Where’s the Beef?
Just for fun, I took a trip down memory lane by perusing my old recipe box looking specifically for beef recipes. I found everyday items like beef stew, meatloaf, one pot hamburger “helper,” and Salisbury steaks. Then there were the Sunday meals like pot roast and meatballs with sauce and better yet special occasion things like Roulade of Beef and Brasciola. I also thought about the beef dishes you only found in restaurants like Steak Diane, Beef Bourguignon, and Chateaubriand – my mouth was watering.
Most of us are eating less beef these days than we did when we were young. What I found really interesting is that when I was born, in 1959, Americans only consumed 63 pounds of beef per year per person, according to the USDA. Consumption didn’t reach a high until 1976 when it peaked at a whopping 94 pounds. No wonder there were so many beef recipes in my old files! Since ’76, there has been a steady decline so that today we only consume an average of about 57 pounds of beef per person per year – a record low.
A Slightly Unfair Rap
Why are we eating less? Nutrition, of course. Red meat is high in cholesterol and saturated fat which can lead to heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. But it also is an excellent source of protein which helps to promote muscle growth. Only 3 ounces has about 45% of the daily recommended value and 35% of the DV for vitamin B12. It is also rich in iron, a good source of zinc, and has no carbohydrates.
According to Dr. Frank Hu, Chair of the Department of Nutrition of Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “Beef can be a healthy part of your diet but should be eaten in moderation. A general recommendation is that people should stick to no more than two to three servings per week.”
When you do indulge, try to stick to lean cuts of beef such as eye of round, sirloin, top round, bottom round, and top sirloin which may also be called strip steak.
On the Island
Cape May, being an important seaport, is home to some of the finest, freshest fish and seafood money can buy, and our restaurants prepare it perfectly. So, you might ask, “Where’s the beef?” Well, you won’t find it at Wendy’s as the 1970s advertising campaign wanted you to – at least not in Cape May. But you will find it at almost every eatery in town.
Since we are more health conscious, when we decide to indulge (especially when we are on vacation) the beef has to be special. Not surprisingly, filet mignon appears on more menus than any other cut of beef. Of the 42 restaurants we polled for this article, more than half of them serve it, each with their own iteration of toppings and sauces.
But man does not live by filet alone. We found eleven versions of short ribs, seventeen restaurants offering steaks of all varieties ranging from Porterhouse to hanger, and everything in between like steak frites at Maison Bleu and Sea Salt and even meatloaf at the Blue Pig.
You can also find great burgers here at all the pubs where you would expect to find them, plus at many places you wouldn’t. The Blue Pig, the Cricket Club, Exit Zero, Fins, Hemingway’s, Maison Bleu, Sea Salt, the Washington Inn (at the bar), and YB all serve exceptional renditions. And if you are willing to travel a few miles, the Red Brick is still the best value in my humble opinion and worth the trip.
Speaking of sandwiches, C-View has a prime rib version, Lucky Bones offers a filet tip, and at lunchtime, Sea Salt and Fins both have a French dip on their menus.
If you like a little surf with your turf, the Mad Batter pairs their filet with a crab cake. At Cape May Fish Market, you can have your choice of a crab cake or shrimp. Ironically the Crab House and Two Mile Inn (as well as the Blue Pig) pair it the traditional way, with lobster. Beef is something rarely found on menus as an appetizer. But at 410 Bank Street you can experience surf and turf like you have never seen it before – filet and oysters as a first course.
If it’s Italian food you crave, try the Brasciola at Andrea’s or the Bolognese at Sapore Italiano—both the lasagna and over pappardelle.
When Cape May came into its own as a mecca for foodies (about 30 years ago) and even until recently, we didn’t have a real steak house on the island. Currently, we have three.
Oyster Bay has been serving up great beef for a long time. They offer four steaks: Hanger, Filet, Strip, and Ribeye which can all be converted to surf and turf by adding your choice of a Lobster Tail, Jumbo Lump Crab Neptune, or Coconut Shrimp. As you might guess from their name, they also have a great selection of raw oysters as well as Oysters Rockefeller. Other unique appetizers include Fried Tomatoes and a Truffled Beet Salad. I realize this is a bit off-topic, but one of my favorite entrees at Oyster Bay is their Andouille Crusted Grouper over Rice Pilaf with a Lemon Chive Beurre Blanc Sauce. Try it, you’ll like it.
Hemingway’s menu has a little something for everyone and includes five steaks including a 24-ounce Cowboy Ribeye with your choice of sauces: Cognac Peppercorn, Béarnaise, or their House steak sauce. Here you can also create your own surf and turf by adding either a crab cake or a lobster tail. If you are here on a Wednesday, don’t miss their Prime Rib special. Available in two sizes, it is delicious and a great value at only $25. Speaking of prime rib, the Lobster House and 410 Bank Street serve it up nightly as well.
Now in its third season, Primal is not your typical steakhouse. What sets them apart is their sauces. They offer six different steaks (including a 32-ounce Tomahawk) each with a choice of three sauces: Chimichurri, Garlic peppercorn, or Horseradish cream. In addition, they serve tuna, lobster tail, swordfish, and halibut again with your choice of sauces: Tomato Agrodolce, Romesco, Mustard Cream, and Shallot Cream. The appetizers too, are not run of the mill by a long shot and include things like Steak Tartare and Calamari and Shrimp with Andouille Sausage and Curry Arrabiata.
You may know that Cape May is home to wonderful fish markets, but did you know that we also have three fabulous meat markets? Westside Market in West Cape May is the closest and almost always has a butcher there to help you find exactly what you are looking for. You can also call ahead to place your order. Westside Meats in Rio Grande is a full-scale meat distributor but also has a retail shop. They carry both fresh and frozen products. Gaiss’ market in the Villas is similar to Westside Market but a little larger and they also make their own sausages and kielbasa. All three have delis and carry a small variety of grocery items and produce.
Three Easy Tips
When I was a child, my father cooked the meat we ate while my mother prepared everything else. They were both excellent cooks. But when it came to beef, he had a secret ingredient. He sprinkled it on everything from eye of the round to London Broil – so simple and so delicious. What was it, you ask? Believe it or not, it was Lowry’s Seasoned Salt and I still swear by it.
How to pan sear and deglaze a steak
Start with the best quality meat you can find. Dry the steak with a paper towel—season generously with kosher salt, garlic salt, and pepper. Melt a little butter in a pan with a touch of oil over medium-high heat. Sear each side. Don’t move the steak around while it is searing. Cooking time will depend upon the thickness of your steak and how well done you like it. For a medium rare 1” steak cook for two to two and a half minutes on each side.
Remove the steak from the pan and tent it with foil. Deglaze the pan by adding a splash of brandy, reduce the sauce slightly – just to burn off the alcohol – and add one last pat of butter and some fresh parsley.
Quick and easy demi-glace sauce for filet mignon
Use the same procedure as above but simply sear for two minutes on each side and finish the cooking by placing the meat in the oven.
Add 2 tablespoons of butter to the pan and some chopped shallots. Sauté. This time add some red wine. (I like to use port.) If you choose to use wine, try adding a splash of red vermouth. This is a little trick I learned from Julia Child. The vermouth adds just a touch of sweetness and a lovely flavor to your sauce because it is made with herbs. Reduce the sauce to about half. Add 1 tablespoon of pre-made demi-glace. Although it’s expensive, I always keep a jar of Williams Sonoma beef demi-glace in the fridge for just this purpose. Thicken the sauce (if necessary) with a slurry of flour and water, but don’t overdo it. Finish it by adding another pat of butter which will give your sauce a nice sheen.
Beef – It’s what’s for dinner.