Saturday, July 16, 2011

Man of Beef

I started writing professionally with a minor food review publication. It was such a small enterprise that it was run by one man and I was paid only with the food I eat during the review sessions.

Didn't get a single cent. Just food. Glorious, glorious food.

I learned about the different cuts of meat as I had them all. Why tenderloin is the best. You can find it in filet mignon dishes, where the eye is rather small (the cut looks like a long tube of meat) and the meat is most tender.

If you go to certain restaurants in Malaysia, they have the 'strip steak' such as Chili's NY Strip Steak, which is a cut from the short loin. My father, who bought most of his meat frozen from India at the Kuantan wet market, prizes the 'toploin' cut which is probably the top sirloin, according to British terminology.

The top sirloin steak yields the American chateaubriand and is more tender than the bottom loin.

I have eaten T-bone steaks, sirloin steaks, top sirloin steaks, ribeye, filet mignon of course, and even brisket stew. I have had cottage pies with chunks of tenderloin thrown into the singed mash, covered in brown gravy. Wondrous! Brilliant!

Of course, the way Malays cook meat, it doesn't make much of a difference what cut it is. While Western cuisine uses meat tenderisers and a form of protease found in papaya (papain), the Malays use the leaves of the jackfruit tree when boiling the meat.

There was a nasi lemak stall in Kondo Rakyat which uses fresh local meat and through a process of tenderising, comes up with meat dishes that literally dissolves in your mouth. Fantastic!

My father, though, also developed a taste for brisket as the properly-tenderised cut can be taken apart with a light prodding of the fork or spoon. He relishes the individual tiny sinews that can be torn off from the brisket.

Over my brief period doing food reviews, I have acquired a taste for chicken liver pâté and foie gras which is goose or duck liver. I have also always loved offal - which is how the Brits categorise things like lungs. Lungs, when cooked properly, is the most delicious part of a cow.

You need to boil it in water with tumeric, then cut them and deep fry it after it is covered in tumeric powder and salt. Crunchy, with just a bit of the taste of the cows' breath. Eating this dish is the most heavenly sensation aside from orgasm.

The Padang people of Indonesia have this down pat, and my mother learned how to do it through an inherited recipe.

There is also a way to cook beef liver that makes it hard but crumbles to dust when chewed. I have only had it once in my life, and have not the material, equipment nor the time to find out how it is done.

These days, though, I focus on Asian dishes as I have grown fonder of local cuisine. Much more so than a period when I really REALLY loved Chinese cuisine.