Ever since my wife treated me to a birthday night at Wolfgang Puck’s The Cut restaurant in London’s Park Lane, I’ve been keen to try USDA Prime Striploin at home. For the unitiatated, USDA stands for the United States Department of Agriculture and it has a very specific way for how it grades the quality of beef.
According to the Government website: “The USDA grade shields are highly regarded as symbols of safe, high-quality American beef.
“Quality grades are widely used as a ‘language’ within the beef industry, making business transactions easier and providing a vital link to support rural America.
“Beef is evaluated by highly-skilled USDA meat graders using a subjective characteristic assessment process and electronic instruments to measure meat characteristics.
“Beef is graded in two ways: quality grades for tenderness, juiciness and flavour; and yield grades for the amount of usable lean meat on the carcass.
“Prime beef is produced from young, well-fed beef cattle. It has abundant marbling (the amount of fat interspersed with lean meat), and is generally sold in restaurants and hotels. Prime roasts and steaks are excellent for dry-heat cooking such as broiling, roasting or grilling.”
Sounds mouthwatering! Unfortunately, USDA beef isn’t the easiest thing to get hold of in the UK, but fortunately, I know just the place to go: the website Fine Food Specialist.
I sourced this big, juicy steak for around £20. As you can see, it’s a magnificent hunk of loveliness. Ruby red, with a gorgeous cobweb of marbling. (The pics show the steak before and after I’ve trimmed it, with a couple of discs of bone marrow melt).
I cooked them in the way I cook all my steaks – 2 mins per side in a smoking hot pan for medium-rare, then seasoned and finished in the pan for the last 30 seconds with a knob of butter or, in this case, Kettlye’s Bone Marrow Melt (£9.95) – my latest marvellous discovery which I also sourced from FFS.
So what was the verdict on the USDA Prime Striploin: Superb. The steak had a sweet, thick crust, which yield to reveal a tender interior which delivered a burst of both liquid fat and savoury bloody juice. The texture was firmer than, say an Aberdeen Angus sirloin: slightly chewier, almost rump-like, but no worse for that.
Smothered in the beefy pan juices, this was a prime steak and no mistake.
As has become the tradition in the Recipe Shed, I served my steak with triple-cooked chips – but these were different to my usual efforts.
For I cooked them in lard! Yes, you read that correctly: lard.
If you’re unfamiliar, lard is clarified rendered pork fat.
I remember it when I was a kid. My mum’s chip pan was permanently packed solid with the stuff.
At the beginning of the month it would start out white, like freshly fallen snow. By the end, it was dirty and strewn with burnt debris from the various chips and fish and chicken that had been cooked in it.
For some reason, lard fell out of favour with the cooking classes (the term ‘lard-arse’ probably had something to do with it).
It was seen as unhealthy and responsible for creating many a ‘Seventies gutbucket. But during a recent trip to see my old dad, I saw that he still cooks with the stuff and I was keen to replace the sunflower oil in my chip pan with the substance of my youth.
Fast forward to my birthday a couple of weeks ago and a very thoughtful present from my friends Ray and Sara: four packets of lard. I couldn’t wait to cook with it, but before I did I did some reading, including this very informative piece in the Guardian for a couple of years ago.
The author wrote: “Lard is a supremely versatile fat. Because it smokes so little when it’s hot it’s perfect for bringing a golden shatter to a chip or a fritter – only dripping, lard’s bovine equivalent, does a better job. (A specific kind of lard is also called dripping, but let’s not muddle things.)
“Its large crystals of fat make lard unsurpassable in baking: a pastry crust made with lard – or half-lard, half-butter, as Delia recommends – offers a stunning flaky shortness, that gently encompassing roundedness that wine buffs horribly call mouthfeel.
“By any estimation, lard is a healthier fat than butter. Gram for gram, it contains 20% less saturated fat, and it’s higher in the monounsaturated fats which seem to lower LDL cholesterol (the “bad” kind) and raise HDL (the “good”).
“It’s one of nature’s best sources of vitamin D. Unlike shortening it contains no trans fats, probably the most dangerous fats of all. Of course it has more saturated fat than olive oil, but in her splendid book Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, Jennifer McLagan points out that even its saturated fat is believed to have a neutral effect on blood cholesterol.”
Sounds great. But would it make my famous triple-cooked chips taste better? You betcha!
The exteriors were crunchier; the taste richer; the interiors fluffier. Without a shadow of a doubt, the best chips I have not only ever cooked, but have also ever tasted.
If you fancy making them yourself, here’s how:
Serves 2 2-3 large King Edward potatoes, skin on, cut into 1 cm-thick chips 4 blocks of lard
1. Bring a large pan of water to the boil and par-boil the chipped potatoes for 9-10 minutes until they start to break up at the edges (this takes some nerve – you need to keep an eye on them so that they don’t turn to mush).
2. For the second stage, heat the lard in a chip pan until the surface begins to shimmer (but not smoke).
3. Very carefully drain the chipped potatoes and allow to dry out but not go cold on a clean tea towel or kitchen towel.
4. Test the heat of the molten lard by dipping a chip into the fat. If it starts to sizzle after 5 seconds, it’s ready to go.
5. Carefully – VERY CAREFULLY – fill your chip pan basket with par-boiled chips and then carefully – VERY CAREFULLY – lower it into the hot lard, a centimetre at a time so that the fat doesn’t boil over. . Once immersed, leave well alone for a few minutes before giving the chip pan basket a good shake to loosen the chips.
6. After 6-7 mins the chips should start to take on a yellow-ish colour. This is the end of the second stage of cooking.
7. Remove the chips from the pan, drain on kitchen paper and allow to cool completely. You can even keep them in the fridge overnight until you’re ready for the final fanfare.
8. When you’re within a few minutes of your meal, heat the lard until you detect a wisp of smoke coming off the surface. Fill your chip pan basket with twice-cooked chips and carefully – VERY CAREFULLY – lower them into the fat. Cook for between 3-5 mins, until they turn very golden and super-crisp.
9. Drain on kitchen paper, season with lots of salt, then serve.
USDA Striploing and Triple-Cooked Chips in Lard: one of the finest meals a housedad has ever created. Oh, and some rocket and leaves on the side (optional!)