As eager as I am to learn about food, when it comes to beef there are times when I am ready to shout ENOUGH! I only eat beef once every week to ten days and I have no shortage of preferred cuts. The last thing I need is another obscure cut of beef that tastes just like all the other obscure cuts of beef I enjoy. But then I get interested in specifically why it is different, and before I know it, I find myself falling back down the rabbit hole in search of knowledge.
It happened to me again last week, after I ran across a social media post from Roseda Farms. The post highlighted a cut of beef called the Bavette steak, which it described as “an excellent choice for fajitas.” It came with a picture that looked like my hanger steak. And my skirt steak. And for that matter, my flank steak. Initially I ignored it, but the more I tried not to think about it, the more it kept taunting me: what’s the difference? Roseda’s social media post included a hook that said, “Have you tried our Bavette yet?” Well no, I haven’t. I didn’t even know what a bavette was. And then there I was…back down the rabbit hole.
The bavette is a French term for a cut that we call the flap steak. I know what a flap steak is, and where it comes from on the cow. So how does it different from the other “excellent choice for fajitas” cuts of beef? Not much. All four of these fajita cuts…the flap, the flank, the hanger, and the skirt…are long fiber muscle cuts. They are different to be sure, but not in ways that most people will be able to detect as long as you take special attention to prepare, cook, and carve them.
The flap steak, which is what sent me down the rabbit hole this time, is located at the bottom of the loin primal sitting above the back end of the cow’s belly just in front of the hind legs. The flank steak comes from the adjacent flank primal. Both cuts tend to the tough side as both are high-use muscles. The main difference is that the flank steak has a higher blood flow, giving it more of a sharp or even harsh beefy flavor, and the flap steak being located at the bottom of the loin, has more fat marbled through the muscle giving it a softer, buttery beef flavor as the fat renders out into the muscle tissue.
The other two cuts popular with fajita makers, the skirt and hanger steaks, are cut from the plate primal which is situated in front of the flank primal. The skirt steak is part of the cow’s diaphragm and is in constant use. The hanger is not a high use muscle. It just hangs out, doing its job as a supporting muscle for the skirt. Of these four cuts, the hanger is naturally the most tender because it does the least amount of work. Still, because it is a long fiber muscle you can’t just slap it on the grill and expect good results.
Let’s get one thing straight…you’ll pay as much or more for any of these four cuts of beef than you will for a USDA Choice rib eye or NY strip steak. That’s because while each cow gives up 48 premium steaks, you’ll only get maybe 4 flap steaks, 4 skirt steaks (2 inside and 2 outside), 2 flank steaks, and one hanger steak. I think I got that right. If you are going to go to the trouble of getting one of these high demand cuts you should know how to get the most out of them. The best way to treat them is marinate them, preferably overnight. According to Kenji at the Serious Eats website, you should use a marinade that contains an oil, an acid, and a salt to get the most tenderization. I discovered my marinade recipe, and perfected it, before I found the Serious Eats website. I use components that add pleasant flavors as they tenderize the meat…olive oil, soy sauce, and lemon juice. I also add some honey because it clings to the surface of the beef and enhances the Maillard reaction I get when I sear the meat on my grill. You can toss in some aromatics if you wish…I use onion and garlic.
Why soy sauce and not just kosher salt? Soy sauce brings an extra tenderizing process to the marinade. It is full of proteases that come from an edible mold used to make it, and soy sauce is also rich in the flavoring agent glutamate. The proteases work enzymatically to break down the muscle fibers in a manner complimentary to the salt it also contains, and the glutamate adds an umami component that enhances the beef flavors.
This trip down the rabbit hole wasn’t as bad as others. Mainly because as it turns out I already had half the answer. I just needed someone to translate the question for me. Once I climbed out of the rabbit hole, I headed straight to Roseda Farms, picked up a bavette steak, and cooked it up for dinner. I’m a fan, and now I have another cut in my arsenal of beef dishes that work well for fajitas. When it comes to flap, flank, hanger, and skirt steaks I would pick any one of them…cooked properly they’ll each come out with a similar flavor profile and texture. Go with what you can get, and what’s cheapest.
So to answer the question Roseda Farms posed in their social media post…Yes, yes, Bavette!