When it comes to steak, the variety of cuts available to meat lovers is vast, with each offering its unique texture and flavor. Among these, hanger steak and skirt steak are popular choices, yet they are distinct in several key aspects that influence their preparation and culinary use.
Steak cuts derive from various parts of the cow, each prized for unique characteristics like tenderness, flavor, and ideal cooking methods. While ribeye, sirloin, and filet mignon are familiar, lesser-known cuts such as hanger and skirt steak offer distinctive palate experiences often overlooked by steak enthusiasts. Understanding these differences enhances your overall cooking and dining experiences. Choosing the right cut for a specific recipe or occasion becomes crucial in ensuring the success of your meal.
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Understanding Hanger Steak
Hanger steak, often referred to as the “butcher’s steak” because butchers would traditionally keep it for themselves, is prized for its flavor. It is a cut that hangs from the diaphragm of the cow, hence the name, and is part of the muscle that helps support the animal’s organs.
The hanger steak is a unique cut in that there is only one per animal, making it somewhat less common than other cuts. It’s known for having a grainy texture and is extremely tender when cooked properly, often being compared to the tenderness of more expensive cuts like the tenderloin.
In the video, Mashed explains –
- Affordability and Popularity: Hanger steak is a budget-friendly alternative to premium cuts like ribeye, gaining popularity in recent years while remaining affordable for home cooking.
- French Culinary Status: In France, hanger steak is considered a prized cut and served as a standalone steak, contrasting with its historical use in stews in the United States.
- Butcher’s Steak: Hanger steak is also known as “butcher’s steak” in the U.S., as butchers often kept this flavorful cut for themselves.
- Appearance and Location Influence: The lesser reputation of hanger steak in the U.S. compared to France is attributed to its looks and location within the cow.
- Anthony Bourdain’s Perspective: The late chef Anthony Bourdain emphasized the French approach of making the most of every part of an animal, highlighting the value of hanger steak.
- Plate Cut and Aging Process: Hanger steak is a plate cut, exposed to air immediately after slaughter, which enhances its flavor. Its tenderness is attributed to the lack of muscle development.
- Limited Quantity: Each cow produces only one hanger steak, making it a unique and limited cut, weighing about two pounds.
- Comparison with Other Cuts: Hanger steak is contrasted with flank steaks (lean) and skirt steaks (less tender), both requiring specific preparations for optimal results.
- Easy Cooking Methods: Hanger steak is easy to cook, requiring minimal seasoning like salt and pepper or absorbing marinades well. It is suitable for grilling with a simple preparation.
- Supply Challenges: Despite its popularity, hanger steak faces supply challenges due to the limited quantity per cow, prompting the need to purchase it from a butcher rather than a supermarket. The rarity of the cut raises sustainability concerns.
Exploring Skirt Steak
Skirt steak is a long, flat cut that is known for its robust beefy flavor. It comes from the diaphragm muscles of the cow, specifically from the plate section which is located below the ribs.
This cut is popular in Mexican cuisine, particularly for dishes like fajitas, due to its strong flavor and quick cooking time. Skirt steak has a more pronounced grain than hanger steak, and while it can be quite tender, it requires careful cooking and slicing against the grain to maximize its texture.
1. Meat Texture
The texture of hanger steak is typically very tender because the muscle it comes from does little work. It has a fine grain that, when cooked correctly, yields a melt-in-your-mouth sensation that is highly sought after.
Skirt steak, on the other hand, has a more fibrous texture with a pronounced grain. Even though it’s also tender when handled right, it can become tough if overcooked or not sliced against the grain. The texture of skirt steak is chewier than that of hanger steak, which can be a desirable trait for those who prefer meat with more bite.
2. Flavor Profile
Hanger steak is known for its robust beef flavor, which is rich and pronounced due to the type of muscle it comes from. It has a slightly mineral, almost liver-like taste that distinguishes it from other cuts.
Skirt steak, while also flavorful, offers a different profile. It’s known for its bold, hearty beef taste that stands up well to marinades and spices. The intense flavor of skirt steak makes it a favorite for grilling and for dishes that require meat that can hold its own against strong accompanying flavors.
3. Cut Location
The hanger steak is located near the center of the cow, hanging between the rib and the loin. This location protects the hanger steak, keeping it tender as it is not heavily utilized by the cow.
Skirt steak is sourced from the plate section, which is closer to the belly of the cow. This area is responsible for the movement of the cow’s front legs, which means the skirt steak muscles do more work, contributing to its tougher texture and intense flavor.
4. Cooking Methods
Hanger steak is best cooked quickly over high heat, such as grilling or searing in a cast-iron skillet, to a doneness of rare to medium rare. This method helps maintain its tenderness and unique flavor.
Skirt steak also benefits from high-heat cooking methods like grilling or broiling. However, due to its tougher texture, it often requires marinating beforehand to tenderize the meat. Additionally, because it is thinner than hanger steak, skirt steak cooks very quickly and can become overdone if not monitored closely.
5. Price Point
Generally, hanger steak is more expensive than skirt steak due to its scarcity; there is only one hanger steak per cow. This, combined with its tenderness and flavor, can drive up the price, making it a more premium choice.
Skirt steak is often less expensive and more readily available than hanger steak. It provides a good balance of flavor and affordability, making it a popular choice for everyday meals and for feeding larger groups without breaking the bank.
Recipe Tips for Each Cut
For hanger steak, it’s best to keep it simple: season with salt and pepper, then sear on high heat to let the natural flavors shine through. Let it rest before slicing it against the grain for the most tender eating experience.
With skirt steak, marinating in acidic ingredients like lime juice or vinegar can help tenderize the meat before cooking. Because of its strong flavor, skirt steak can handle bold spices and herbs, making it versatile for various cuisines and recipes.