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Be Steak Savvy – Know Your Meat

Your guide to finding a perfect steak

15 Aug, 2015 by Vir Sanghvi

Your guide to finding a perfect steak

It is only when friends from Bombay visit that I realise how lucky we are in Delhi (though not in Gurgaon or other parts of Haryana). We can eat steaks which are outlawed in Maharashtra and Haryana as part of the beef ban.

Given what the current mood is like, I would not be surprised if the beef ban soon extends to Delhi. So make the most of your freedom if you are a beef-eater.

I won’t tell you where to get the best steaks in Delhi because restaurants that serve beef are routinely harassed by corrupt government regulators and inspectors. But here is a list of terms that you might want to understand if you are in the market for a good steak.

Buffalo Meat: The water buffalo is often used as a substitute for the cow in India. For instance, we rarely distinguish between buffalo milk and cow’s milk. Parts of the water buffalo yield a meat that can, with a little effort, be used instead of beef. For instance, you can probably make reasonable beef kababs or a biryani from water buffalo. I’ve had buffalo hamburgers that don’t taste bad.

But it is very difficult to make a good steak from buffalo. You can turn out okay steaks with a lot of effort (marination, ageing, etc.) but this is hard to do and they will never, ever be very good.

Done-ness of Steak: If you want your steak cooked all the way through, ask for it “well-done”. The chef will hate you for it because there is no surer way of destroying a good piece of beef. If you are not squeamish, then ask for it “rare”, which means it will be raw in the centre. Medium is the acceptable compromise but most steak lovers prefer medium-rare: a seared crust on the outside and a delicate pink centre.

Cuts of Steak: This is a complicated area because each country gives its own names to different cuts of beef. But broadly, you are likely to be offered a choice of fillet (the usual cut on Indian menus), sirloin (fatter and not usually found here) or T-Bone which is a Flintstones-sized hunk of meat with a bone in it. All are good. It is a matter of personal preference.

National Origins: Should you care about the cow’s passport? Well, may be, because the meat does vary. American cows are corn-fed so their beef tastes different from say, Irish cows which are grass fed. Australian cows can be grass-fed and corn-fed so you need to ask if you care about these things.

But basically, you get Irish, American or Australian beef here. And some of it is good. And some is not. Nationality is no guarantee of quality.

Breed of Cow: This is now a largely meaningless distinction because the terms are so open to abuse. In theory, Wagyu means a Japanese cow with a fatty meat. The cow’s ancestors may have come from Japan but these days, most Wagyu, available in our part of the world is Australian.

Angus is a Scottish breed but ‘Angus’  beef, which is less fatty than Wagyu turns up all over the world (America, Australia) because the original Scottish cows were exported.

If the meat is US Prime then it should be good because ‘Prime’ is a measure of quality controlled by the US government.

Accompaniments: A good steak should not need a sauce. If you want one, then Bearnaise and Pepper Sauce are the traditional accompaniments. Some chefs offer a red wine jus made with the pan sauces.

In America, you would eat your steak with potatoes. The French claim to eat it with salad but actually end up eating it with chips.

In my view, French fries (called chips in the UK) make the best accompaniment.

Follow him @virsanghvi

Written By

Vir Sanghvi is India's best-known food writer and TV host. His book, Rude Food won the Cointreau Award for Best Food Literature book in the world and his food and travel shows on channels such as TLC and NDTV Good Times have won numerous awards and continue to be watched by millions.

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