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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

'Entrecôte'; Hebrew for 'take it or leave it'

After the Shavuot dairy fest (think lasagna and chocolate Kahlua cheesecake), I feel like I need to address a meaty issue... y'know, just to get my metabolism back on an even keel.

Go into most Israeli meat restaurants looking for a steak and you are likely to find your choices a tad limited.  In fact, with the exception of bonifide steak houses, the choice will usually be between Entrecôte and... Entrecôte.  No seriously, they may give you a choice of weight (from 300 grams all the way up to a kilo!) but not of what cut of steak you get. 

But if you were brought up (like I was) hearing about Porterhouse/t-bone, Sirloin, Chateaubriand, hanger, rib-eye, skirt and fillet mignon (to name but a few)... well, the lack of choices in Israel steaks is likely to make you pine for the bistros and butcher shops of the old country.

The problem is that 'Entrecôte' is supposed to be a premium cut of meat from the rib eye... but in Israel it can be just about any medallion-type steak from anywhere in the cow.

If you go into a supermarket looking for steaks you will be met by two choices;  fresh cut Entrecôte or 'aged' Entrecôte vacuum packed in plastic.  Neither gives much clue to the meat's provenance (other than the fact that it is certified kosher) and if you don't have an eye for meat it is purely hit or miss as to what kind of cooked steak will end up on your table.

We used to go to a butcher shop in Jerusalem which had a beautiful selection of different cuts on display.  The roasts and steaks we enjoyed from that place very nearly justified the astronomical prices they charged.   But alas, a dispute between the owners and rumors of non-kosher meat closed the place down.

By sheer chance I happened to be waiting on line for chickens at the meat counter in my regular Beer Sheva supermarket last week, when I noticed an older man in the back expertly butchering a side of beef.  There was quite a line, so I was able to watch for some time as he skillfully reduced the half carcass into its logical segments and then went to work with a boning knife to remove the ribs from the roast/steaks.

When it came my turn to order, I asked the woman behind the counter if I could have a word with the old man in the back.  She shrugged and went to fetch him.

What ensued was probably a bit comical to watch since my grasp of meat terminology in English is shaky (at best), and his English was non-existent.  But since both of us were trying to discuss a topic near and dear to our hearts, cultural and linguistic bridges were built... and crossed.

At once he seemed to sense a kindred spirit and began spouting a rapid-fire stream of terms that meant exactly nothing to me.  Seeing my uncomprehending stare, he fetched a big sheet of paper and began sketching out a cow and its various segments, but even that did little to break the impasse since I had only the vaguest sense of where the various steaks come from.

Then I did some sketching of my own.  I drew a classic T-bone... some spare ribs... a rib roast.  I drew a steak marbled with fat instead of the more common (and less flavorful) lean steak with a strip of fat around the edge.  And as I drew he nodded enthusiastically and assured me that he knew what I wanted.

He went to the back and carried out a segment of short ribs on his shoulder that must have weighed roughly the same as he did.  We began discussing the various possibilities with an interested crowd gathering to listen in.  With a combination of words and gestures he demonstrated what kind of steaks were possible... and after a brief deliberation, I asked for six generously cut steaks (on the bone).

After he had wrapped my order I thanked him and went to complete my shopping.  But I was gratified to see several other people immediately start gesturing that they wanted the same kind of steaks that I had ordered.

When I got home I fired up the grill before even walking into the house.  The kids husked the corn (don't get me started about how Israeli corn doesn't measure up to its New England counterpart!) and Zahava prepared a salad.. Within minutes we had a repast fit for a king.  Even Yonah (who is a picky eater at the best of times) plowed through a nice chunk of meat without having to be asked twice!

The moral of the story is that there are some excellent steaks here in Israel for those who take the time to look for them.  Go ahead... throw off the tyranny of the poorly defined (yet ubiquitous) Israeli Entrecôte.  Dare to look for something more!

Note: Only 52 grilling days left until the beginning of 'the nine days', so what are you waiting for?! *

Porterhouse_on_the_grill

* The nine days are those preceding the fast of Tisha B'av, during which many Jews traditionally refrain from eating meat as a sign of mourning.

