The best steak in London, Aging beef is an expensive process Galvin Restaurants
There are few menu items which evoke such an immediate response as a steak. For carnivores it has come to symbolise all that is and can be good about a meal - there is nowhere to hide with a steak as, however it is prepared and whatever cooking method is employed, there is only really the meat and the heat which is applied to it. As with anything which evokes great passion there are devotees of every cut and every method of cooking so we wanted to dig a little deeper in this month's blog, into some of the basics and a little of the history of what is arguably the most iconic of the cow's contributions to dining at table.
First of all, for the detail-driven, of course steak is a term which can be applied to many food items - the word comes to us from the Scandinavian steik which means simply a thick cut of meat for roasting, grilling or frying. In this any flesh could be called steak but for the sake of simplicity here we will only be talking about beef steak. Secondly, on many menus, good quality beef is sliced thinly and used in stir-fries, hors d'oevres or other delicate preparations - again, here we will err on the side of simplicity and refer only to that old original term, looking at the thicker and more substantial preparations of cuts of beef which have generally to be grilled, fried or broiled. As with anything, especially something so primal and simple, beginning the process with the best preparation is the only way to enjoy a truly transcendent steak experience. There are scores of steak restaurants in London, thousands of ways of enjoying steak in London, and all of the better ones involve beef which has been aged before it is packed up and sent to the kitchen.
The best steak in London
Aging beef is an expensive process but one which is vital for creating the sort of flavours, textures and mouth-feel which make the most of its qualities. Cheap cuts of meat, from the fattier or tougher sections of the animal, can be removed by the butchers after the animal has been slaughtered and cleaned, to save space, but by far and away the most common approach is to age by the full- or half-carcass. The animals from which the cuts come have to be in good condition to begin with - having evenly-distributed fat content which offers the marbling and flavour which mark prime beef - and the aging process concentrates these qualities. Aging allows the moisture to evaporate out of the meat, making it firmer and flavours more pronounced, while the action of naturally-occurring enzymes makes a start on breaking down the connective tissue so the resulting steak is much more tender than its less-aged counterpart. Like aging anything, the key with aging beef is to allow it to mature but not spoil or go off and this is a delicate balance. The best cuts from the best animals can be aged for more than two months so this must be done at extremely low temperatures to avoid the meat simply rotting - temperatures must be near-freezing and this adds an energy-intensity to the preparation method to go with the time cost of storing the meat for so long before it goes to market. That's why most steaks are dry-aged for fifteen to thirty days. During this time, as mentioned, the water evaporates, but even in the coldest of stores a layer of mould can at the same time grow on the surface of the meat. This is actually a positive as it slows the process of desiccation and adds significantly to the number and variety of enzymes working to break down that connective tissue. On arriving at the kitchen, or sometimes just before despatch at the warehouse, the mould is simply cut off before the process goes any further.
So that's our aging. All of the best steak in London is aged to a greater or lesser degree and it's easy to become obsessed with the numbers - a certain amount of aging is vital - but it's about combining that with the cut and the cooking process.
For example, at Galvin HOP we want to offer the best steak in the City but everyone's opinion on what "best" constitutes in this situation varies. Is it all about the aging and the cut? Is price a factor? Is it better to fry or grill? Seeing as we have always wanted HOP to be the architype of the best parts of a pub - the relaxed and buzzy atmosphere, easy-going good times - we chose a cut which combines a rich heritage in the French culinary tradition but is also slightly less costly than some others: the bavette. Meaning "bib" in French, the bavette is a catch-all term for steaks taken from the flank, skirt and unflatteringly named "flap" area of the cow, areas where the muscle fibres are thicker and coarser than fillet or rib-eye. This makes the aging even more key and a light touch is required - we then cook it to your exact specifications and serve it having rested for just the right amount of time to allow the juices to flow gently from the meat, making it sit proudly in its own light sauce.
At this point it's worth having a note on cooking styles for steak. In a contentious area, the cooking time for a steak is arguably the most contentious part of the whole process. Every method has its fans and, while fashions change, the terminology is a fixed marker. Here's how your steak should be when you ask for it:
Blue: a decidedly French way of ordering (bleu) and the rarest of the rare. Seared on the outside with the meat only cooked for a few millimetres into its thickness - the rest is raw enough for a good vet to have a chance of making it moo again.
Rare: cooked a little further than blue so that while the outside is seared, the centre is bright red but warmed through.
Medium-rare: the centre is reddish-pink rather than red. Medium: a thick band of pink goes right through the meat but the remainder is brown or greyish-brown. Medium-well: just a hint of pink in the centre but otherwise the meat is thoroughly cooked and quite firm Well-done: not a hint of pink, the meat should be greyish-brown all the way through with a thorough char on the outside.
So, those are the definitions and we give them without judgement - whichever way your taste, as long as the meat and its preparation are excellent then it will always be the best steak in London. Speaking of which, that's definitely something we aspire to at Galvin La Chapelle, primarily going head-to-head with some of the more specialist establishments seeking to offer the best steak in The City. To do this it has to be Chateaubriand - a magnificent cut which is taken form the thickest part of the fillet. We work closely with our Cumbrian suppliers to ensure some of the best quality steak in London reaches the table. Before it does though, it is seared then roasted. This method gives a delicious bark on the outside but allows perfect control of the colour and texture of the centre of this thickest cut. A bright and bloody pink all the way through is how many guests enjoy it. Meanwhile, for those looking for a steak in Baker Street, Bistrot de Luxe also has a reassuringly French steak offering for the people of Marylebone. Here we serve entrecote on the A La Carte menu, though we have been known to serve bavette on Wembley match-days. Entrecote comes from the rib area - intercostal muscle - and as such a well sourced entrecote should be tender and sublimely flavourful. This, surely, has to be the definition of the best steak in London! Well, equal to those at Galvin HOP. And La Chapelle. And Chris's kitchen at home. And Jeff's.