Steak “Bavette” A Rare Treat For Meat

Hangar Steak with Horseradish Cream and Onion Marmalade

What’s Bavette? Well, it’s a preparation for steak. So let’s talk about steak.

I overheard some people talking in a restaurant recently about steak. The point one of the diners was trying to make was that in tough economic times people turn from “better” cuts of meat to the “cheaper” cuts of meat.

His point made sense to me. I suppose people do exactly that.

But then his next statement floored me. He said, “So when I cook a steak at home I force myself to buy something like a flank or skirt steak. But when eating in a nice restaurant I always order the filet, no matter what the price”.

I almost choked on my hanger steak!

I would advise just the opposite. While true that a good filet has a lovely soft tender texture. It cuts like “buttah” and we have been programmed to believe that means it tastes better. However, all filets, good, bad, or indifferent; cooked at home or at a Michelin starred restaurant are relatively flavorless. Why do you think people wrap them in bacon?

Filets are best when broiled or grilled. Which is really not very hard.

A sauce to mask their rather bland taste often accompanies them. Filets are far easier for the home cook than are many other cuts of meat. Which, to me, means you are wasting your money when you order a filet in a very nice restaurant. Especially in tough economic times.

If you are dining in a nice restaurant and craving some good red meat always order the cuts and preparations that are hard for the home cook to come by.

A filet is a filet is a filet. I promise you. If you pick up a quality filet you can cook it yourself as well as any Food Network Star.

To me, the most flavorful cut of beef is the hanger steak. It is often called an onglet and has been very popular in Europe for quite some time. It is finally catching on here. But it’s still very difficult to find at most markets. I have even had trouble at decent butcher shops. But as I say, that is changing.

The onglet is often called “the butcher’s steak”. It’s supposedly far too humble to grace the tables of most of the butcher’s prized customers; he often keeps it for himself. But, that’s because he’s a butcher, and a sly fox to boot. Because he knows just how tasty this cut is.

It’s a very grainy, oddly shaped cut of meat. It’s a smaller piece and is attached to or “hangs from” the diaphragm (where we get skirt steak). Its proximity to the kidneys is one reason I have heard it is so flavorful. But I don’t know why this would make it so.

Though there is no denying it is indeed very flavorful. It is also very chewy, but not at all tough. The distinction is difficult for a lot of diners. You will hear people describe it as tough. Don’t believe them.

But if you can get past your preconceived notions about what a good cut of meat is, and really taste what you are eating. Then filet will start to taste like a dishrag. A very clean, well-cared, expensive dishrag.

I may be exaggerating (for effect).  But I think you will find that filet lacks any real beefy flavor. Which is not to say it’s not tasty. But it does mean it will always be a flavor compromise. Which means, the notion of ordering it at a fine dining establishment may not be the best bang for your beef buck.

Another overlooked cut of beef is the hanger steak’s next-door neighbor, skirt steak. Skirt steak has been accepted by most of us as a good cut for fajitas. This is indeed true. But it makes a very nice steak as well.

Sometimes it is hard to find. Probably because Applebees buys it all up to satisfy our huge demand for– you guessed it! Fajitas.

But when you are looking for a good skirt steak keep in mind there is an inside, as well as an outside, skirt steak. They come from a cut along the plate or lower rib of the animal. The outside portion is thicker and better suited to a steak, while the equally tasty inside cut is better for the aforementioned fajitas.

Many people assume that skirt steaks and flank steaks are one and the same.

They share many qualities. Among them a strongly defined grain. They are both big in the flavor department too. But skirt steak is cut from the diaphragm and flank steak is from, well, the flank! The lower inside flank.

So during these tough economic times let’s turn to these affordable tasty cuts. Even when the economy recovers, if I have done my job, I think you will stay true to these flavorful cuts of beef.

Not only will your pocketbook be happy. But I believe these cuts are healthier in the long run too. For the simple reason of portion control. It’s possible to eat far less and still satisfy that beef urge many of us understand so well. Because they are so very beefy.

The French have long understood how and when to best enjoy these ‘lowly’ cuts of beef.

The highly appreciated Steak Frites uses these cuts in a classically satisfying meat and potatoes kind of way. There is also a version they call “Bavette” (which means bib).

Bavette is a steak quickly seared in a hot pan. It is typically a thin cut, though not always. It is eaten rare to medium rare to maintain its chewy tenderness. Bavette is frequently served in Parisian bistros with shallots — “bavette a l’achalotte”. It is a variation of the Steak Frites you know so well.

It is typically topped with a big, big mound (1 cup or more) of richly caramelized shallots. A red wine jus often accompanies it. When the meat is particularly good. I often order this preparation bleu. Which means rarer than rare– just warmed through in the center and well seared on the outside. Some call this charred rare as well.

The saucy shallots resemble a compote in consistency and are a delightful accompaniment. Especially with the addition of a little vinegar. Just enough to make the rich sweet onions scream ZING!

I usually serve mine with bitter greens in very herby vinaigrette. In this case, I am using the last of the wild mustard greens growing in the hills near my house.

But, (don’t make remind you)– do not forget the FRITES!


Greg Henry