A Cut Above

Chefs find success using chuck.

By 
Pamela Parseghian, Contributing Food Writer

A chili-rubbed teres major steak at UConn.

Chuck may not sound appetizing to some diners, but the shoulder of the cattle has some of the most flavorful cuts on the animal. The chuck tender, teres major, petite tender, butcher’s cut, chuck eye and flat iron are among the more tender, nice-sounding cuts butchers remove from the chuck portion of the shoulder.

Chef Rob Landolfi, of the University of Connecticut in Storrs, is a fan of using these cuts of beef. “Teres major is amazing and we go through a lot of it,” Landolfi says. UConn offers teres major in a dozen recipes, including chili-rubbed and chimichurri-sauced versions.

Landolfi markets the steak as teres major to students so they know exactly what they are getting and can learn about the steak. UConn students are not put off by the name, the chef says, adding that he hears few questions regarding what part of the cattle the steak comes from.

“We want [the students] to know that we are not hiding anything” by calling the steak teres major, Landolfi says. “It’s an opportunity to educate our students. They see it. They eat it and think it’s so delicious.”

The steaks can be served rare, but at UConn they are cooked medium rare and sliced to order.
Landolfi first learned about the petit tender cut about five years ago when he asked his meat purveyor for a steak that had “a lot of flavor and was within our budget,” the chef says. “It’s fabulous. We fell in love with it.

“I think people have finally caught on to” the petit tender steak, Landolfi adds. “It’s become real popular in restaurants, and I think that has brought up the demand for it.”

Popularity pushes up price: That increased demand for teres major has caused a price spike. UConn food buyers have seen approximately a 50% increase in the shoulder steaks’ cost during the last few years.

“These cuts may have been around forever, but now [beef merchandisers are] marketing it,” Landolfi says. “I think it is going to continue to become popular.”

In Colorado Springs School District 11, in Colorado, Executive Chef Brian Axworthy values chuck tenders for their low price, tenderness and flavor.

“Chuck tenders are very flavorful and tender when cooked correctly,” Axworthy says. “We use chuck tenders in our catering department in place of normal applications for beef tenderloin, so we can offer reasonable prices to our clients.

“Beef tenderloin can run anywhere from $10 to $15 per pound with an 80% yield depending on the skill level of whomever fabricates the product, making your final costs $12.50 to $18.75 per pound,” Axworthy explains. “Chuck tenders can run anywhere from $2.50 to $4 per pound with a typical yield of 85%. There is very little trim waste, resulting in a higher average yield.

“Chuck tenders can withstand several preparations as long as it doesn’t take on too much high heat directly,” he adds. “You can sear or grill the product, but I would suggest finishing it in the oven. It can also be poached.”

For an unusual preparation, Axworthy smokes chuck tenders briefly with hickory chips. He then cooks the beef until rare in a low 300°F oven and serves it sliced with a molasses-apple glaze. The chuck tender is accompanied with a vanilla-onion confit.

At Cisco’s offices in San Jose, Calif., Bon Appétit Management Co.’s Executive Chef David Anderson utilizes petite tenders in design-your-own beef stroganoff. For the dish Anderson sears off chunks of the beef to order. Diners may customize the dish with such options as caramelized onions, mushrooms, peas, asparagus, spinach, bell peppers and butternut squash. A demi-glace makes up the stroganoff’s quick sauce, which is finished with sour cream. The beef is served with handmade pasta.

“We use petit tenders a lot” in dishes like the made-to-order stroganoff that need a tender cut, Anderson says. “Tenderloin and rib-eye are too expensive.” In addition to selecting a value cut like teres major, Anderson says he keeps his beef costs down by limiting beef portions to around three ounces. This also meets his diners’ request for healthier meals.

“We are trying to curtail our usage of beef,” Anderson explains. One way to limit beef portions is to “use it as an ingredient, instead of as a center-of-the-plate” item.

Looking for local: Anderson purchases his beef from a local rancher. In addition to preparing the shoulder steaks, he grinds chuck for burgers and picks chuck roast, often called chuck roll, for a Mediterranean-style braise. 

After searing the chuck roast, Anderson deglazes with red wine and adds mirepoix, fresh tomatoes, veal stock, garlic and rosemary. He finishes the braise in a moderate oven and serves the meat over polenta.

At UConn, a cider-braised pot roast features locally purchased chuck roast that Landolfi braises between three and a half to four hours. Once the beef is falling-apart tender, Landolfi serves the pot roast over mashed potatoes with oven-roasted vegetables such as beets, onions, carrots, and white and yellow turnips.

Flat iron steak: In Austin, Texas, at The Hospital at Westlake Medical Center, Nutrition Manager Matthew Shipman favors flat iron steaks, a semi-tender cut from the shoulder.
Shipman grills the steak until a little below the temperature he’s looking to serve the meat. Shipman slices the flat iron and serves it on warm plates, so when the meat arrives in patients’ rooms it’s still hot and cooked correctly. Roasted vegetables and a quinoa salad accompany the steak.