It is with a heavy heart that I write this post. The project had started as experimental meat preparation with a cut of beef that rarely makes it past the grinder, the chuck flap. Between acquisition of this really nice cut of beef, preparation of the beef, and writing of the post, the owner of the ranch at which the grass fed cow was raised, Frank Morgan of Q7 Ranch in Marengo, IL, passed away suddenly. I did not know Frank, but I had grown to love his work from navels to shanks to neck and now to the chuck flap and all things in between. My family’s sympathies and condolences go to Frank’s family and loved ones.
As happens when you have a butcher that you know and trust, when I walked into Butcher and Larder last week, Rob approached me with a cut of meat that I had not seen before. As last year with the belly chop, lamb neck, beef neck bones, and most recently, the mutton neck, there are things that Rob has suggested that are not commonly used parts of the animal that would not fall into meat curing or offal related dishes, but rather butcher’s cuts. At first I was hesitant to blog about these because I was worried about losing the blog’s focus, but the more that I thought about it, the more I wanted to feature these types of projects. After all, the real focus on the blog has evolved from bacon making and tasting to meat curing and ice cream making to DIY production and consumption of local food that flies under the radar. We will give it a shot and see how it goes. Please give feedback as you see fit.
Back to the beef; the cut that Rob brought out resembled a beef cheek from the world’s largest steer, but I did not recognize it. This cut, the chuck flap, from just past the short ribs, is usually ground into burgers, but he had done some research and wanted to do a little testing to see how best to use it. Suggested cooking methods indicated that it should go past medium rare and that BBQ/braise might be a good test. Given that our family is small, I decided to split the cut into two pieces and get creative both braising and smoking.
For the BBQ piece, I wanted something a little different than just regular BBQ beef. I have been playing around with some sauces from the Momofuku cookbook lately and had found one that I liked on nearly everything – Chang’s ginger scallion sauce. Doing a reverse search, I worked back to one of his ssam that resembles kalbi made from hangar steak. I used the flavors from this dish with half of the chuck flap and then instead of searing the beef, as was done with the hangar, I smoked it, basically making a smoked kalbi.
Admittedly, it is dangerous to riff on one of the biggest riffers in the cooking world, but it was smoked beef that had soaked in a deliciously sweet and salty compound. As long as I watched it, it would at least approach delicious. The cut had some nice fat on it, but I would not consider it to be a fatty cut. Even though it is from around the short ribs, it resembled to me the cheek (as mentioned above) and the brisket flat, but with less connective tissue than both. In smoking it, I would treat it like a brisket flat and if I smoked this too long, it would likely dry out. After a few hours over hickory, I pulled the beef from the smoker and put in foil with an additional quarter cup of the marinade (reserved before applying to raw meat) for an hour to rest.
Once the hour was up, I sliced the beef and served it with the ginger scallion sauce, caramelized onions and sriracha using lettuce as the burrito wrap. It had a very beefy, almost offal-y, flavor and the smoke was more of a massage than a punch. The beef took the marinade well, but was wasn’t overrun by it. It was good, but the texture was a little bit dense for ssam.
My original thought was to braise the chuck flap in pho broth and top it with sprouts, chilis, and mint, but after going with the Chang-style smoked Kalbi, I wanted something a little more different, and a little less Asian, for the braise. I went Southwestern with a chili and beer braise.
After applying the rub of my chili powder (9 chilis this time) and cumin then letting it permeate for a few days, I treated this half like a beef cheek. I seared the flap, deglazed the pan with some New Glarus Krystal Weizen and braised the beef for a few hours. When my wife walked into the house, she let me know that it was very nice of me to make her chili on that cold day. I informed her than she was only half right. The flap had a nice crust, but had a lot of give to the touch. The beer had taken on a deep red color from the chilis and had reduced down to a thick sauce at this point. I was surprised that the beef had not released much fat, but that was no matter. It smelled ridiculous.
I served the beef with quinoa and topped it with cilantro as well as pickled jalapenos and red onions. With the heat and depth from the chili and a little bitterness from the beer, the sweet and sour pickle and the fresh herbs really rounded out a great plate of food. We liked the smoked kalbi ssam, but we loved the chili and beer braised flap. I was tempted to simply shred the beef turning it into almost a chili porridge, but I resisted and was glad that I did. The texture was perfect. The dense nature of the cut really held up well to the braise in a way that kept it from being stringy while keeping it completely spoon-able.
After these two experiments, I would say that without hesitation that this cut is a “can’t miss” in the flavor department, but texturally it might need a little TLC. You likely don’t want this cut grilled unless it is ground. If you BBQ it, you might be better off starting it on the smoker and finishing it in the oven taking it to just over 200 degrees internal temp and chopping it. However, this cut finds it groove – actually turning a challenging texture into something positive – when braised.
Finally, and again, these types of cuts are typically ground or tossed and I am so happy that Rob thinks to challenge that notion in these experiments. I am even more thankful, and now sad, that farmers like Frank put such care into their animals that a supposed scrap cut can hold so much flavor and deliciousness. It is a testament to him and his crew that even the humblest cuts on their animals are so vastly better than prime cuts at your local grocery. I hope that he knew that while many did not know him personally, so many appreciated his life’s work and found value in what he did.