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Oct 16, 2012 09:52 PM

Best cut of beef for Chinese food?

Have a bunch of recipes that call for slicing flank steak as the beef component in Chinese entrees. What's the best substitute? I've tried different versions of "pepper steak" from different sources and all were tough.

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  1. For stir-fry I like eye of round. Admittedly I use the baking soda method to tenderize the meat prior to marinating.

    8 Replies
      1. re: helou

        Adding a half teaspoon of baking soda to the marinade (it does not have to be added prior to that in a separate procedure) helps tenderize the beef. Many Chinese restaurants do this. It is actually illegal under NY law as it reduces the iron nutrient levels, which was a major concern many years ago when our diets were more meager.

        1. re: scoopG

          Thanks, I'll try it. I once read that kiwi and fresh ginger are also good tenderizers, so I marinated my meat with plenty of those for a long time and they worked too well - the meat was mushy and inedible.
          Half a teaspoon baking soda doesn't seem like it could do too much damage.

          1. re: helou

            I've never heard of ginger being a tenderizer but kiwi, like papaya, is a powerful enzyme-based tenderizer. Baking soda is, in this context, pretty powerful too and will make the meat mushy if you leave it on too long before cooking.

            1. re: MikeG

              I used both in the same marinade so I can't be sure if one or both were the culprits.

              1. re: helou

                Ginger, as far as I know, is not for tenderizing. It is for damping the meaty and fishy scent -- in Chinese definition. This is why ginger slices are almost always use along with fish in Chinese and Japanese cuisine.

              2. re: MikeG

                Fresh pineapple or figs should work too, for the same reason

            2. re: scoopG

              NY is crazy. The fact that Chinese restaurants cook their food in carbon steel or cast iron woks (leach iron) should compensate.

        2. I can't tell if you tried flank steak, but if you did, did you slice it across the grain? It still is a chewy cut, but it becomes a lot easier if cut correctly.

          1. is a hanger/onglet/tri-tip cut allowed in Kosher cooking? personally I've never been fond of beef in Chinese dishes and would opt for chicken, beef just doesn't seem made for a wok.

            34 Replies
            1. re: hill food

              >>> beef just doesn't seem made for a wok<<<

              Why is that your conclusion? I make a Shaking Beef (among other things) that are excellent cooked in a wok.

              1. re: Fowler

                it can be done, and I have had a rare few successful dishes (at restaurants and at home) but it just seems it's gotta either be cooked fast or braised. flank, shank and brisket don't really lend themselves to a wok. if we're talking thin strips of sirloin or hanger, yeah I can see that and have used them. I just don't know which cuts are allowed under Kashrut law. pork is obviously out of the question. hence my sugestion of poultry.

                1. re: hill food

                  Thanks for all the replies so far. This is why I posted on the kosher board, because its a reduced universe of cuts of beef. Nothing from the rear of the animal. No: flank, sirloin or tri tip. Hangar steak can be used but it's usually in short supply or not available - and $15+ per pound when it is available.

                  1. re: iris

                    I use skirt steak for this. It has to be cut extremely thin. I usually put it in the freezer for about 30 minutes, and then slice it on either my meat slicing machine (if I need a lot) or with an electric knife. The slices should be no more than 1/8" thick. This allows the meat to cook though fast in the wok. If you use thicker beef it becomes all tough and leathery wile waiting for it to cook in the wok.
                    Also, make sure you have almost no liquid in the wok when you cook the beef, or it will 'stew' and get tough and stringy.

                    Cook beef, remove from wok and set aside. Cook rest of dish, return beef for a final toss to incorporate and warm.

                    1. re: bagelman01

                      Ditto skirt. Although chuck works when sliced thin against grain with connective tissue removed. And all of the rib variants work well, except for price.

                      1. re: bagelman01

                        and for anyone reading, the best way to slice extra-thin is to par-freeze for maybe 40 minutes before knife time.

                        1. re: hill food

                          I guess my freezer is more efficient than yours, as 30 minutes is more than sufficient par-freezing time for skirt steak.

                          1. re: bagelman01

                            :) You two are funny. I suppose it really depends what temperature was set at the freezer and how large a skirt steak was placed in.

                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                              which is why I commented when hill food proclaimed 40 minutes as the "best"

                              too many variables

                              1. re: bagelman01

                                ahem, I didn't proclaim the timing as 'best' just meant the process of par-freezing before slicing. freezers are like printers, what comes out as turquoise on mine will look kelly green on somebody else's and all look blue on the monitor.

                                but in hindsight bagelman DID already suggest the par-freeze step. oops.

