Saturday, July 30, 2011

No skirting the bavette!

It's the number one traditional bistro dish. The one you find on just about every menu of every little cafe and restaurant in France, whether in Paris or any of the regions. It's beloved of both adults and kids, locals and foreigners. It's simple, delicious, satisfying and inexpensive. It's bavette et frites, the most common way that the universally beloved classic, steak and chips, is presented in France.
Bavette refers to the cut of beef—known as 'skirt steak' in Australia (it also goes by the name of 'flank steak' in some other countries) Hence the atrociously punning title (sorry!) But despite the cut's huge popularity in France, it's hardly used here, except in mince. And that's really quite weird, because skirt steak is tender, flavourful, very non-fatty, and very much cheaper than other kinds of steak, despite the fact there's not much of it on a beast(only a few kilos). I bought a 350 g piece of it at the butcher's the other day(enough for two good steaks) for only four dollars—it is only about 12 dollars a kilo, and sometimes even less, about half the price of fillet steak but with just as much juicy taste. Because it's not usually displayed in butchers' display cabinets but kept out the back for making into high-grade mince, you have to ask specifically for it.
Skirt steak or bavette has a very characteristic look, with striations in the meat and a somewhat bulky look. It needs to be pounded with a mallet to flatten it out a little and tenderise it. It should then be cooked like any other steak, how you like it(though NOT well-done, no steak should ever be well-done, in my opinion, and juicy bavette even less!) It can be served with a nice garlicky herby butter, or with Bearnaise sauce, or with the traditional 'echalotte' (shallot) sauce of shallots cut up small, simmered in butter, with a little white wine added, salt, pepper, and a little splash of white wine vinegar. Or with any other kind of sauce you fancy, and of course it should be accompanied by some good home-made thick cut chips sprinkled with garlic and parsley, and a green salad with vinaigrette. Perfect!
Bavette can also be used in all kinds of other steak dishes where you need a good, tender cut, such as beef Stroganoff. In my opinion it is the most ridiculously under-rated and best-value cut of beef around. Sample some before more people cotton on to it and it goes up in price!

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