Simply put, it's the best cut of beef. —INGRAIN, Summer 2018
The butcher to the world. Before hot spots like Girl & the Goat, Blackbird, and Alinea, Chicago was known for its steak houses. The city’s first foray into culinary excellence was a parade of red meat that kept miles of stockyards in business and vegetarians sobbing into their featherless pillows.
Porterhouses, New York strips, and filet mignons might have been the popular choice of the dining elite at these steak houses, but working-class households were picking up whatever cut of chuck was on sale. Not even butchers, who ostensibly had their pick of the meats, were buying the hype; they were simply taking home the best cut of beef: the hanger steak. And, really, why the hell would you argue with the butcher?
THE BUTCHER'S CUT
Hanger is a unique piece of meat, literally; there are only two hanger steak pieces per cow, weighing in at about one to one and a half pounds each. That’s it. (The average beef cow renders about 430 pounds of cut meat.) Meat this rare (pun intended) actually justifies hipster carnivores lining up around the block at some indie butcher shop in Brooklyn without fear of judgment. Hanger, in fact, is the preferred cut of meat for steak frites in French bistro food. It’s got culinary street cred.
AS FOR THE NAME
Hanger steak quite literally hangs from the muscle connected to the diaphragm between the tenderloin and rib. A good butcher shop will have the piece nicely trimmed down for you, void of any connective tissue and silverskin. Because the muscle is not tasked with the arduous task of pulling along bones and, say, making body parts move, it is allowed to simply luxuriate in wait. That life of leisure leaves the meat as tender as the best ribeye you’ve ever had, yet with a flavor similar to flank steak—ideal for soaking up marinades and making even nuanced flavor profiles work well.
KEEP IN MIND
A few caveats: Hanger steak can at times give off a slight iron flavor due to its proximity to the cow’s liver. Fear not, this isn’t the off-putting, lingering flavor of your grandma’s liver-and-onion dish (the one she always made when you were a kid before kissing you). Given its texture and relatively lean makeup, how you cook hanger steak is key. Overcook the steak, and you might as well eat the sole of your vintage Doc Martens. Undercook, and you’ll be faced with chewing on a piece of old bubble gum. Which is to say, pay attention.
HOW TO COOK IT
Hanger steak is versatile. It’s great for high-heat cooking, either indoors on a cast-iron skillet or over sexy, smoldering coals. If you’re a sous vide-cult type, you’re also in luck. This is an ideal cut. Whatever recipe you follow, keep an eye on the cooking time, which will vary depending on the method and the machine. Hanger steak is perfect when cooked medium rare or no more than medium.
DON'T BE A SNOB
With that, we leave you with this parting thought: The siren song of the fancy and exclusive can be a hard one to ignore when it comes to food. But so, too, should we not ignore something so solid, classic, and flavorful as the humble hanger steak.