Thursday, April 11, 2013

Dry Aged Beef Hindquarter. The Breakdown.

So this is a big one... 
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have been helping to teach a bunch of students at Texas State University in San Marcos how to break down whole Lamb/Sheep, Hogs and finally - Beef. So far, the experience has been great - I have a newfound (maybe rediscovered) love for teaching, especially my craft. As a friend of mine, Bryan Butler of Salt and Time, once said, "True Masters Teach." Well - I really took that to heart and I can't believe the opportunity to teach at a university fell in my lap the way it did. Some of the motions/seams/angles are hard to make out through these photos, but I'm going to assume that if you have the chance to break down a hindquarter, you already have a pretty good idea of what's going on!

This is what we're going to be working with - beef hindquarter off a high-choice steer. We've had it aging since  March 15th, so just over 30 days.  

As heavy as these guys are, they're not too hard to get off the hook and onto your table. Essentially, I just bear hug it from behind, center the weight of it between my feet and lift up - you'er mostly hugging around the Flank and Short loin, so the way it settles into your arms prevents it from slipping out, that is if you can get your arms all the way around it. 

First off, we'll remove the Flank Steak. I like to start by removing the whole belly from the leg, just follow the seams and don't cut into anything that's red.

While you're removing the Flank and all of the fatty tissue around it, you're also outlining the Round and exposing the Sirloin Tri-Tip.

Once you start reaching the end of the seams, you can focus your attention back on the Flank - this step is very easy and bears little explanation. 
I like to trim the meat as it's still on the quarter - saving steps/time leaves more time for the other things. 

Now that the Flank is out of the way - fix your attention on the Sirloin Flap. This is easily one of my favorite cuts, for any purpose. Make pre-cuts along the bottom of the Flap until you start getting into the Loin Tails (red meat, thin but lean.)

After you get the bottom of the Flap started, go back to the top of the Shortloin where the Suet begins. Suet is a very large hunk of fat that comes from the interior of the animal - if you're lucky you'll find a kidney hiding in there, otherwise suet is great for rendering into Tallow. 

Keep working the suet by pulling with your [left] hand and cutting with your [right] hand. The two should be working together, minimizing the effort needed to accomplish these tasks - make no joke about it, this is hard work. 
Once you've got the Flap/Suet section removed, set the fat aside, trim down the flap, and get back to the rest of the quarter.

Here's what mine looked like after removing the Flank, Flap, and Suet. I'll be the first to admit that if you look closely, I nicked the Tenderloin, which is a big no-no. Don't do that. 

Start clearing out the belly of any lean meat. We're going to get this out of our way to make room for the next few steps. As I'm working on this, I'll begin to outline the Tri-Tip, while clearing the layers of fat that hide the Sirloin Tip / Knuckle so when I'm ready to break them out, I can already see the curvature of the muscle. I told my students that as you're doing these kind of things, in a way you're giving yourself lines for which to color inside. 

Saw through the 13th rib about two inches from the bottom of the NY Strip. The bone is maybe one inch in diameter, so it doesn't take much - this step is all about ease of operation...

After the rib is sawed through, cut it out leaving the boneless belly. Clear away the belly with your knife to give yourself clear line of sight to the where the Hip / Aitch Bone curves down, separating the Sirloin from the Shortloin.

Draw a line vertically from the end of the Aitch bone to the Spine. Ideally, the only bone you'll have to saw through is the vertebrae right before the spine curves down into the tail. 

Saw through until you either hear the bone snap, or until you can feel soft meat. Do not cut through the rest of this with a saw, you'd be doing the meat a disservice - the saw would obliterate the Tenderloin and NY Strip. Do no do this. 

Damn near perfect. My angle could have been adjusted slightly, but I am very happy with this break. 

Now for the Trip Tip. The seam for this is nearly impossible to see on the Top Sirloin side, use your experience and just go for it - if you make a mistake, at least it won't be the most costly one you could make.
Trim it down and set aside. As you can see, it looks like I'm explaining this to the Photographer - I like to talk during the process, helps keeps my excitement in check while working out the steps. 

Now for the Butt Tender. You're just going to be following bone here. Err on the side of bone, for the Tenderloin is not only the most expensive cut, but it's also easy to ruin. Keep the side of your knife firmly against the bone and take shallow but deliberate swipes while pulling the Tenderloin away with your left hand. 

Getting warmer...

Though it's hard to see, where the Tenderloin ends is right between the beginning of the Top Round and Sirloin Tip. 

Just about done.
Once you've removed the Butt Tender, trim it, set it aside.. take a breath and get back to it!

Now for the Knuckle, a.k.a. Sirloin Tip. This is sort of difficult to see at first, what I like to do is start at the Top Round and work your way down until you hit the femur, at that point, follow the bone from top to bottom. It helps if you know what the grain of this side of the knuckle looks like, if not, you'd be working blind. 

Follow the seams, young padawan. 

Now for the Top Sirloin. The way I'm going to do this is not the way I learned, nor is it the American way. I approach this exactly like I would a whole leg of lamb because, really, the only difference is size. Start by outlining the part of the hip bone where the animal is split in half, from the bottom of the anus to the curved side of the hip that marked where we removed the Shortloin.

