I enjoy reading restaurant reviews and noticed that many of them either crucify a chef for serving meat that was very tough or applauding them for serving meat that was very tender. My question is if a restaurant is ordering meat from a purveyor, how can the chef if at all control tenderness and know whether his dish is going to cut like butter or not? What can a cook do to meat to make it tender before service without knowing if it were to be tough or not?
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A good cook nearly always knows whether or not she's working with tough or tender meat. There are questions of touch, marbling, grade, cut, etc., as well as familiarity with the next guy up the chain -- whether he be butcher or wholesaler.
There are techniques which can make a difference, like jaccarding or marinating, cooking sear and blast or low and slow, dry, braise, poele, etc., but they are chosen depending on the quality of the meat to begin with, and its presumed suitability for a partciular dish.
And even then...
For instance, I'd smoke a Prime, Choice, Better than Choice Angus, Americah Black Face or even a Select brisket with pretty much the same prep and at very similar temperatures -- but would expect my results to be more or less consistent with the grade. Also, I'd smoke a standing rib with the same rub as the brisket and at the same temperatures, but I'd pull the rib rare (125F, or perhaps a bit less), while taking the brisket "past done and into tender" (never less than 192F).
There is nothing you can "do" to meat to make it tender or not tender. You can't pound a piece of meat to tenderize it as so many novices seem to think. Rarely can you even marinate a piece of meat to make it more tender. Tenderness is about which cut of meat you're using and what method you have chosen to cook it.
It is a case of getting to know your cuts of meat and methods of preparation. Also, you need to be happy with your meat purveyor once you find one that supplies you meat that satisfies what level you want.
At home, I will marinate and I will use the meat mallet. It works, for me. Sure, buying premium meat will be more tender. (Or it should be). If your budget does not allow for it you need to take extra steps to make the best of the meat you have.
As KKV and BDL say, you need to choose the cooking method that will best suit the cut of meat.
Knowing what the different cuts are and where they come from is important too. I'm not trying to be insulting, but you really need to know these things. A "fillet" is tender because it's a muscle that doesn't do any work. A "round" is not tender because it is a muscle that does a lot of work. It should not take an abacus to figure these things out.
In the last year I found my new "favorite steak". It is the hanging tender, AKA the "hanger steak". It hangs just beneath the diaphragm. Untrimmed, it looks nasty and not worth dealing with. Properly trimmed out it looks like romance on a plate, and it tastes just the same.
You can't necessarily tell from that pic, but there is a mean nasty and ugly connective tissue running longways through the middle of that piece. If it is not trimmed out you will be chewing it for 6 days. Other than that, it's "drop-the-fork delicious".
It would be very incorrect for any food critic to judge a restaurant merely on the tenderness of the meat. Tender and tastefull aren't by far synonyms.
There's one side that requires indeed knowledge about meatcuts but on the other side there is the "cuisson" which is purely cooking knowledge. Both however are part of chef's experience. I would even estimate the cuisson as much more difficult to perform correctly than choosing a tender meatcut. You can ruin a perfect meatcut with a bad cuisson, that's where the food critics rightfully jump in. For the cuisson you have to count on your very own knowledge, for choosing the right cuts you should be able to depend on your supplier's knowledge too.
@IceMan; I guess you posted a picture of what is called in french "onglet". Indeed one of the very tastiest cuts. Perfect example also of a cut of meat you can ruin very easily with a bad cuisson.
I also believe that beef varies from state to state. For years now I have proclaimed that NY makes pretty tasteless beef, I don't know where the main supplies of beef come from in NY but I know that as close by as Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia beef tastes much much better and is a lot more tender. I have also had beef in Las Vegas which was the best of all. I'm dying to go to Texas, I hear the beef there is mighty tasty. NY, not so much.