                        2. re: bagelman01

                          Is it just my butcher, or isn't skirt steak way too salty, particularly for Chinese food that alsmost always has soy sauce. I've read that people soak skirt steak before cooking to get the salt out. Does that work?

                          1. re: helou

                            It may be your butcher, or the requirements of the supervising machir that leads to salty skirt steak. I haven't found it to be a problem with the skirt I buy.
                            Also, I use low sodium soy sauce in my home Chinese cooking.

                            Soaking may work, I haven't needed to do it as of yet.

                            1. re: helou

                              Soak for an hour, changing the water halfway through

                              1. re: helou

                                Skirt steak is not salty -- unless it has been brinned or something.

                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                  All kosher meat has been brined. The difference is only in how well it was rinsed afterwards.

                                  1. re: zsero

                                    <All kosher meat has been brined>

                                    Oh. I didn't know this. Thanks.

                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                      Further explanation: for meat to be kosher, in addition to everything else, the blood must be extracted. This can be done in two ways: 1) it must be roasted over an open fire (without being rotated); *or* 2) it must be soaked in cool water for half an hour, then coated completely in coarse salt and left to sit and drain for an hour, then thoroughly rinsed three times. All meat (except liver) sold in kosher butchers has been koshered by this second method. Liver has been koshered by the first method.

                                      PS This is why coarse salt is known in American English as "kosher salt".

                                2. re: helou

                                  "Is it just my butcher, or isn't skirt steak way too salty"

                                  You may wish to run that issue by your butcher. Skirt steak should not be salty unless your butcher is using an additive to tenderize and/or flavor the meat.

                                  1. re: Fowler

                                    I think the butcher (or the slaughterhouse, or whoever does the kashering) is responsible for the saltiness. I've heard this same complaint from others who use different butchers.
                                    I'll try using skirt steak, soaking it, and par freezing. And the baking soda trick. I've never had good luck getting tender beef for stir frying, but these tips might help.

                                    1. re: helou

                                      Most meat is soaked and salted in large blocks- primaries or others, and does not see much salt, because the salted surface could be far from the cut of meat you order. Skirt steak, on the other hand, is a separate muscle running over the other muscles, from the shoulder to the loin. It is separated before the back half is cut away, is far removed from the abdominal cavity, so there is no reason to worry about forbidden fat. IT is a long, thin, broad muscle that nevertheless has all its surfaces covered with kosher salt. With a very high surface to volume ratio, it sees a large amount of salt per volume of meat. Therefore, it will always be salty, and does require much extra soaking.

                                  2. re: helou

                                    Maybe we buy our meat in the same place, but I have found the skirt steak I've bought in the recent past to be incredibly salty. I do soak it, and I think it has worked to an extent. In truth, skirt steak is a rare treat for me, so I'm only reporting on the few times I've bought it in the past few years.

                                    1. re: queenscook

                                      Most kosher meat today is koshered (soaked & salted) at the factory. As was mentioned, it requires putting kosher salt on all sides of the meat. This is where the problem starts. Some of the meat that is koshered is done in larger pieces so the salt penetration and retention is minimal. However, the skirts are very thin and they are not really solid cuts, so as a result, the salt goes through the entire piece of meat and all of the sodium is not removed by the after rinse and wash. This causes skirts to be much more salty than most other cuts of beef.
                                      The soaking/rinsing routine usually works well to remove most of it, but some always remains, so be light when using any added salt or salty sauces such as soy sauce.

                                      1. re: chicago maven

                                        Yes, I realize. But I am surprised that the responses here, other than Helou's and my own, say that they don't notice their skirt steak to be overly salty. I couldn't believe how salty it was a year or two ago when I bought a piece for the first time.

                                        1. re: queenscook

                                          I think bagelman is the only kosher keeper who said skirt wasn't salty. The other posts seem to be from people who stumbled on this thread without realizing it was the kosher board and were commenting on skirt steak in general.

                                          1. re: avitrek

                                            I'm kind of one of those people avi, but I just don't like skirt in the first place. I skim the Kosher board as I do try to be accommodating to guests. not K of course, but at least not blatantly offensive.

                                            1. re: avitrek


                                              I don't buy most of my meat prekashered at the slaughterhouse as most find at their local kosher emporium.

                                              I am able to buy a half cow and have it schect here in CT and kasher it at home before packing and freezing. I'm old enough to remember when almost all kashering was done on the home. We used to buy live chickens at the poultry market and walk next door to the schochet to have them slaughtered, take them home to pluck and kasher. Beef was schect locally as well, none of these big factory operations in Iowa in those days.

