Monday, May 18, 2009
Ever since reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, I have been tempted to try grass-fed beef. After all, most of my diet consists of local, minimally processed foods, so grass-fed beef would be a logical addition. It's more nutritional and more environmentally-friendly than grain-fed beef, and the theory goes that grass-fed cows are happier since they're digestive systems are made for eating grass, not grain. However, critics say that grass beef is lacking in both flavor and texture to it's grain-fed brethren; plus it's more expensive. In supermarkets, most of the grass-fed beef I see has been shipped in from Australia, which defeats the Mr. Pollan's message to eat grass-fed beef. Taking all of this in mind, my home-cooked steaks have always been from grain-fed cows.
This past weekend, I finally decided to give grass-fed beef a try while passing the Grazin' Angus Acres stall at Union Square Greenmarket. Initially, I had only planned to purchase some of their amazing eggs. But then my eyes turned to the farm's core competency, grass-fed beef. If Grazin' Angus Acres' beef was only half as good as their eggs, I might finally jump onto the grass-fed bandwagon.
Not wanting to risk all of my Greenmarket budget on a piece of meat, my eyes wandered to the cheaper options that Grazin' Angus Acres had for sale: flank, skirt, and flap steak, all of which were in the respectable $13 to $15 per lb. range. The woman at the stall suggested the $13 per lb. flap steak, so I picked up two nice pieces, and returned home with my Greenmarket tote bag held up high in my self-righteous grass-fed glee.
As with most foodie splurges, I was determined not to screw up my foray into grass-fed beef. Upon returning home, I researched how to cook flap steak, a an ill-named cut with which I was unfamiliar. Thanks to know-it-all Wikipedia, I found out that flap steak is a cut similar to hanger steak, coming from the bottom of the sirloin butt. From, there, it was onto finding a suitable recipe that would push me over the edge of the "I'd rather be a vegetarian than eat grain-fed beef" trend. I found this recipe for flap steak with red wine and shallots from the San Francisco Chronicle; with a whole stick of butter in the sauce, it seemed like it would be difficult to screw up my meat with this recipe.
I was impressed with my first taste of grass-fed beef. The beef does indeed have a unique flavor; it's much more gamy than grain-fed beef, but it's just as flavorful. Since flap steak is inherently a tougher cut, I can't be a judge of whether grass-fed beef is less tender than grain-fed, but I will say that my flap steak was just as tender as any grain-fed hanger steak I have eaten. I cooked it to a perfect medium-rare (the picture makes it look more cooked), which I read is important with grass-fed beef; overcooking it will make the meat very tough.
So am I sold on grass-fed beef? My steak was delicious, and its flavor differed from that of grain-fed beef. However, in the end I owe its deliciousness more to the good farming methods of Grazin' Angus Acres than to its grass-fed powers. As with any food, beef's flavor is more about how it is raised than what it is raised on. While all things being equal, I will try my best to choose grass-fed beef for all of its earth friendly good qualities, I will always choose my beef based on it being a good product rather than what the cow has been fed.