Cuts from the beef shoulder are highly appealing, with a rich beefy flavor and plentiful marbling. They're often sold as roasts, prepared by slow-roasting or simmering in rich sauce until they're tender. These cooking methods provide lots of time for the meat to gently cook until it's tender. Slicing the roast into steaks is more problematic, because shoulder cuts are generally too tough for grilling. However, there are several tasty ways to prepare them.
Simmering Your Steaks
The simplest way to cook tough steaks from the shoulder chuck is by slow-cooking them, just as you would with the larger roast. In a casserole dish or countertop slow cooker, layer the steaks with aromatic flavoring ingredients such as onions, mushrooms and spices. Pour in enough broth or sauce to cover the steaks, then bake or simmer them at low temperature for 3 to 4 hours until they're meltingly tender. The dense, tough muscle fibers will break down and soften, and the chewy gristle that runs through shoulder cuts will melt into soft, rich, mouth-filling gelatin.
Bringing Down the Hammer
Beef shoulder cuts are usually quite tough without slow cooking, but you can fix that if you'd rather have them grilled. Instead of relying on the tenderizing effects of long cooking, you can physically tenderize the meat with an old-fashioned meat mallet. When you pummel the meat with a mallet, you physically shear the bonds holding the muscle fibers together. If you diligently pound the entire surface of the steak, it will be tenderized enough for grilling. The finished steak will be chewier than expensive cuts such as ribeyes or New York strips, but still pleasant to eat.
A Pointedly Different Approach
If you enjoy the beefy flavor and low cost of shoulder cuts, you might choose to invest in a jackard-type meat tenderizer. These have a handle containing an array of stiff steel pins with sharp ends, which you press into the meat. The pins cut the muscle fibers into short sections, making the steaks much easier to chew. Most butcher shops have one or more jackard tenderizers for making cube steak or other tenderized steaks, so if you don't want to do this at home you can ask your butcher to do it for you.
Powders and Marinades
There's a persistent myth that soaking your tough shoulder steak in an acidic marinade will help tenderize it. It's true that the acid can help soften proteins up to a point, but this only works at the very surface of the meat. It helps wafer-thin cuts, but would have little effect on a thick-cut slice of shoulder chuck. The same holds true for enzyme-based tenderizers, derived from tropical fruits such as papayas and pineapples. Marinades and tenderizing powders work best if you've already tenderized the steak with a mallet or jackard tenderizer, creating points where the marinade or enzymes can enter deep within your steak.
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- On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen; Harold McGee
- Professional Cooking; Wayne Gisslen
Fred Decker is a trained chef and prolific freelance writer. In previous careers, he sold insurance and mutual funds, and was a longtime retailer. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. His articles have appeared on numerous home and garden sites including GoneOutdoors, TheNest and eHow.
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