                                              I think one would be hard pressed to find fresh kosher beef for sale in most markets that has not been kashered, with little local kosher slaughter and a 72 hour window to kasher it doesn't make economic sense. If I couldn't get locally schect kosher beef, I might find the same problem with salty skirt steak that others buying the prepackaged meat find.

                                              1. re: bagelman01

                                                The butchers about whom some of the kosher litigations in NY and NJ arose tended not to soak or salt their meat. That was the crux of the cases - if they didn't soak and salt could they be kosher based on the definition in the law. I bring this up to suggest that these butchers would not have salty skirt steaks. Though, the consumer is reasonable for taking the subsequent step of soaking and salting when they get the cuts home.

                                                1. re: craigcep

                                                  except, nowadays the chances are that those butchers are not getting beef on the hoof, but boxed beef from the giant kosher slaughterers/processors that comes in already soaked and salted.
                                                  I don't know if there is local commercial kosher slaughtering left in NY or NJ as opposed to individuals such as myself who buys an animal from a local farmer and has a shochet handle it.

                                                2. re: bagelman01

                                                  Do you purchase the live steer and have it shechted, then sell the rear half off, or is there already kosher shechita in CT where you can purchase the forequarters, and soak and salt them yourself? Also, how are you able to absorb the costs of animals which have adhesions? If the former, how did you manage to fiend buyers for the rear? If the latter, I find it fascinating that more people don't avail themselves of the service. I have a sister in Trumble who probably would, and many New Yorkers who would probably prefer it.

                                                  1. re: ganeden

                                                    I purchase the live steer (or calf if I want veal) from a particular farmer and have it schecht. My Italian next door neighbor takes the hindquarters which makes life easy. If the animal does not meet kosher requirements, the farmer has a list of waiting customers who are happy to take the meat. All Ilose is the schochet's wages. In the past 4 years, this has only happened once.

                                                    It's been a number of years since there was active kosher schechita in CT. When local processors found they had to go under USDA certification instead of just the CT authorities, they stopped. But there are several schotchim I know who live in CT who will do the job.

                                        2. re: helou

                                          Skirt steaks must have the skin removed prior to kashering for vein removal. The salt is put directly on the meat, and because the steak is thin, the salt penetrates all the way through. Most cuts of meat are salted in bulk cuts with a protective layer of fat, skin and or bone. The only way to remove the salt (according to kosher caterers and tested by myself) is to soak the steak in cold water for several hours.

                                      2. re: iris

                                        I thought tri-tip was from the same area as hanger... huh, good thing I don't work in a chop shop.

                                    2. re: Fowler

                                      Yeah...... aside from slow simmer cooking which results in a different texture, what better way to cook a tough cut than marinating & stir frying thin sliced strips in a scorching hot carbon steel wok?

                                  3. Beef, with its hearty flavor is ideal for stir-frying as it cooks quickly. It also requires more care in stir-frying or you can end up with tough and tasteless meat. Flank steak is the best choice - if it is fresh. If not, then sirloin or tenderloin cut into thin strips also works well.

                                    Cut against the grain for better texture. Marinade the beef for at least 30 minutes (in a combination of soy sauce, sherry or Chinese Rice Wine, a small amount of oil, etc). This will create a tender and juicy texture.

                                    For a smooth texture, mix in half-teaspoon of baking soda. This is a very efficient tenderizer which has been widely used by many Chinese restaurants - see above!

                                    If you do not want to use baking soda, use one teaspoon of cooking oil and a small amount of egg white. This combination will also give beef a smooth texture and help it remain tender.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: scoopG

                                      This reminds me of a Chinese technique called "velveting". Can be found in the 1000 Recipe Chinese Cookbook.

                                      Essentially it is taking the sliced meat & tossing it with egg white & corn starch. Then immersing it in 300 degree oil quickly to set the coating (you can use boiling water too, but that works better with fish & other treyf from the sea).

                                      Drain the meat & use it as you would normally, but cook it a little less since it would be already partially cooked. The texture really changes for the better, but there is another step involved in the process. Your choice.

                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                        I agree with and suggested skirt.
                                        OP was looking for an alternative to Flank. Flank is hindquarter and not available kosher in the USA

                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                          Agree with Flank & skirt if I was making my own & had no strip loin scraps to work with. Scoop G's advice is right on. Inexpensive white box takeouts often use select, standard and no roll & use far less expensive cuts as well and being thirsty for hours after eating it is usually the end result which justifies a few extra brews.

                                          1. re: Tom34

                                            Thanks Tom and bagel,

                                            In that case, skirt steak should work for the original poster: