BEEF, Back in favor : Leaner, lighter beef is back on the American table--with the blessing of U.S. government, the beef industry and health and consumer agencies alike.

Times Staff Writer

No food on the American table, with the possible exception of eggs, has been more beefed about than beef. Red meat has unquestionably been given a bum steer.

Well, the tide is turning.

Consumer demand for meat lower in fat is actually putting a leaner, lighter beef back on the American table with the blessing of U.S. government, the beef industry, and health and consumer agencies alike.

For years, government agencies and heart and cancer groups have called on Americans to reduce dietary fat to lower the risk of heart disease, cancer and obesity. The call was for low-fat protein sources, such as fish, legumes, low-fat cheese, skinless chicken and turkey, and lean meat trimmed of visible fat.

For years, consumer groups have had beef on their hit list, attributing to beef more ills than you would wish on your worst enemy.

The consumer has pooh-poohed red meat in favor of chicken and fish in recent years, while devouring 10 million beefy burgers daily in schizophrenic confusion. Indeed, according to 1986 USDA Disappearance Charts (amount of beef sold in the retail market), per capita retail consumption of beef dropped from a 94.4 pounds in 1976 to 79.8 pounds in 1986.

Now, government, health, public advocacy and meat industries join together as willing, if strange bedfellows. Last November, at the suggestion of a consumer advocacy group, Public Voice for Food and Health Policy, and with the blessing of the meat industry, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a name change for lean meat, changing "Good" to "Select." Thus was launched a new era for beef as a government-and-consumer-approved food that Americans can now enjoy without guilt.

The good, old Good (now Select) grade of meat is lower in fat and calories, less expensive and takes less time to cook than the more popular grades, Choice and Prime, which are known for being higher in fat and, consequently, more tender.

The government's move to upgrade the name in order to attract buyers to the lowly meat grade will spotlight an alternative protein source for those looking for low-fat meats. Economically, the move also targeted the large segment of the population that has moved away from red meat because of concerns about diet and health--namely, the younger, more affluent urban consumer.

"Beef consumption dropped off noticeably in this part of the population, and there is a lot of room to bring this group up to standard consumption levels that fits in with their nutritional goals," said Craig Mitchell, director of consumer information at the Meat Board, an industry-sponsored group in Chicago.

The nutrition establishment applauded the government name change, calling the introduction of Select grade meat in the market a step in the right direction.

"On the nutritional side, it's definitely a positive move because it helps the consumer choose meat that is leaner without thinking twice," said Rita Storey, a representative of the American Dietetic Assn.

Public Voice was so delighted with the USDA move that they wrote letters to supermarket companies urging them to offer consumers Select beef because it is leaner than Choice and "because of the scientific consensus that fat in the American diet should be reduced."

Other organizations supporting the name change included the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Assn., the American Public Health Assn., the Consumer Federation of America, the National Cattlemen's Assn., the American Farm Bureau Federation and the American Meat Institute.

Since the November changeover, supermarket chains have hardly rushed to offer the new grade beef to the consumer. Most supermarkets canvassed in Los Angeles, for instance, prefer to stick to their own less costly (10 cents to 40 cents cheaper per pound) USDA-inspected but not USDA-graded house brands, which are drawn from beef that falls 80% within the Choice grade guidelines. Some markets also may carry lesser Commercial and Utility grades.

Safeway, for instance, has no immediate plans to deviate from its current offerings of Choice and "no-roll" (ungraded) beef, the ungraded brand that Safeway has called "Select" independent of the USDA for the past two years; Safeway Select should not to be confused with the USDA grade of the same name.

Vons Companies Inc. will continue to offer USDA graded Choice. "Offering Select grade meat would be taking a step backward," said Stuart Rosenthal, a Vons executive vice president. Only Ralph's Grocery Company, of Compton, which calls its house brand "Premium," announced that it will introduce the USDA-graded Select in its stores in early 1988.

Lucky Stores, which does not advertise meat grades, continues to call its house-brand meat "Five Star." According to Judy Decker, spokesperson for Lucky Stores Inc., the chain has not yet determined whether or not it will advertise the Select grade. Alpha Beta's brand is called Butcher's Pride. Alpha Beta is currently considering offering the Select grade meat when available.

