I was excited to be invited to the UK debut screening of Steak [R]evolution in London last week. This follows the search of documentary film director Franck Ribière and famous French butcher Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec, for the best steak in the world.
Yves-Marie made the British media headlines recently, when he was drummed out of the French Butchers’ Federation for declaring that British grass-fed beef was better than French beef! The film explains why he believes this is so.
For an hour and a half we were whisked from New York to Yorkshire, from misty Scotland to Japan, and from the wide-open Pampas, to Sweden, Spain, Canada and Corsica.
There was an incredible array of vastly different looking breeds, from elegant Longhorns to rotund Wagyu, from frisky Aberdeen Angus to the Tiger breed in Corsica which have fascinating stripy flanks.
We also saw literally hundreds of T-bone Porterhouse steaks – the double delight of sirloin steak on one side, fillet on the other. They were admired, chopped, seasoned and seared in hot pans or barbequed on a grill or open fire – an indulgent feast for meat-eaters’ eyes, which left us yearning for our own plate of steak and chips well before the film had finished.
The pleasure of eating
And that was what this odyssey was really all about – the ‘pleasure of eating’ Franck said at the start; taking time to find the best quality food, cooking it well and enjoying the results.
Yves-Marie declared that by relying mainly on the ‘athletic’ breeds of Blonde d’Aquitaine, Limousin and Charolais and finishing them on grain-based diets, French meat is good for stews and boiling, but cannot take centre-stage on a plate.
Aberdeen Angus, Belted Galloway, Hereford and Longhorn, when grass-fed all have the perfect flesh for steak, thanks to the marbling of fat – which weaves its way through the muscle, producing unbeatable texture and flavour. He declares that the best rearers in the world are the British, and that 100% grass-fed is the future for beef production.
Grass-fed certainly makes it to the top of Mark’s hit parade, particularly when compared to the commodity, corn-fed, feedlot beef produced in North America. He even raised, fattened, slaughtered, cooked and ate his ‘own’ grass-fed beef cow called Fleurance. She was consumed in delicious family meals and her hide now adorns their living room floor to remind them just how good she was.
What about Wagyu?
Kobe and Matsusaka beef from Japanese Wagyu beef cattle is very highly priced and sought after, but looked unappealing in the film to my English eye.
While mollycoddled with massages and Mozart, they are stuffed full of starchy feeds to pile on the pounds. The result is a carcase that is more white than red with the meat looking more like salami than steak. The depth of taste is said to be amazing, but I think I need to try some to be convinced. But at £150 or more per kg that’s not likely to happen soon!
Full marks to Swedish entrepreneur Anders Larsen for trying to combine the best of two worlds with his iWagyu brand.
He is building up a grass-fed Wagyu beef herd using top American genetics. The cattle are free to roam healthy Scandinavian pastures and produce healthy, tender, unique-tasting meat.
Top of the steaks
So where did Franck find the best steaks?
Well Tim Wilson’s 35-day dry-aged porterhouse steaks came a well-deserved second. He keeps his Longhorn cattle predominantly out on mixed species grass fields on the edge of the North York Moors, selling the meat through his Ginger Pig butchers shops and the Hawksmoor steak restaurants in London.
Tim also bemoaned the fact that many British farmers now use continental breeds and feed grain to fatten cattle quickly – leading to a less flavoursome and disappointing meat.
Top spot was taken by Spanish butcher/chef José Gordon of Bodego El Capricho near Lèon. He buys mature working ox bulls and retires them, literally putting them ‘out to grass’ for a few years. He spends time with them, getting to know their characters – the most placid produce the best meat he said.
At the end they can be 15 years old and weigh up to 1600kg – more than twice the size a beast in the UK would be slaughtered at. In the film, José gives one enormous bull that towers above him, a good scratch and a tickle before letting him out in what looked like his garden, to have a romp and a play!
“Gradually I came to the conclusion only a happy cow will produce a good steak,” says Franck. “It is not strictly a question of maturation or cooking, but a genuine and strong bond between man and animal is essential. The man who keeps talking to his animals and feeds her for 15 years before killing her, is guaranteed to produce better meat in the end.”
Keeping all beef cattle until they are teenagers is not realistic for most commercial farmers, butchers and retailers – but this film certainly gives a big thumbs up to traditional British breeds, fed natural, home-grown diets, and meat that is matured with care and cooked with love. So three cheers for that!
Interestingly members of the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association are also experimenting with ‘cow-beef’ – older grass-fed animals past breeding age or no longer needed. Excellent feedback on taste and flavour especially when slow cooked. And pasture-fed cow bones make excellent, mineral-rich, nutritious bone-broth.