steak: These lean, tender cuts from the back are usually cut into steaks for grilling (broiling) or frying, or into strips for stir-frying, and occasionally they are used for roasting. They may be included in braised slow cooker recipe, particularly those cooked on a high setting, but there is little point in using such cuts in casseroles and similar long-cooked dishes, where less expensive cuts produce more flavourful results.
Flank: Lean thick flank, or top rump, comes from the hindquarter. In a whole piece, it is ideal for pot-roasting in the slow cooker. It is also sold thickly sliced as braising steak. Thin flank can be fatty and gristly. It can be stewed but is often sold minced (ground).
Leg and Shin/Foreshamk: The leg cut comes from the hind legs of the animal and the shin from the forelegs. The shin is a tough cut that responds well to slow cooking. It is usually sold in slices with the bone in the centre and sinews and connective tissue running though; these and the marrow from the bones give the cooked meat a rich, gelatinous quality.
Left: Chuck steak (top) and brisket (bottom) are tough cuts, but both have an excellent flavour. they are perfectly suited to long, slow stewing, which gives deliciously moist results.
Minced/Gruond Beef: This is made from meat from any part of the animal, which has been passed through a miner. It can be used to make meat sauces and meatballs in the slow cooker. As a general rule, the paler the meat the higher the fat content, so look for dark meat with less fat.
Rip: Fore rib and wing, or prime rib, are expensive joints, best served roasted. For the slow cooker, choose middle rib. It is a fairly lean joint, and best boned before braising or pot-roasting.
Silverside/Round pot roast: This is lean, but tough, and is excellent for pot-roasts and braised dishes. It is often salted and gently cooked, then pressed and served cold.
Skirt/flank steak: This thin braising cut can also be pot-roasted. It has a lean but somewhat coarse texture, and can be fast-fried or cooked very slowly, making it an ideal cut for the slow cooker.
Above: Knuckle (top) and shoulder (bottom) are two of the few cuts of veal suitable for slow cooker cooking.
This meat comes from young calves so is very tender and lean. Most cuts are not well suited to cooking in the slow cooker. Exceptions are shoulder of veal, also known as the oyster, which is sometimes cut into chunks for casseroles; and the knuckle, the bonier end of the hind leg, which can be cut into slices and used to make the Italian stew osso bucco.