Dressed up with a rub or a marinade or simply seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper, this is a prime cut of meat that'll standout on the plate. —INGRAIN, Winter 2018
STORY / Jesse Valenciana
Flashback to 2009, when two “beefs” would change American meat and music fans forever…
The first was the discovery of a cut of meat, the Denver steak. How could a new piece of meat be discovered on an animal that has been domesticated for 10,500 years? The second was brought on by Kanye West’s diss of Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards. How could an outspoken, self-promoting hip-hop artist have the audacity to attempt to upstage America’s pop princess at an awards ceremony? In both instances, we were left shaking our heads.
Researching the history of this delicious piece of meat takes us down a fascinating rabbit hole of meat science and marketing. The Denver steak was a marketing innovation funded by the Beef Checkoff Program, which is sponsored by the Cattlemen’s Beef Board. The goal of the beef producer-funded program is to increase domestic and/or international demand for beef through advertising, partnerships, education, and new product development. How, one might ask? The Beef Checkoff Program is funded by a $1 assessment on each head of live cattle as well as a fee on imported beef products. After five years of research (and more than $1 million) focusing on the edible anatomy of the steer, the Denver steak emerged in 2009 as the victorious cut.
The forequarter of the steer, commonly known as the chuck, contains the neck, shoulder blade, and upper arm. As these are all muscles that get a lot of work, the meat from the chuck tends to have a significant amount of connective tissue and can make for tough meat. The Denver is the exception; these steaks are the most tender cuts from this area, located in the underblade of the chuck roll and derived from the serratus ventralis, a long, slender, and well-marbled muscle. Too much information? Think of the Denver as the distant cousin of the New York strip.
MYSTERY NAME If your butcher gives a blank stare when you ask for a Denver steak, try one of its pen names: Denver cut, Denver chuck steak, boneless chuck short rib, underblade steak, or underblade center cut.
Denver and similar chuck cuts are typically braised or slowly cooked to soften strong muscle fibers. With chuck, the meat is commonly ground; the fair amount of fat makes for both juicy burgers and tacos (if you’re not eating juicy burgers or tacos, stop reading this and go take up something befitting, like chewing used bubble gum found under park benches). And rarely will I not fire up my trusty charcoal grill for a tasty Denver steak sesh. It would be great thrown on a hot grill to get those sexy grill marks and kisses by an open flame.
But I love this cut even more when it’s cooked over a stove top in a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet. Get that pan hot—really hot—add a splash of oil, and let the meat’s own juices do the work. Always be conscious of time. In other words, don’t screw this baby up by overcooking it.
Take the flavor a step further by marinating the steak a few hours before you throw it in the pan. (Mix together a little soy sauce, brown sugar, whatever spices give you a kick, and a bit of citrus, and you have yourself a good potion.) Or simply go with the tried-and-true steak rub: salt and cracked pepper.
THE RIGHT SLICE
One parting thought: Slice your Denver steak correctly to prevent it from going from a tender, loving piece of beef goodness to a tough piece of steak that ends up as a special treat for the family dog. Keep in mind that cutting against the grain is more important than ever with this steak. Though great on their own, those juicy slices will also beef up any cold-weather salad. The Denver steak might not exactly be a breaking discovery. But like Columbus trying to find India, what we have come across is worth the hype and exploration.
HOW TO COOK DENVER STEAKS
1. Ask your butcher for 2 Denver steaks (about 1½ pounds each). They will be ¾ to 1-inch thick.
2. Give those steaks a nice flavor with a marinade or rub (refrigerate for up to 6 hours) or salt and pepper (cook’s choice).
3. Let the steaks come to room temperature and pat them dry if marinated.
4. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. When really hot, add a splash of olive oil to coat the pan.
5. Sear the steaks on one side for 4 minutes; do this in batches so the pan stays hot. Use tongs to flip the steaks; cook another 4 minutes for rare or a little longer if you like them less bloody.
6. Let the steaks rest on a plate for a good 8 to 10 minutes before slicing them against the grain.
Pairing Try a malty Belgian-style abbey ale like Allagash Dubbel, a pale ale with subtle, spicy notes and a cedar-like finish. A Belgian-style dark ale would also be great with this dish. Leffe is a good pick.
CITRUS SOY MARINADE
¼ cup each: olive oil + soy sauce + fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon each: cinnamon + curry powder + smoked paprika + garlic powder
Large zip-top bag
COMBINE all of the ingredients in a large zip-top bag. Add steaks, press air out of bag, and seal. Refrigerate for up to 6 hours (flipping bag a few times). Remove steaks from marinade, pat dry, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
TIP After the steaks have marinated, boil the heck out of the marinade for a minute or two in a saucepan, then use it as a spicy dipping sauce for the cooked steaks.
QUICKIE STEAK RUB
1 teaspoon each: ground cumin + smoked paprika + cracked pepper
2 teaspoons ground coriander
½ teaspoon each: garlic powder + ground chile de árbol or cayenne
2 to 3 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
Steaks with a little olive oil to coat them evenly.
Remaining ingredients and rub on steaks. Wrap the steaks in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour (no longer than 6 hours).
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