According to Jim Wise, marketing specialist at the Agricultural Marketing Service of the USDA, there has been no noticeable changeover across the country since the name change in November, but he indicated that the response has been positive "at least in attitude."

"It's still a little too soon to tell, but whether the markets actually will start buying still remains to be seen," he said.

Will Provide More-Uniform Product

If used widely, the Select grade beef will provide a more uniform product in terms of composition of fat and quality standard control (palatability). "Under the current system, there are no real controls, so you get a wide variation in palatability and yield," Wise said.

While meat inspection, which assures consumers that the meat is safe to eat, is required by law, USDA meat grading, which is a quality check, is a voluntary service in all but a few counties across the country.

The major grading criteria are marbling (fat running through the meat) and age. Young cattle under 30 months of age with at least a slight amount of marbling will usually fall into the Select (formerly Good), Choice or Prime grades; mature cattle, such as cows, fall within the lesser Utility or Commercial grades, regardless of amount of marbling. Firms pay a fee to the USDA for performing the grading service.

The difference in fat content between Select and Choice grade meat, while generally not great, may be enough to warrant second thought by those who must strictly watch fat and cholesterol intake in their diets.

For instance, in lean Choice top sirloin steak, 100 grams of meat contains 3.76 grams saturated fat compared with 3.02 grams for Select top sirloin. Both grades, however, contain about the same amount of cholesterol and calories (195 calories for choice top round and 184 calories for select top round).

Beef, whether Select or Choice, is a excellent source of high-quality protein, and is one of the best dietary sources of zinc and iron, (essentially heme, a type of iron found in red meat that is three to five times more easily absorbed by the body.) Other good sources of iron are pork, lamb, the dark meat of chicken or turkey, and veal. Milk-fed veal is anemic and will not be as high in heme iron as other meats.

A three-ounce serving of cooked lean beef averages 192 calories, 73 milligrams cholesterol and about 10 grams of total fat, which falls within the range of figures for other meats. (Dark chicken meat has 174 calories and salmon steak has 167 calories.)

Nutritionists advise that a daily diet should include two three-ounce servings of some food from the so-called meat group within the basic four food group system. The meat group includes beef, veal, lamb, pork, poultry, fish, shellfish, dry beans, eggs, seeds, nuts and peanut butter. Variety in the diet assures intake of vitamins and hard-to-get trace minerals necessary for good health.

Not that still-gnawing suspicions by the consumer of meat as being ecologically unsound, too fatty and treated with chemicals have melted away altogether.

"Obviously there are still arguments on both sides of the issue," Storey said. "More work must be done to resolve questions about the use of antibiotics in cattle and the environmental concerns related to the use of land for food, but the bottom line is that when the consumer makes appropriate choices, there will be an immediate impact on the presentation of the amounts and kind of meat by the marketplace."

Already, fast-food companies are showing signs of introducing less-fatty foods, Storey pointed out. "Jack in the Box came out with fajitas, which is lean meat marinated and sauteed. Carl's Jr. has a broiled chicken sandwich," Storey said. Arby's, another fast-food chain, was one of the first companies to offer the consumer extra-lean sandwich meat.

Generally, the fat content of beef varies greatly from cut to cut, whether Select, Choice or Prime. Blade roast, chuck, small-end rib roast and top loin contain the highest amounts of fat with 17 to 21 grams fat per 100 grams (3 1/2-ounces) meat; while 90% lean ground beef, tip roast and top round contain the least amounts of fat, 4 to 7 grams per 100 grams meat.

The recommendation, whatever the cut, is to trim all visible fat before cooking. Most beef sold in the United States today contains roughly 10% fewer calories than beef available 25 years ago because of new feeding and trimming practices.

The hitch to calorie-fat-conscious eating, however, is portion control, for which the consumer must be held responsible. The serving size most quoted in meat industry or government literature falls within the 100 gram, or 3 1/2 ounce, range, considered an average serving. Most Americans, however, eat twice or three times as much meat at a sitting.

"You're going to find restaurants offering more meat than you need to eat in one sitting. But you can eat about 3 ounces and take the rest home for meals later on," Storey said.

