Introduction: Simple Steak Slicing
Cutting a steak is not as simple as slicing a loaf of bread. There are a few small details that must be observed in order to get a clean, solid looking cut. I have seen the same mistakes made on numerous occasions, and the difference in the appearance of the steak is noticeable. In a retail situation, it is the difference between a steak that is appealing to the eye (even an untrained one), and one that is not. Simply put, that can be the difference between selling it and not as well. This technique is applicable to both rib-eye (market) and New York steaks, and is also helpful in slicing a single steak in two thin halves.
You will need a nice, large cutting board, a clean towell, and a standard curved 10" butcher knife. You cannot cut a proper steak with a straight-bladed chef's knife, as the blade will not contact the cutting board at the proper angle. The knife needs to be sharp. That should go without saying, but from what I've seen, it doesn't. A sharp knife is less likely to cut you than a dull one because the handler will not have to fight with it. Also, please observe all safety regulations and common sense when using a dangerous instrument like a butcher knife. First, when the meat is taken out of the vac-pac, it needs to be dried thoroughly with the towell. Any blood on the meat will cause it to oxidize very quickly and turn brown. It will not be spoiled, but it will not look appealing. The cutting board also must be dried off. The meat should not feel loose, and the fat should be hard and white. If its too loose it means the meat has not been aged long enough, and will not be tender or appear solid on the tray.
The two most important points in cutting a steak properly involve the simple act of how the meat is placed on the cutting surface. The first rookie mistake is to put the meat on the block with the fat on top. Most people think this looks "right side up," but it is absolutely improper for cutting. The fat is much harder and denser than the meat, so it needs to be on the bottom with the softer meat exposed as pictured. If the fat is on the top, the butcher needs to exert more effort to get the knife through it, and the meat get mashed underneath. This makes the cut look sloppy and without clean edges. When the meat is on the top, the knife glides into it with the hard fat supporting it, and the butcher can then press the knife into the fat at the end of the cut, and get a clean edge against the board.
The second common error is putting the meat on the board with the eye (the thick part) facing the cutter. It may seem counter-intuative, but you cannot see what you are doing with the meat facing that way, and it is much more difficult to cut steaks that are an even thickness. The butcher would be on the right in the photo. Also, with the eye toward you, you are dragging the knife across the best part of the steak at the end of the cut instead of pressing in at the beginning. This will make for a rough looking cut. Do not cut a face off the end of the meat. These products are very expensive, and its all usable as steak. Just put the end piece with the cut side up on the tray and no one will notice anything.
Remove some of the tough connective tissue along the eye, but do not cut too deeply.
To begin cutting the steaks, place the knife at the top of the eye, and lean over the top of it. You see the meat curving away from the knife, and your eye is at the perfect angle to see if the cut is straight. Press the knife forward into the eye, and try not to saw. You then drag the knife toward you into the fat and across the thinner part of the meat. You may have to cut in a very slight fan pattern in order to make up for the natural shape of the meat.
After you cut the desired number of steaks, cut a small amount of fat off the top to make a better shape, and tray them up. Make sure the steaks are all facing the same way, and with the fat away from the viewer (customer). Make sure to put a little garnish on the tray, as the green will make the meat look redder and hide imperfections.
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