I’m not sure what’s gotten into me – I suddenly started imagining that the remaining few people who read this blog might enjoy finding out some additional ‘other’ things to cook with, and I realized I could write about them. It might even prod me into new territory to discover and figure out what one can comfortably do with things I’ve never experimented with.
There are certain cuts of meat I gravitate to, things you’ll never find at a Safeway a Krogers, or any other regular sort of grocer. These may not even be cuts of meat you’ll find laying around at your local butcher shop, but it would be a good indication of how much they care about your experience as a home cook if they just so happen to stock them and have readily available in their meat case. I’m talking about a number of different things, of course; pork belly, tails, jowls… And the glorious hanger steak.
Eventually, I’ll write about them all. I’m hoping. Tonight, I’m focusing on one thing only. It’s something you should get to know better and discover for yourself. Likely, when you go into your butcher shop, they’ll have no idea what you’re looking for. It’s known by other names – the hanging tender, a butcher’s steak (most notably in North America). If it isn’t something they regularly stock, your butcher will give you a blank stare when you ask for one. It’s OK. You get to be the teacher for a moment. I’ll cut to the chase and give you something they will and won’t understand – the real name they can give the purveyor they’ll call to order one for you; NAMP 140.
NAMP is an acronym for the North American Meat Processors Association. They’ve kindly assigned numbers to every cut of meat on a cow, a pig, a lamb… It makes it handy when you want to get a hold of something unique, even when it isn’t as unique as you might imagine. The hanger steak is also known as the Onglet in France – a very common cut there – usually served as the steak portion of ‘Steak Frites’ in virtually any bistro or brasserie you might happen upon.
What makes the hanger steak beautiful and worthy of seeking out is two-fold. It’s incredibly tender. It’s also intensely flavored. It’s unique in the fact that there is only one per cow. It’s a muscle that runs from the kidneys to the diaphragm and hold things in place. It does nothing else.
As a consequence it’s not overworked or full of sinew, though there is a single tendon that runs down the middle of it. It’s delicate in the same way that salmon flesh is – almost falling apart tender, but far meatier in flavor than any other cut of beef I’ve ever had. It has virtually no fat, which normally I find disappointing (as I love eating fat), but in this case – it suffers none as a consequence.
How to cook it? Easy. Season with Kosher (or Maldon Sea) salt just before cooking. No pepper, nor garlic or marinade. They’ll scorch and taste like a burning tire after moments of intense heat, so just don’t – not with this or any other cut of meat you put over intense heat. A quick pan sear in a hot cast iron skillet or over direct heat on a grill for a few minutes (2-4) per side. Take it off the heat and let it rest for 10 or 15 minutes. It should be rare – it must be rare! If you can’t stand the idea of rare steak, you simply don’t deserve to eat it. Think of Ahi tuna – seared on the outside, very rare on the interior, and you’ll know what you’re seeking here. You will only be disappointed if you think that some ideation of Medium or (barf!)Well-done suits this cut. It doesn’t – never will – and it only illustrates that you have a serious character flaw.
To finish. If you’re cooking it in a skillet – remove it to rest on a plate, and deglaze the pan with a nice tawny port. Allow it to reduce into something slightly thick while scraping the bottom of the skillet. On a grill – you can just reserve any juices – even reduce them down with some port in pan… Slice into medallions about a 1/2″ thick and pour the sauce over it…