The photograph above will give you a good idea of the comparative sizes for a 3 1/2 ounce portion and the standard 12-ounce steak normally eaten in restaurants and homes today. A 12-ounce steak will contain almost four times the amount of fat and calories of a 3 1/2-ounce steak quoted in the charts, which means that if a 3-ounce portion of T-bone steak contains 15 grams fat and 247 calories, the 12-ounce steak will contain 60 grams fat and 988 calories, too high in relation to the total calorie consumption recommended each day: 1,200 for women and 1,800 to 2,000 for men, depending on activity levels.

Consumer Responsible for Proper Dietary Habits

Storey also stressed that the consumer must put meat consumption in proper perspective: "If the tendency is to eat meat and potatoes and a lot of it, then there should be a cut back. But if the consumer has been restricting the use of red meat in the diet, there should be an understanding that some red meat in the diet has value."

The reduction of red meat in the diet of children could result in an iron deficiency, since iron is especially important in blood development. Young children should consume between 10 and 15 milligrams of iron per day, and high school youths should increase intake to 18 milligrams daily, according to Alvin M. Mauer M.D., professor of medicine and pediatrics and director of the Cancer Center at the University of Tennessee--Memphis.

Mauer also pointed out that while limiting calories from fat to 30% of the diet and limiting cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams per day is wise for adults, it may put children at risk. "Calories from fat should never fall below 30% (for children)," Mauer said.

Cooking with less tender meat cuts no matter what the grade requires some understanding of the composition of low or unmarbled meat.

"From the cooking point of view, you have to be careful when cooking low-fat meats. Unless you cook the meat for a long period of time with some liquid, you won't get juicy, tender meat because the marbling is not there. It's the marbling (fat running through the meat) that makes meat juicy and tender," Storey said.

Correct cooking of beef also helps prevent waste. Every meat cut can be made tender when matched with the proper cooking method.

Tender cuts from the rib and loin sections are usually cooked by dry heat methods. Round, chuck, shank, brisket, short plate and flank should be braised or simmered in liquid (water, broth, wine, juice or a combination thereof). Some less-tender cuts can be roasted, broiled, pan-broiled and pan-fried under certain circumstances. Cuts such as round tip and rump are at their best when roasted only to rare or medium and carved in thin slices. Marinating helps tenderize steaks such as round and blade for broiling.

Low heat is the secret to both successful and money-saving meat cookery. Avoid high temperatures and overcooking that shrink a roast and rob it of natural juiciness. When roasting, braising, broiling or cooking meat in liquid, keep the temperature low to moderate.

Keep in mind that smaller portions of meat cook faster. Round steak, cut into thin slices, braises in much less time than when cooked whole. For easy slicing, simply place the steak flat in a pan and partially freeze, then place on a board and slice 1/8-inch thick. You can reduce cooking time of a beef arm pot roast by cutting it into serving-size pieces before braising.

Instead of braising beef blade steaks, try broiling them for a budget-conscious steak treat. Because steaks cut from the chuck are less tender than steaks from the loin or rib, marinating in the refrigerator for 6 to 8 hours or overnight is recommended. A beef blade steak requiring over an hour to braise, will broil in 15 to 20 minutes.

Ground beef also is fast and easy to use. Less tender meat cuts, such as the Select grade are ideal--and less costly than Choice meats--for grinding meat.

Here are recipes using any less tender meat cuts whether from Select or Choice grade beef.

BEEF CARIBBEAN

1/4 cup lime juice

2 oranges, sliced

1/4 medium onion, sliced

1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 pound sirloin, rib eye or chuck steak, cut into 4 uniform portions

Pepper Confetti of Vegetables

Combine lime juice, oranges, onion, cilantro, garlic and cumin in shallow pan. Add steaks and turn to coat well with marinade. Cover and let stand in refrigerator 2 hours.

Remove meat from marinade and grill over medium coals or under broiler 4 inches from source of heat, to desired degree of doneness. Arrange meat on plate and top with Pepper Confetti of Vegetables. Makes 4 servings.

