Chicken-fried steak, in the trash! (Aarrgh!)
I wrote not long ago about the glory of a good chicken-fried steak, and was inspired by my own post to make it again the evening my wife returned from a long weekend in New York City. It needs cubed steak (or cube steak, either one) that you pound down with a wooden mallet or pestle or rolling pin, bread crumbs, spices/herbs, and a good beef gravy on top after it’s been dredged in crumbs, egg and milk, and bread crumbs again and then fried. Yum!
I made it, fried it up in canola and peanut oil, poured the gravy on, and we sat down to eat what we thought would be a delicious meal, while watching a movie. After two bites of crushing disillusionment, I asked aloud, “What’s wrong with this?” My wife said, “It has no taste.” I agreed. I might as well have served up a fried slice of our driveway. Expletives abounded, and we threw it all in the trash. Flavorless dinner? Not allowed in this house. Trashed!
I was more than annoyed. I worked hard on those steaks. The problem was not the cooking, it was the beef I bought at our local supermarket. It was just plain no good. They haven’t invented emojis yet to reflect my mood at the time.
Why was it no good? Well, I called the meat department at the store, got a knowledgeable butcher, and we conversed. I knew that cubed beef comes from slices of top or bottom round (no flavor), sometimes flank steak (a bit more flavor), and runs through a cuber that punches square holes in it to tenderize it. I asked, was it ever frozen? No, they never buy frozen beef. Good. Was it cow (female that’s had calves), heifer (female that’s never calved), or steer (castrated bull calf)? They don’t know – their purchases don’t specify male or female. They also tend to make cube steaks from whatever cuts of beef they have that are “leftovers,” not big enough to sell as steaks, or don’t have enough fat content to make good hamburger/ground beef. (Also, the fat messes up the cuber, and doesn’t look good when packaged.) Butchering is complicated!
Bottom line? Cube steak tends to come from cheap, relatively lean and flavorless cuts of beef.
I decided henceforth I wouldn’t buy cube steak unless I knew its origin. Preferably it’s from flank steak or flap steak (otherwise known as sirloin tips, but not cut into strips) or, if you’re lucky, chuck steak. All have good flavor. Umami, mama! Gotta have it. Bottom round and top round just don’t have it and never will.
If the supermarket meat department doesn’t know where it came from, nod apologetically, turn your head and leave. Turn around and go down to Wiggins Meat Market on South Main in Rockland. (148 Main St., 594-1118, open 8-6, Mon. thru Sat.)
The Wiggins Solution
Jess Wiggin’s Meat Market, 148 Main St., Rockland.
Your local supermarket may not know where its beef comes from or what it actually is, but Jess Wiggin knows, along with his partner Deborah Smith. The highlights:
- Almost all of his beef is Angus.
- All of his beef is steer beef. No cows, no heifers. The flavor and tenderness are better. Most of it originates in Texas.
- His cube steak, for example, comes from flap meat (same cut as sirloin tips). Tender, flavorful!
- Unlike supermarkets, Jess doesn’t buy or sell top or bottom round. He considers it (as I do) substandard – tough and flavorless, not even good enough to make hamburger,
- He butchers local pig, lamb, and poultry. He has rotisserie chicken cooking during the day. Ribs, pork butt, hanger steak – the best we’ve ever had.
- His shop is like a mini supermarket. Veggies, frozen foods, lobster raviolis, duck, goose, a wall of spices and herb at really low prices, bread, cookies… and don’t miss out on Deborah’s homemade chicken or beef pot pies.
Jess working on a local lamb.
The challenge: Route 73 roadwork!
But it’s no secret his market is hurting right now, with road work on South Main installing sewer and water mains. The work is painfully slow and will last into July, if not longer. Traffic from the south – Owls Head, So. Thomaston, Spruce Head – is shunted off away from Wiggins. You have to do a loop up Thomaston St. to Broadway and then to Park or Pleasant St. to turn right and navigate through traffic cones to his parking lot. He’s still there, but you can get to him only from the north.
Jess has been in business there for nearly five years, but this may be the toughest stretch he’s been through.
Support Jess, and take the time to patronize him!
Try not buying meat at your local supermarket. Help a couple of great, friendly, and generous people keep their business intact. My wife and I do what we can, and I hope you will, too.