Getting to the meat of the matter

A seminar on steak, with a nice red table wine to wash it down, quickly became a rave session for the rib-eye at a recent tasting lunch at Morton's Beijing, the capital's branch of the famed Chicago steakhouse.

"It's all about marbling, the integration of fat in the meat," says Tony Mesiano, the wholesale importer of chilled Angus beef from Rangers Valley in New South Wales, Australia. Mesiano shared some butchering basics-including "where to cut" tips by demonstrating on the backside of the restaurant's grinning executive chef Peter Yu. (His remarks were edited for the lack of space.)

Why Angus beef?

Angus is the next-best for marbling, which is critical for very tender steak. It takes 600 days of feeding to get the right marbling in the famous Wagyu beef, but only 300 days for Angus cattle. So we use the Wagyu feeding process with Angus cattle to produce excellent beef.

Hasn't all imported beef in China been frozen before shipping?

Not ours. That was the law for about one year, after a food-safety scare. But now we are one of 10 suppliers that have been approved to bring chilled beef into China, into our State-monitored warehouse in Shanghai. So we have a competitive advantage, at least for a while.

Today we're tasting bone-in rib-eye, sirloin, tenderloin filet and a rib-eye roast. The rib-eye seems to be the favourite. Is that a matter of Chinese taste?

Oh, no, it's my favourite too-it's the only steak I make sure to take the leftovers home with me. The fat at the end of this cut melts away in cooking and keeps the meat very tender. Tenderloin is leaner-and more expensive.

Are there different kinds of rib-eye?

The steak is marbled a little differently over the length of the ribs. The end is the most tender because of the type of fat.

Is the 'tomahawk' rib-eye offered on some menus really better?

(Laughs.) Only if you are planning to throw your steak across the room, like an axe. The only difference is, you are paying for more bone.

Does beef keep getting better the longer it ages?

Aging the meat in cold, well-aerated storage for four to six weeks after cutting is best. After four weeks, aging continues to improve the meat, but much more slowly.

How does the steak we're eating stay so tender after cooking?

At Morton's they are using a broiler that keeps the temperature about 470 C all the way around, so it cooks quickly, caramelizing the surface, and the juices are sealed in. Medium-well and well-done orders are finished in the oven, so the outside of the steak doesn't over char.

So how can we cook a tender steak at home?

The trick is to sear one side quickly and then the other, to keep the juices inside.

What's the ideal way to cook a steak?

Medium, so you have a good bit of pink inside and juice on the plate. That's when you know it's perfect.