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Cutting up with the pros

Three meat industry mavens share their strategies for purchasing and menuing underutilized cuts: Scott Popovic, corporate chef with Certified Angus Beef, Michael Allemeier, certified chef de cuisine, Canada’s Beef Information Centre and Mark Solasz, partner, Master Purveyors.

Scott Popovic, corporate chef with Certified Angus Beef

How can operators save money on their beef buy?

There are several new, more economical cuts that deliver a lot of value. For example, we’ve deconstructed the typically pricey ribeye by removing the cap or “spinalis” to create a nice, thick 7- to 8-ounce filet of rib. The operator can sell the filet as an entrée for up to $25, then menu the cap as an appetizer. One restaurant is slicing and pounding the cap into thin medallions, rolling it around scallions, then grilling the rollups to serve with a soy dipping sauce. Both preparations fit with diners’ desire for smaller portions.

What are some other cost-effective options?

The chuck sub-primal is another economical part of the cattle. There are four or so muscle groups in this piece that can be separated into cuts. A Certified Angus Beef Chuck Denver Steak has good marbling, so it can be simply grilled and remain tender. The Chuck Flank Steak is similar to an actual flank steak and needs a little marination. Chuck Bistro Braising Strips can be braised and then grilled for a nice char.

Are these cuts available to operators?
Right now, the operator has to break down the chuck into these three parts in-house, but we’re working with distributors to sell them as separate pieces.

What does Certified Angus Beef mean?
It’s a label that indicates the upper end of the Choice Grade tier. It’s a cut above Choice, indicating that the beef has more marbling, larger size ribeye and other quality characteristics.

Michael Allemeier, certified chef de cuisine, Canada’s Beef Information Centre

Are you also menuing underutilized cuts from the chuck?
Yes. As a consultant and culinary instructor, I recommend these cuts as being very appropriate for today’s economy. The Beef Information Centre conducted a muscle utilization study to come up with new, more economical cuts. People are looking for greater value for less money. So we’re focusing on what we call the Chuck Flat or Flap, cut from the shoulder. Its rectangular shape, tenderness and lean profile make it perfect for stir-fries and grilled on salads. The cut also braises very well.

What are some of the other cuts you demonstrated for chefs at the recent American Culinary Federation conference?
The Tri Tip is a triangular piece that’s located underneath the sirloin butt. It’s very lean, so it benefits from marinating. I demonstrated a Thai Spiced Grilled Tri Tip that was marinated in a Thai red chili sauce mixture and served with a refreshing cucumber salad. I also roasted the Tri Tip with smoked paprika, olive oil and oregano. Sliced and accompanied with a tomato red pepper fondue it made for an impressive presentation. 

How can operators provide more value to guests when they menu beef?
By playing up presentation and flavor. For a more upscale dish, I suggest “a tasting of beef.” I remove the cap from the ribeye and slice the rest into medallions to marinate and cook. Then I serve it on a plate with a Syrah Braised Chuck Flat. The guest gets about 3½ ounces of ribeye medallion and 3½ ounces of chuck flat—the 7 ounces of protein expected but with two different preparations on the plate. The customer gets a better deal and the operator has lower food costs. Plus, the ribeye cap can be turned into another flavorful dish; you utilize everything.

Mark Solasz, partner, Master Purveyors

With beef supply still not adequate and demand starting to build, what buying advice are you giving your restaurant customers?
Look at the “thin cuts”—flank steak, hanger steak, culotte steak—as well as burgers and pieces from the chuck, like short ribs. Although there’s stronger competition for these more economical cuts among restaurants, they can still be good buys. And check the price quotes issued by the USDA every Friday. If bone-in short ribs or skirt steak zoom up in price, choose an alternative for that week’s delivery. See what’s happening in the supermarket too; if skirt steak is on sale and in high demand, it will probably be more expensive to foodservice.

You sell to many high-end steakhouses and restaurants. How are they faring?
Many of my customers are looking for prime aged beef. Typically, that accounts for 2 percent of the beef supply, but now it’s down to 1 percent. The reason is that animals are going into production at 17 to 18 months instead of 20 to 24 months to meet increased demand. It’s very difficult to reach the quality necessary for a prime grade at that maturity; the animal doesn’t benefit from months of grain finishing necessary to achieve the desired marbling and tenderness. So restaurateurs are paying much more for prime filet, strip steak and other top cuts.

From a purveyor’s point of view, how can operators get the best deals from their vendors?
Try to lock in weekly prices based on Friday’s USDA quotes. Develop a steady relationship with your supplier. Operators should be loyal to vendors and buy on a regular basis in order to get the best value for their meat dollar. That means buying consistently twice a week—not knocking on the door just when more meat is needed to satisfy increased demand.

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