Pepper Confetti of Vegetables

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

1 sweet red pepper, cut into thin strips

1 green pepper, cut into thin strips

1 yellow pepper, cut into thin strips

2 oranges, sliced

Salt, pepper

Heat oil. Add garlic and cook until browned. Add red, green and yellow peppers and orange slices to pan. Saute until peppers are bright in color and tender-crisp. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

SAKE BEEF

1 (2-pound) rib eye

Sake Sauce

Honey

Grated peel of 1 mandarin orange

4 green onions, finely sliced

Place meat in shallow baking pan. Pour Sake Sauce over meat and turn to coat well. Bake at 300 degrees 2 hours, or until meat is tender, basting lightly every 15 minutes with honey.

Sprinkle mandarin orange peel and green onions over meat. Serve with rice, if desired. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Sake Sauce

1 cup mirin

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup orange juice

1 teaspoon grated ginger root

1/4 cup brown sugar, packed

1 tablespoon arrowroot or cornstarch

2 green onions or 1 small leek, thinly sliced

Combine mirin, soy sauce, orange juice and ginger in saucepan and heat. Remove from heat and stir in brown sugar.

Combine arrowroot with small amount of water until smooth. Add to pan. Cook, stirring, until sauce thickens slightly. Strain sauce through fine strainer into sauce boat. Add green onions. Makes about 2 cups.

KOREAN BARBECUED BEEF

1 (2- to 2 1/2-pound) beef blade steak, cut 1 1/2- to 2-inches thick

4 teaspoons sesame seeds

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons sugar

3 green onions, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons oil

1 clove garlic, crushed

Place meat in shallow pan. Toast sesame seeds in heavy skillet, then crush with back of spoon or mortar and pestle. Mix crushed seeds with salt, sugar, onions, pepper, soy sauce, oil and garlic. Pour over meat.

Cover and marinate in refrigerator several hours or overnight, turning 2 to 3 times. Broil meat 4-inches from source of heat until done to medium rare. Slice to serve. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

CALIFORNIA BEEF BURGUNDY

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons flour

2 pounds lean chuck, cut into 1 1/2- to 2-inch cubes

1 bunch baby carrots, or 4 large carrots, thickly sliced

1/2 pound small white onions

2 stalks celery, sliced

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon marjoram

1/4 teaspoon thyme

1 cup dry red wine

1 cup button mushrooms

Blend soy sauce with flour and place in 2 1/2- to 3-quart baking dish. Add cubed meat to soy mixture and toss to coat well. Add carrots, onions, celery, garlic, pepper, marjoram, thyme and wine, stirring to mix.

Cover tightly and bake at 325 degrees 1 hour. Add mushrooms and bake 1 to 1 1/2 hours longer or until meat is tender. Serve with rice, noodles or potatoes, if desired. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

PICADO

2 tablespoons oil

2 pounds boneless round steak, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 large bay leaf, crumbled

Salt

2 small green peppers, cut into 1/2-inch squares

1 to 2 hot yellow chiles, seeded and minced

1 onion, halved and sliced

4 medium tomatoes, cut into 6 sections each

Pepper

Heat oil in large skillet and add meat, garlic, bay leaf and salt to taste. Cook, stirring, until meat is browned. Add green peppers and chiles. Cook 4 to 5 minutes.

Add onion and cook 3 minutes. Add tomatoes and pepper to taste and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Serve with rice and refried beans, if desired, or spoon onto flour tortillas and wrap as for burritos. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

RIB EYE STEAKS SONORA

4 rib eye boneless steaks

Salt, pepper

Salsa

1 avocado, peeled and sliced

Broil steaks 4 inches from source of heat or grill over medium coals to desired doneness. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon 1/4 cup Salsa over each steak. Garnish with avocado slices. Makes 4 servings.

Salsa

4 tomatoes, cut up

1 (4-ounce) can diced green chiles

1 onion, cut into chunks

2 green peppers, seeded and cut into chunks

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce

Process tomatoes, chiles, onion, peppers, lemon juice and hot pepper sauce in food processor until coarsely chopped. Makes 2 cups.

THAI BEEF CURRY

2 1/2 pounds top round or rib eye roast

Oil

1/2 cup minced onion

5 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon whole allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon crushed dried red chiles

6 whole cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 teaspoon salt

2 sticks cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

3 cups canned or fresh coconut milk

1 cup beef broth

1/4 cup roasted whole peanuts

1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions

Cut meat into thin slices. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large skillet or saucepan. Add onion and garlic and cook until onion is tender but not browned.