Posted by David Bogner on June 10, 2008 | Permalink

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thank you for that post.

we just spent some time in israel and every meat place or steak place we went to served the ubiquitous 'entrecote' and we really couldn't figure out exactly what type of cut of meat it was (so i ordered something else) but my brother, having been deprived of australian steak for some time, was happy enough with entrecote. granted, most of the places gave us the menus in english (so we looked like tourists a bit) which were full of spelling mistakes which made for strange food names.

Posted by: sarah | Jun 10, 2008 11:25:07 AM

Hi David,

Is your favorite supermarket MEGA?

There is a very good butcher at the Beer Sheva market where I get my meat. If you are interested?

Posted by: ruth | Jun 10, 2008 11:27:43 AM

with the water (7000 cubic metres) that it takes to grow the fodder needed to raise one ton of beef, an avocado farmer could irrigate 9 dunam (9000 sq. metres) for one season and yeild between 18 and 20 ton produce.
As the food chain is not a 1-to-1 chain but a pyramid, I've moved myself one step down the pyramid, and that way I'm making room for more people.
Eating meat in a world where most people don't have water is not just a luxury, it's cannibalism.

Posted by: asher | Jun 10, 2008 12:08:06 PM

sarah... Don't thank me... I'm a giver. :-)

ruth... Actually I usually go to Shupersol Deal (the one just off of Ben Gurion). they are clean and have decent prices. But most of all the people who work there are very nice.

asher... tempted as I may be to say something cutting in response to your comment, I can't since some of my favorite people in the world are also vegetarians of long standing. However, you could take a lesson from them in that they are not nearly so sanctimonious about their choices. Also, they are better at math since even a non-kibbutznik like myself knows that most beef consumed in Israel (whether local or from Argentina) is fed largely on non-irrigated food like grass and alfalfa and sometimes supplemented with another relatively water-friendly crop; corn. You, on the other hand, seem to be the environmental criminal by insisting on a diet of avocados. :-) But if you feel the need to subsist on avocados... feel free. All the same, you won't hear me calling you names or bad-mouthing your choices.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jun 10, 2008 12:25:29 PM

Mmmmmm. Meat. Meaty meat. Beefy beef.

I loves me a nice bone-in rib-eye, T-bone, Porterhouse, hanger, flank, skirt, you name it. Don't eat as much of it as I used to, though. It visits the ol' tukhus and will not leave...

Posted by: Elisson | Jun 10, 2008 2:19:28 PM

I was expecting a "cutting" response, though I wasn't quite expecting to be hauled "over the coals".

Anyways here's my source
http://www.vegsource.com/articles/pimentel_water.htm

Posted by: asher | Jun 10, 2008 2:21:48 PM

I don't usually crave beef, but boy that picture sure makes me able to smell the grill smells... mmmmmmmmmmmmm! And at 7:50am, that's sayting something!

Posted by: val | Jun 10, 2008 2:51:02 PM

Elisson... I'm told that this is common at your age. Try adding a little more fiber to your diet. :-)

asher... Your source doesn't take into account the vast differences in methods for raising cattle in various countries. For instance in the US it has become cost prohibitive to allow cattle to graze 'free range' and instead they are usually fed in a factory-type environment that is probably a huge waster of water. However, Argentina (one of the primary sources of imported Israeli beef) still uses older, less water-intensive methods of grazing their beef cattle on the 'pampas'. Israel does not (yet) have the infrastructure for the factory-model used in the U.S. nor the grasslands found in Argentina... but we still manage to primarily feed beef cattle the things I mentioned (grass, corn and alfalfa). One should strive for verified knowledge and I applaud you for citing a source (something far too few people do here on the web), but context is paramount. You would be far more justified in taking Israel's kibbutzim to task for their folly of continuing to grow cotton; a crop that wastes far more water than even the most industrialized beef cattle operation.

Val... Steak and eggs... breakfast of champions!

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jun 10, 2008 3:05:48 PM

Another one @ asher... I would caution you about trying to 'make a case' for vegetarian/vegan lifestyle (or against the consumption of meat products) based on any factor such as the water wasted in raising beef, for the simple reason that no case or justification is needed. Some people eschew meat for ideological reasons while others do so for the perceived health benefits. Still others just don't like meat. My point is that by holding up water wastage as a reason not to eat meat you are suggesting that if this issue could be solved/managed that meat would be OK. For people who don't eat meat, no argument will suffice to 'justify' its consumption. It is a personal choice which statistical arguments like yours simply trivialize.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jun 10, 2008 3:41:48 PM

dude, you gotta eat at meat & wine in herzlia pituach -- plenty of choices there, but the ribs... great. now you got me craving.

