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Sunday, 7 August 2016

The naming of the beast. Just how many names does a cow need?

The poet T.S. Elliot in his book Old Possum's Book Of Practical Cats claimed that cats have three different names: I part quote below:

The naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn't just one of your holiday games,
You may think at first that I'm as mad as a hatter
When I tell you a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES....

Well if you think that is a difficult premise then consider the naming of parts of a beast such as a bull or cow, sheep or mutton, pig or bacon sow. Worldwide the various parts are called different names but also just across the Atlantic pond the USA version differs wildly from the UK version and the cuts more varied. Or are they? Like any language the language of defining meat cuts within the actual food industry and a simplified version just for the customers is continually evolving.

Thinking back to my own dusty memories as working as a traditional butcher in the 1970s and 1980s the heifer would have considered in two parts: the fore and the hind quarter, two hinds and two fores making up the whole beast. The fore would be utilised for the cheaper cuts for stewing, braising, mincing, long slow cooking and the hind quarters would be the more expensive cuts - fillet, sirloin, rump steaks, topside, silverside, top rump and flank (goose skirt). Combo steaks like Porterhouse steak and T. Bone steak would also have come from the hind quarter. Hanger steaks were unheard of and filet mignon or filet de boeuf and the larger fillet section the chateaubriand posh nosh. The French names, quelle surprise, never included biftek ( a slice cut from the larger end of the fillet known as the head of the fillet) or tournedos (slices from the middle section). The French even have faux filet or false fillet!

Back in my 1970's apprenticeship the head of the beast would be treasured for the cows cheek (long braised meat rich in flavour) and the trimmings used in 'dog meat' or in mince. Many an apprentice would be given the laborious job of trimming every bit of meat off the head and if not done correctly would be re-assigned to the job until it was shiny and clean bone and yellow toothed jaw bone with grass green stains from its grazing days. The ox tongue would be previously separated from the head and pressed as a cooked meat item.

There would be odd names for meat joints taken form the carcass like 'clod and sticking'. The chuck steak (braising steak) and its close neighbour the blade steak would be multi-functional as chine joints (like brisket needing a nice slow roast) or as a feather blade steak. There is also the USA based name of 'shoulder medallions' to consider. I would imagine these fore quarter medallion steaks also have to be given the same cooking consideration as skirt does in its French bavette version i.e a very tasty but not really a quick rapido frying option. This cut is too rich in fibrous meat and better cooked as a grilled, broiled, braised or pan fried piece of tasty beef. The skirt muscle is commonly used in fajitas and many chefs cut across the grain to make the meat more tender. The skirt comes from a strong, well exercised part of the beef carcass. As it comes from the belly of the animal in Columbia it is known as sobrebarriga meaning over the belly. The French bavette d'aloyau from the flat muscle in the mid section of the beef carcass also assumes another name under bavette de flanchet when it comes from the flat muscle from the belly just in front of the leg. And there's more! An onglet steak is also known as a Hanger steak (USA) and comes from the fat muscle in front of the fillet.

Rump Steak or le rumsteck
Trimmed rib eye steaks or entrecote steak

Sirloin steaks or le bifteck d'aloyau

Sirloin steaks from the saddle of the cow were/are from a huge joint which makes sense as cows are pretty big heifers. So, as a trimmed item (ready for the customers) they appear as diverse as the lean steaks with a trim of rich honey coloured fat to something that has a much denser fat content that is still sirloin but more akin to the fore quarter rib eye steak. The USA named version also describes them as coulotte steaks, tri tip steaks and ball tip steaks. Thus and other myriad versions and specific cuts of jointing up meat is much more complex and knowledgeable than my 70s/80s butchery education and practice.

Shin beef becomes shank beef, brisket horseshoe cut becomes flat cut, a round of beef is what I knew as a top of beef. A top of beef was the back leg of a cow and, as we were taught, it was divided into three big joints - topside, silverside and top rump. The topside was the best medium roasting joint, the silverside and top rump slower roasting joints. On the diagram above from an old design I guess I have little idea what is being shown as sections 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. It is possible the six  meat cross sections are also being considered as steaks with various tenderness and taste qualities attached to them. On the tee towel the design is taken from (M&S) we do not have numerical listing to refer the cuts too - just the image of the three animals - pig - lamb- cow.

Just to confuse even further the customer base would often ask for a bag of dog bones as well as their daily meat shop. The RSPCA need not be informed - the 'dog bones' were very often the stronger beef bones chopped up and bagged as a treat for the family dog to chew on.

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