the tougher cuts

round steak
My round steak sliced into quarter-inch strips

Because I am who I am, a while ago, I pondered the topic of less known, chewier cuts.  I thought about it, read about it, talked with good cooks, cooked my way through the problem, took photos, and ate really well for a couple of weeks.

But, writing in my head doesn’t really help you much, until I get it onto the page, does it? So here are my thoughts on the matter. 

Round steak is a cut you either love or just don’t even know exists. Click here for a pretty decent expiation from Wikipedia.  It was really educational for me when I was working in a butcher shop to see how our customers, many farm-savvy, put round steak to work.

Round steak is not commonly found at in the grocery meat department. Cut from the hind leg, two lean panels of flavorful though potentially chewy meat with a perfect marrow bone.

There are a many different uses for this part of the beast – the rear leg. Most often it is made into roasts – top round, bottom round, eye of round – or stew beef, sliced for jerky,  ground into burger or cubed.

Because the hind leg bears the brunt of most of the work of walking and living, and because truly pastured cattle are free to roam, the round comes with a mixed bag of qualities. Tougher, the surrounding fat and sinews can be more rubbery, and some diners may find that objectionable.

But the flavor of this lean and well-used cut is intensely beefy and truly memorable.

When prepared properly, and cooked long enough, the extra collagen makes the best, most rich, lovely gravy, and once the meat has broken down, it is supremely tender.

I grew fond of this reasonably priced cut.  At the shop,  we sold a lot of round steak, cut approximately 1″ thick. Some customers would ask us to separate the two panels and run them through a tenderizing machine several times for cubed steaks, or other faster preparations.

Others would ask to have it cut thinner, and the panels separated to stuff and roll for a flavorful beef roll braised in tomato sauce called braciola.  Here’s a drool-worthy example & recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi, but anyone with a real Italian nonna will have an equally great recipe.

Some of our grilled steak loving customers would grill round steak for a cheaper, everyday steak, and still others favored it for classic braised dishes like Swiss or Salisbury Steak.

My beef strips, dredged in seasoned flour, browned in olive oil, then on to a slow braise. Simple, and well worth an extra step.

But of all the ways I tried, this recipe from Emeril was by far the most addictive, and put round steak in the top ten of my beef dishes. I can assure you I did not follow the recipe exactly, there is no way I had Bayou Blast on hand, or all of the ingredients, but don’t let that stop you.

Particularly if your round steak is grass-fed, I guarantee you that the flavor of the beef, the onions, and green pepper will be plenty action-packed enough.

I cut my round steak into strips, taking care to trim any gristle. The round steak is lean, and simple to cut, so trust me, it is no daunting task to cut some strips. Seriously. roll up those sleeves, get a sharp knife and cutting board, and dig in.

Particularly if your beef is dry aged, as ours is, touching meat need not be gross. It is not squidgey, slimy or have that weird old blood smell. It is drier, smells pleasant, clean and nutty, and when you fry it, it does not shrink into a pan full of liquid. It retains it’s shape and does not have to be drained or strained.

Dredged in seasoned flour, fried in oil (I used olive oil, not vegetable) and then braised, the sauce is velvety and lip-smackingly flavorful. Don’t forget to pop that lovely marrow bone into your braising liquid.

The secret sauce, golden nugget or magic bullet – this marrow bone makes your sauce velvety and rich. At the very least, pop it into your freezer and give it to your dog.

A bed of perfectly cooked and fluffed white rice is ideal, pearl barley or mashed potatoes are a good next best,  but this is also great served over braised cabbage ribbons, noodles or cauliflower rice if you’re not doing grains.

You can also substitute the regular wheat flour with rice, arrowroot or potato flour if you are eating gluten-free.

Oh boy. Look at that rich sauce.

One of the great things about eating your way through a mixed quarter or side of beef, is getting acquainted with some new tricks and a deeper understanding of cooking, that frees you from rigid rules and recipes, and turns something you never knew existed into one of your very favorites.

Give me peasant food over fancy food any day. What’s your favorite use for tougher cuts like round? 

This year, I have some early beef. I’ll be taking deposits soon for late winter/early spring whole, half and quarter cow shares. To read more about our ethically raised rare breed, 100% grass-fed Devon beef, head over and read our Auburn Meadow Farm Beef Faqs. 



5 thoughts on “the tougher cuts

  1. Jackie, I will definitely try this recipe. It looks delish. When we had our own cattle butchered, round steak was a staple. We often just cooked it long and slow in the oven.

    Glad the weather is changing but I see mud in your future. Take care.

    Carol Ann


  2. My mother and grandmother used a lot of round steak when I was growing up. In the early 80’s, I worked at Plaza Meat Market and we sold round steak but not as much as I remember seeing in the 50’s and 60’s. I think it was a combination of more people working than taking the time to cook a meal and the change in how meat was being processed (didn’t come with bones or fat or what was called “hanging” meat). When I first went to work at the meat market, beef and pork came mostly whole and hanging. By the time I quit working there, most meat came de-boned and a great amount of the fat removed since the meat processing plants found that they could make money from the bones and fat.

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