Monday, November 26, 2007

Flanken and musings on exercise, values, and food prices

With all the attention I've been giving to brisket, corned beef, pastrami, and now flanken it would be understandable if readers supposed we eat nothing but the heaviest of meats around here. Not so, we actually include lots of lighter fare in the mix - but these items have been the topic of study around here for the past few months. And I admit it's a lot of heavy meat.

So that got me thinking about a piece I saw on tv a while back - I think it was on PBS. They were profiling a guy who had set up his office so he could do all his work while walking on a treadmill. He had no desk or chair. His phone and workstation were mounted for use while walking on the treadmill. Throughout the day, as he did his work, he was walking continuously. He seemed happy. And healthy. I bet he could eat whatever he wanted with impunity.

So now I'm wondering (if only half seriously) how I could install a section of moving sidewalk in my kitchen work area. A challenge to be sure. The way my kitchen is set up, I have a number of workstations. While working at any one of these, the treadmill set-up could work. It's the moving from one to the other that's going to be hard. Hmmm.

Well anyway, until such time as I figure that out, let's talk flanken. Now flanken is a great cut of meat for braising.

But wait - first, stream of impending unconsciousness-wise - I've got to tell you, I just stepped over to my (still stationary) kitchen and sampled some experimental corned beef that's been steaming most of the afternoon. This steaming was actually the second phase of a multi-step cooking process that began early this morning. Wow! This is the tenderest piece of corned beef I think I've ever had. Not falling apart. Not dried out. But buttery soft. And I have to tell you there were times earlier in the day when I was sure this piece of meat would never be any good. Long, complicated procedure but a startlingly good result. Have to try this again tomorrow and see if it comes out the same. And then of course there's the question of economics. Will anyone be willing to pay a fair price for all the time, handling, and energy necessary to this process?

Ok, back to flanken. Talk about stick to your ribs. So I'm working with this stuff because I recently showed a customer a braised kobe brisket product that they went crazy over - except for the price. So now I'm trying to come up with something more affordable for them and that brings us back to flanken. This is a value cut with which you can obtain luxury results. I've prepared it many ways over the years, and it's pretty hard to go wrong as long as you go low and slow. Braised with some wine and aromatics, deviled, tagine with prunes or olives, whatever. Great stuff. I recommend you play with some this winter. There's plenty of good recipes available online.

So before I go, let me pose this question. Where chief-value meat ingredients and prepared foods are concerned, why is the variation in pricing allocable to quality (worst to best) so comparatively small? Certainly where some other kinds of products are concerned the spread is wide. Consider cheese. I can easily find domestic cheese offerings ranging from $2.00 to $32.00 per pound (16X). How about domestic wine? $2 to $200 per bottle is not a stretch (100X). In neither case are these fashion items or branded goods with large marketing budgets. They're just products that vary in quality and price where connoisseurs are willing to pay for what they like.

What about meat (or fish)? If you've been shopping in mainstream supermarkets lately, you must have noticed that run-of-the-mill steaks might cost you around $7 a pound. And, in many stores are likely to be graded "select" (feh). Not a high-quality piece of meat there. In a specialty butcher shop carrying high-quality commercial beef, and perhaps even dry-aging it, you might expect to pay 4 or perhaps 5 times that. Never mind the mail-order guys asking still more - that's a topic for another day. But the bricks-and-mortar retail spread from low to high for a given nominally identical cut of beef spans perhaps a multiple of 5 times. Why not more? I'm not arguing that we should all happily pay more - I'm just wondering why we do it for cheese and wine, but not for meat.

Any thoughts?

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