Posted by: nikki | Jun 10, 2008 3:54:54 PM

nikki... I just went to their web site and checked out their menu.. while it looks like they know a thing or two about meat and I will put it on my list of places to visit, you will notice that they have exactly three steak selections; "Fillet" (not defined), Sirloin and Rib-eye (entrecote) in various weighted serving sizes. You'll have to admit that a steak house worth its salt should put less emphasis on size and more on what part of the cow the customer is getting.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jun 10, 2008 4:10:43 PM

What a mouthwatering photo. I almost ate my screen!
Asher - cannabalism means people eating people. But I bet you knew that. You just made a shocking analogy to make your point. But, get this, we omnivores like to eat meat. And you know what else? I couldn't care less about your touchy feely liberal environmentally friendly ideological load of bull. I'm assuming by the comments that other omnivores feel as I do. Please, get down off that soap box, we're just not interested.

Posted by: quietusleo | Jun 10, 2008 4:25:17 PM

if you can find a baladi store near you (maybe in j town?) it's worth it to check them out. they know their meat, will tell you what cuts are best for what you want to do with it, and even how to cook/roast/pot/braise/grill/marinate for those who are a bit intimidated. they will even send someone to your home to grill for you for your party -- they're pretty awesome. unfortunately, the branch in my neck of the woods recently closed and we are feeling the loss.

Posted by: nikki | Jun 10, 2008 5:09:56 PM

RIBEYE! My favorite cut of steak. I loves me a good ribeye. (Aaarg! I'm sounden like a pirate now!)

Posted by: Maya | Jun 10, 2008 5:46:04 PM

That picture. Must. have. some. meat!

I think I'm going to print that picture and take it to my Mega butcher (who really tries to understand my needs).

And aren't charcoals so much better than gas?

Posted by: Baila | Jun 10, 2008 6:30:34 PM

Steak and eggs??? I lost you there Trep. (as usual)

Posted by: Rami | Jun 10, 2008 7:47:05 PM

Oh... yum. ::swoon::

Posted by: Rahel | Jun 10, 2008 8:25:01 PM

Anything is better than the wedge of super-annuated moo-cow that the Dutch called steak back in the seventies. The poor beast was usually so tough and wiry that they must've hunted it down with beaters and elephant guns.

Couldn't be grilled. Couldn't be pan-broiled. Couldn't be stewed or pot-roasted. Couldn't darn well be eaten.

At least spongiform bovine encephalitis would've made it tender.

Holland: Siberia for steak-lovers.

Posted by: The Back of the Hill | Jun 10, 2008 10:08:26 PM

Oh, and by the way - the Dutch beat the crap out of Italy last-night at soccer.

Whooohooo!


Three nil - Squadra Azzura loses ignomos..., ignimu..., igonimouse...., ignima...., horribly.

Whooohooo!

Posted by: The Back fo the Hill | Jun 10, 2008 10:11:38 PM

mmmmmmm

Posted by: weese | Jun 10, 2008 10:47:57 PM

Y'all lost me on the comments concerning water usage and feeder cattle. Dairy cattle may be fed in a "factory-type environment" but feeders graze in pastures. They are fed, but much of their diet consists of grass.

Posted by: Karl Newman | Jun 10, 2008 11:45:01 PM

Oh! I found you!! ... Cut me some slack, I'm not meant to. :-)

Posted by: Rami | Jun 11, 2008 12:09:03 AM

I thought you were staying away from that famous cheesecake...

Did you write down the butcher's explanations? And I thought that the cuts of meat from a cow were identified in Israeli butcher shops by number...

What gives?! :-P

Posted by: tnspr569 | Jun 11, 2008 5:40:56 AM

quietusleo , plenty of us pinko liberals love a good steak.

Posted by: Jordan Hirsch | Jun 11, 2008 5:47:56 AM

In fact, I like mine on the pink side.

Posted by: jordan Hirsch | Jun 11, 2008 5:48:56 AM

yum!!

Posted by: mata hari | Jun 11, 2008 8:04:48 AM

living in chutz laaretz the two day dairy fest has taken its toll - i can smell that steak all the way over here, i can even taste it, and at 1 am on a wednesday morning there is no kosher butcher open so i can go buy some steak and have me a protein feast.

i sure hope this craving disappears soon or i may be biting 7 fat cows in my dreams soon.

great post, as usual.

