Meats to 86 From Menus: Filet, Sirloin Burgers, and, yes, Prime Rib
|Photo by Flickr user kertong|
|Unfortunately, most prime ribs don't look like this charred beauty.|
Growing up, a good friend's father ate more meat more regularly than anyone I knew or have known since. He would devour a half-pound of bacon for breakfast, eat burgers cooked in butter for lunch, and put away a hearty steak at dinnertime. Occasionally, he'd take us out for a meal. My friend and I would have to get burgers, but John almost never passed up the opportunity to grab filet mignon.
Once the server brought him his slab of protein, John would reach into his pocket for a small silver pill box from which he'd take a couple of pequin peppers, tiny little fellows he grew himself that are seven to eight times as spicy as jalapeños. He'd cut them up with his pocket knife, his chunky sausage fingers working far more delicately than you'd think possible, and then put a tiny slice on each bite of filet.
And that is the only way a filet should be eaten. If you've got the brass attachments to eat them with something so hot that it will kill a good-sized wolverine,
go for it. I'm certainly not getting in your way. Otherwise, I'm siding with a chef friend who thinks they're overpriced, underflavored, overplayed, and in general an excuse to charge way too much money for a slab of meat that can't hold a candle to oxtail flavorwise. They need to go.
Filet, though, isn't alone in its need to be 86'd from restaurant menus. Creative chefs are working up dishes with everything from beef cheeks to pig's feet, so there's no reason to go for boring, flavorless cuts any more.
Take prime rib, for instance. Over lunch the other day with a local chef and his wife, this choice started a heated argument between the married couple (he likes prime rib, she's with me). Here's the problem: you just can't get around the fact that it's used ubiquitously and poorly at every crappy catered affair that wants to look upscale but can't spring for lobster.
It looks like a huge chunk of cow on the table, it's rarely cooked with any skill, and it's just too damn easy to cop out and offer one. For that reason alone, if I never see another one of those big bastards sitting on a cutting board with a pseudo-chef wearing a paper chef's hat standing in its shadow holding a slicing knife, I'll be a happy camper.
Then there's steak au poivre. It's not that I have an issue with steak, obviously. And I do love me some pepper. But this bad boy is so clumsily done at most places that it's just got to go. Somehow, delicious meat with a tasty peppery sauce has become a throwaway that most cooks just phone in. Make a thick reduction, jam some crushed peppercorns into the steak, grill it and plate it.
Too many chefs use the fact that the pepper is so front-and-center as a green light to dump whatever sort of sauce they want on there, with nary a care about making something with any subtlety. It's almost lowest common denominator Applebee's-style cooking, and until chefs start to give a shit about it, it's off the menu.
And sirloin burgers? Look people, if you haven't yet figured out that this is the total poseur burger, you're reading the wrong column. They're served at parties by people who want to look like they're on top of the latest fad -- burger and beer, for those of you who haven't hit South Beach lately. The same people who buy ground sirloin also pay extra for expensive-yet-crappy beer. But burgers are about flavor, and we all know the flava's in the fat, so sirloin burger is just an oxymoron.
If you want a burger, make it from market ground beef and enjoy the hell out of it. If you're amped about fat content, then try a boring slab of white meat turkey and take a photo to give your cardiologist at your next checkup. Either way though, the sirloin burger is as useless as tits on a bull.
The list isn't comprehensive, but it's a start. I'll take beef cheeks, oxtail, beef heart, or pig feet tamales (coming soon to these pages, by the way) any day over any one of these dogs. They're an insult to meatists everywhere, and mock us from menus at otherwise decent restaurants.
Bradford Schmidt is The Meatist. He's also author of the blog Bone in the Fan. He lives in northern Palm Beach County and wants to grow his own pequin peppers, just in case he bumps into a filet he's forced to eat.