This, to me, is the most difficult step in breaking down a hindquarter. The hip curves about 45 degrees and if you deviate from the curvature of the bone, you will seriously gash the Top Sirloin. 

Keep drawing your lines until you break the connection between the Femur and the Hip. You may hear a variety of different sounds, you may see fluid pour out - you may not, either way - once you've exposed this connection and broken through it, you can change your angle and start using the weight of the Sirloin to ease the amount of work your knife has to do. 

Cut all around the Hip-side of the joint.

Start working the curves on either side of the joint.

...Now we're dancing! Now that our lines are drawn and the shape of the sirloin is evident, start cutting the rest of the bone away - there are a few pre-cuts to this process that we didn't get good pictures of, but again - if you've made it this far, I bet you have a pretty good idea of how to finish this step.

Home free.

Here's where we deviate from the 'normal' way of approaching this - if your trained eye can see, I left the Culotte attached to the Rump and taken the Sirloin off as a lean whole.  In my opinion, the rump is highly under utilized and if cut and trimmed correctly can be a very enjoyable cut of meat. 

The rest of this breakdown is just following seams. I go into detail about this process in my  post about breaking down the Steamship Round.

On the far left we have a nearly identical Hind Quarter, Butt Tender, Flank, Flap, Tri Tip, Sirloin Tip, Top Sirloin, Eye of Round, Top Round, and Full Rump. The last bit I'm working on is the Hindshank.

That's it! Time for a break.
Again, "True Masters Teach." Dylan's turn.

The look on his face is my new reason for doing this. The joy, pride and excitement  that people exhibit when doing something like this, especially someone that's pretty well versed in meat cutting getting to see the  puzzle as a whole is very special to me. Teaching has really started calling my name and I'm going to be working on how to figure out how to do it for a living.

Now for a sneak peak at Fore Quarter breakdown. These guys are significantly heavier than the hinds, still possible to lift, but this one proved to be a bit too heavy for my frame - luckily I was able to enlist the help of my long time friend.

Since these have aged for so long, the exterior has turned a bit and though pre-trimming is usually a no-no, I think it's called for here. Best to remove it now and prevent any bad tissue from getting into the grind.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Whole Mutton. The Breakdown.

This last week, before class, I was able to get a couple mutton broken down and figured I'd take some pictures - I'm going to do the same next week for Beef, which I'm very excited about!

These guys weigh in right around 100 lbs, they've been aged about two weeks so all the fat has become very dense and the animal has become very easy to work with.

The animal is a bit too big to split whole on the size of saw the school has, so I decided to split the animal in half another way - between the 12th and 13th rib on both sides - going between the ribs ensures you wont run into any bone until the spine. Pro-tip - use a knife that gives you a bit of leverage - either a 10 inch or a 12 inch breaker would be perfect. 

After the meat is cut away, take a hand saw and cut through what little bone is solid.

A look inside the Rib and Shoulder section. 

To split the Mutton, line up the spine, backside-down, with the saw blade aiming at nothing but bone, your margin of error on this step is VERY slight. 

The next step is cutting off the Naval, Brisket and Foreshank - Draw a line from the top of the Brisket to the bottom of the Loin-side of the ribs. 

Cut straight through - the Shank will barely be hanging on and the Riblets can be split further or sold whole. 

Now for the Shoulder - You can usually get two Arm Chops (1" thick) by cutting perpendicular to the ribs. Then turn it around and cut with the rib until the muscle groupings begin to taper off - usually four chops will come out nicely, bringing the total to 6. 

You can identify the Arm Chops in the top left by the round bone surrounded by lean meat - The Shoulder Chops will resemble the 7 Bone Chuck Roasts your grandma used to cook for you. 

The rib section is really quite simple - that is if you're not going to french them, which we'll cover another time. Take off the chine bone far enough to be able to cut though the ribs with a knife...

You'll usually find these sold as two-rib chops. 

Now for the back half. Pull the Flanks out of the way and cut through as much of the Top Rounds as you can until you hit the center of the hip bone (aitch). Again, you're trying to cut this thing exactly in half - make sure you can see what you're working with!

As you can see, I cut into the meat-side of the loin on the quarter to the left, not a huge deal but not perfect. 

At the end of the aitch bone, cut through the loin, all through the meat and through the flank, separating the Loin from the Sirloin

If you've seen a Leg of Lamb sold as "semi-boneless' but still has bone (femur, shank) in it and wondered why, here it is - The aitch bone is a very oddly shape and makes carving this side of the leg would be very hard to carve - though the femur and the shank are easy to carve around.
The Sirloin is the section to the bottom-left of the femur bone - this is the area of the leg where the femur connects with the pelvis. 

Now for the loin - clear away the flank and square up your primal - cut at each vertebrae through as much of the meat as you can until only bone remains. 

And buzz through the bone on the band saw. The reason I do it this way is because the meat itself is very tender and the saw will only chew it up - attention to detail, I guess.

Stay tuned - should have a beef post around this time next week.