Kol Tuv, H

Posted by: Hadassah | Jun 11, 2008 8:15:11 AM

That yummy picture makes me wanna visit my dad.

One-size-fits-all steaks, inferior sweet corn, and I bet you don't have venison at all. You are truly deprived!

Imagine if your kids ever came here for a long period of time. I bet they'd be missing things you never even heard of ten years ago. Interesting thought, huh?

Posted by: Kiwi the Geek | Jun 11, 2008 9:16:16 AM

BTW Elisson, try prunes or prune juice.

Posted by: Kiwi the Geek | Jun 11, 2008 9:42:42 AM

if a vegetarian eats vegetables what does a humanitarian eat?

Posted by: asherasher | Jun 11, 2008 12:36:00 PM

The other option is to order a whole "roastbeef" cut, and then make your own steaks. Sometimes this is the only way to get a nice, thick steak.

Here are some resources that will minimize the handwaving and grunting next time:

http://my.ynet.co.il/pic/food/caw/caw.swf

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/israel-food/message/11484

http://israeleasy.blogspot.com/2007/11/meat-cuts-explained.html

Posted by: Ben-David | Jun 11, 2008 1:30:06 PM

All y'all misunderstood my earlier comment. It's not a problem with, er, ahhh, keeping things moving, as it were...it's the calories, which cause a general expansion of the gut and butt. We Americans like our meat portions huge, you see...a steak the size of the Manhattan phone book rather than the size of a cigarette pack.

Alas, here in the USA, we eat beef that spends the last part of its life eating corn in factory feedlots. Good for getting nicely marbled meat; bad for the cows and for the environment. And the corn requires petroleum-based fertilizer, so the American model (plentiful, cheap beef) is an unsustainable, energy-intensive system. Argentinian beef - grass fed all its life - is the right way to go.

Posted by: Elisson | Jun 11, 2008 1:47:04 PM

My aunt and uncle just made aliyah to Modiin and they are huge meat lovers. Needless to say, they have been greatly disappointed over the selection and quality of the meats (steak, lamb, sausage - they were really hoping to find Kosher sausage).

Is it your suggestion that anyone with the proper introduction to a good butcher can find these type of meats? Do the regular grocery stores have butchers onsite or is the real challenge to find a butcher?

Posted by: jaime | Jun 11, 2008 4:01:20 PM

forgot to add -

that for those of you who love black comedies and ARE trying to cut back on your carnivorous habits, you may want to watch (and I am dating myself here) a really funny, French movie - Delicatessen (1991) by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, starring Dominique Pinon.

Posted by: jaime | Jun 11, 2008 4:07:38 PM

All you carnivores reminded me of a story that happened to my father back in his school days.

My dad attended a dorm Yeshiva high school, and the cooks were "from the old country" and didn't really understand American cuisine. One day, a rich supporter of the school donated an entire side of beef to the kitchen. The kids knew that it was just a matter of time before they had a steak dinner. Sure enough, the big day came. The kids practically starved themselves so they could gorge on as much meat as possible. Finally, out came the steaks - BOILED!

This happened almost fifty years ago, and my dad still has tears in his eyes when he tells this story.

Posted by: psachya | Jun 11, 2008 4:30:36 PM

Dang, I was going to go out for pizza tonight. (Have a meeting near several kosher restaurants) Fortunately there is a meat restaurant not too far away. ;-)

Posted by: JDMDad | Jun 11, 2008 9:01:41 PM

yummmm!!!

(and to think I was once a radical vegetarian!)

Posted by: Rivka with a capital A | Jun 12, 2008 12:22:48 AM

Ellison,

Cattle in feed lots eat more than just corn. They are fed whatever grains are available in the area of the feed lots. The grains used by the feed lots are often sold by to the lots out of surpluses, which is why the big feeder operations tend to be in or near large grain producing areas. They also eat hay and a variety of waste products from other agricultural operations, like citrus peels. There's not as much wastage as you might think and the quality of the meat surpasses that of Argentine beef that was strictly grass fed on the pampas.

If you like tough meat, have at it. I like good ol' 'Merkin beef. :)

Posted by: Karl Newman | Jun 12, 2008 12:53:13 AM

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