Know Your … Terminology
Prime vs. Choice:
Plain and simple, USDA Prime beef is the best you can get; USDA Choice runs a close second. If your meat bears the official stamp of USDA Prime, you can expect abundant marbling and the most tender, flavorful cut of meat out there. What you need to watch out for on menus and in reviews is the use of “prime” as an adjective. If it doesn’t have those four uppercase letters and a capital “P,” it’s not necessarily Prime.
Dry-Aged vs. Wet-Aged Beef:
They’re costly and harder to find, but dry-aged steaks are worth it. Whole loins are hung in climate-controlled coolers — hovering around 40 degrees — for up to six weeks. What’s left is a less juicy but deeply flavored piece of meat. Wet-aged beef is butchered cuts that are Cryovac-packed — sealed in airtight plastic — and refrigerated. Though less intensely flavored than their dry-aged cousins, these steaks offer juicy bite after juicy bite.
Wagyu vs. Kobe:
Don’t be fooled: Like true Champagne, true Kobe beef is bound by region, so the “Kobe” you see on a menu is more likely an American version, properly called Wagyu, of the pampered Japanese cattle. Never fear; it’s just as tender, and less expensive. While raised on our soil, it’s a direct descendant of the Asian breed and is often fed the prescribed Kobe diet of beer and sake mash.
Know Your … Toppings
A French standard, this buttery sauce gets its yellow hue from egg yolks and is flavored generously with licorice-evoking tarragon. It’s a popular accompaniment to loin cuts like filet mignon and chateaubriand that need a little extra oomph.
This combo of port wine and demi-glace is cooked for hours, yielding a thick reduction. And a rich one — so use sparingly or run the risk of masking the natural taste of the beef.
The luxurious savor of butter gets even better when it’s dressed up with herbs, spices, wine and, on occasion, even cheese. A medallion melted over a fresh-from-the-broiler steak won’t compete with the beefy flavor.
Widely available, and classic. An au poivre steak is coated in coarse black pepper before being seared, for a crunchy, earthy exterior. It’s often served with a sauce.
Know Your … Special Orders
Named for its cool temperature, not its color, steak ordered this way is tossed on the heat for just a minute or so, resulting in a nearly raw cut on your plate. The throwback term is mostly heard these days from older steakhouse aficionados and foreigners.