Confession—I love meat, but I don’t eat beef. However, my street cred in understanding meat comes from dating ardent beef-eaters (I grew up in the Midwest, y’all), much to the dismay of my Hindu mother.
Recently, I dated a gentleman who was well-versed in beef and beer. Dinner conversations generally involved the words yeast, fermentation, and rare, which in hindsight points to signs that we were probably destined to break up.
So, while the only beefeater I prefer is gin, I will thank my relationships for imparting some worldly knowledge. I’ve eaten dinner with enough weirdoes to learn my restaurant etiquette, so you don’t have to!
Here’s my breakdown on the different ways to order steak and eggs (my specialty!) at a restaurant, without looking like a complete vegetarian.
First of all, steaks are any piece of meat that is considered a “fast cooking” cut: a cut that does not require long time to cook. Flavor and tenderness tend to have a mutually exclusive relationship; generally, the more lean or tender the steak is, the less flavor it has, because the flavor really comes from the fat. In addition, the muscles that do the most work such as the legs and neck tend to be more lean and tough as compared to their “lazier” counterparts.
Now, let’s put the grade and type of beef aside. There are two ways to tackle steak: cut and temperature. Let’s start with the different cuts or, to be crude, the areas of the cow which are available for your carnivorous pleasure. Depending on the cut, the tenderness, flavor, and cooking method can vary widely, but I’ve listed the popular ones below.
Forequarter cuts: These cuts are near the front of the cow, or “forequarters.”
The Rib: Pretty self explanatory: this meat can be short ribs, prime ribs, and rib eye steaks. The cow’s muscles near the ribs generally do not work hard or exercise; therefore, there is a great amount of marbling (intramuscular fat), making the meat relatively tender.
The Loins: Now, the hindquarter cuts can be broken down into three type:
Short Loin: Here is where you get the T-Bone and Porterhouse steaks.
Sirloin: While less tender than short loin, sirloin is generally more flavorful. It can also be further divided into top sirloin and bottom sirloin.
Tenderloin: This can be considered a sub-type of the loin. Staying true to its name, it is the most tender. Filet Mignon is a form of tenderloin. This comes from two relatively small pieces of tenderloin muscle in cattle, making the coveted steak pricier than its counterparts.
Miscellaneous: Other steaks like the chuck, round, and flank come from their respective areas and tend to be the tough cuts.
Chuck: A cut from the neck to the ribs. Many times, this steak includes shoulder bones and is generally is less expensive than its rib-based steak counterparts.
Rump Steak: Take a guess where this meat comes from! The rump meat is tough and is generally roasted.
Round Steak: This lean meat is from the thigh of cattle; due to the lack of fat, it does not tenderize quickly, so it is more suited to slow cooking methods such as roasting.
Flank Steak: This substantially tough steak is long and flat. The meat requires marinades and other slow cooking methods and are not ideal for steaks.
Now that you’ve figured out what part of the cow you’re eating, how would you like it served? High-end steakhouses may have their own variations, but here is a general guideline to temperature:
Rare: Cool, red center
Medium Rare: Warm, red center
Medium: Hot, red Center
Medium Well: Hot, pink Center
Well: No pink, brown
Now let me introduce my expertise—eggs. As a meat eater with a pretty strict vegetarian family, eggs are the only dishes that count as a free pass for everyone in my household to foray into the animal kingdom. In fact, most of my family turns a blind eye to eggs as long as the dish meets strict scientific requirements or, you know, doesn’t “smell eggy.”
Scrambled: The most common type of egg preparation, scrambled eggs are basically the yolk and the whites (unless you specify whites only!) beaten briskly to incorporate air and constantly stirred in a pan to produce large puffy curds of egg.
Over easy/medium/hard: These are all fried eggs that refer to the consistency of the yolk. For example, over easy implies a runny yolk with solidified whites, but over hard means to cook on both sides ‘till the yolk hardens.
Sunny-Side Up: A caveat of fried eggs, sunny-side up refers to one side of the eggs being fully cooked, while the yolk remains runny. Crack an egg over low heat and let one side cook without flipping or pushing it around the pan. The difference between an over easy and a sunny-side up egg is that in preparing sunny-side eggs, you let only one side fry, while any “over” preparation requires you to flip the egg to the other side to cook the egg whites.
Poached: A poached egg has a smooth unbroken yolk that is surrounded evenly by a casing of eggs whites. The preparation involves submerging the yolk in water, as opposed to letting it cook straight on the pan. Crack an egg into a bowl, without breaking the yolk, before sliding the contents into a pan of simmering water for cooking. Wait until the egg white has solidified, but the yolk stays soft. The key to success here is getting the freshest eggs possible and timing it right!
Boiled: Boiled eggs remain in their shells until they reach your plate. Despite the name, boiled eggs should not actually be boiled throughout the entire cooking process. Instead, bring eggs (with shell intact) to a boil and then remove them from the heat. For soft- or medium-boiled, let them stand for 2-3 minutes; but for hard boiled, let the eggs sit in the boiling water for 12 minutes. After your remove the eggs, plunge them immediately into a bowl of ice water to facilitate peeling off the shell.
While there is a wide spectrum and range that varies from country to country and restaurant to restaurant, this serves a general guide to understanding the steak and egg lingo. The real key takeaway is that if you know how to order eggs and meat, you should definitely ask me out.
Photo by Anastasia Heuer