Add meat, allspice, ginger, chiles, cloves, cardamom, salt, cinnamon, sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire and coconut milk and toss to coat meat well. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 1 hour, adding beef broth as mixture cooks down.

Stir in peanuts. Remove curry to serving dish. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in small skillet and add green onions. Cook until browned. Sprinkle over curry before serving. Makes 8 servings.

CALIFORNIA SUKIYAKI

1 1/2 pounds top sirloin or rib eye (sukiyaki beef) sliced bacon-thin

2 bunches baby green onions

3 zucchini, sliced or patty pan squash, halved

6 baby eggplant, split if large

1 sweet red pepper, cut in strips

1 yellow pepper, cut in strips

1/2 head napa cabbage or 1 head raddichio, leaves washed and split, if large, or 1 bunch spinach, leaves only or combination of three

1/2 block tofu, cubed

Suet

Sukiyaki Sauce

Hot steamed rice

Arrange meat, green onions, squash, eggplant, peppers, cabbage and tofu on large platter forming attractive pattern. Preheat 12-inch or larger electric skillet. Grease bottom lightly with piece of suet and discard suet. Arrange meat and some of each vegetable in groups on skillet. Pour half Sukiyaki Sauce over meat and vegetables.

Cook at high heat several minutes, turning vegetables and meat when done on one side to cook other side. Remove to individual plates, then repeat with remaining meat and vegetables. Serve with hot steamed rice. Makes 6 servings.

Note: Other vegetables may be used to vary sukiyaki: mushrooms, asparagus, broccoli florets, rape, bean sprouts, snow peas, sliced sweet onions (Maui or Bermuda), thinly sliced carrots, cauliflorets, celery, onions and tomatoes.

Sukiyaki Sauce

2 tablespoons sake

2 teaspoons sugar

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/2 cup consomme or beef stock

Combine sake, sugar, soy sauce and consomme. Heat until sugar is dissolved. Makes about 1 cup.

SASHIMI OF BEEF A LA HAYES STREET GRILL

1 (1 1/2-pound) triangle tip roast or sirloin steak

1 Japanese or English cucumber

Salt

Rice wine vinegar

Sashimi Sauce

Grill or broil triangle tip roast or steak until outside is charred if grilled or browned if broiled. Immediately plunge beef into bowl of ice water to prevent further cooking.

When cool, dry meat and slice on diagonal across grain into 1/8-inch slices. Cut cucumber in halves lengthwise and remove seeds with spoon. Do not peel. Cut cucumber halves into crescent slices. Toss in small amount of salt. Let drain 10 minutes. Then toss cucumber crescents in small amount of rice vinegar just before serving.

To serve, fan steak out around platter. Place cucumber crescents in center of platter. Spoon Sashimi Sauce over beef. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Sashimi Sauce

2 teaspoons wasabi powder (green Japanese horseradish)

Water

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 cup low calorie yogurt

1/4 cup half and half

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

Make thick paste by adding several drops water to wasabi powder. Cover and let stand to develop flavor. Dissolve wasabi paste in soy sauce. Stir in yogurt and half and half until blended. Stir in vinegar. Makes 1 1/2 cups.

BEEF SALAD WITH LEMON-CURRY DRESSING

2 pounds beef top round steak

1 pound green beans, trimmed and blanched

1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced

3 tomatoes, chopped

1 cup chopped green onions

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Lemon-Curry Dressing

Cook steak under broiler 4 inches from heat 10 minutes on each side for medium rare or longer if desired. Remove from boiler and let stand 10 minutes. Slice into thin strips. Cut strips into 2-inch pieces.

Mix beef with beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, green onions and parsley. Pour Lemon-Curry Dressing over ingredients and toss. Refrigerate at least 3 hours or overnight. Makes 12 servings.

Lemon-Curry Dressing

2 cups beef broth

Grated peel and juice of 4 lemons

2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon curry powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Place broth, lemon peel and juice, sugar, cornstarch, curry powder, salt and pepper in medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until dressing thickens slightly and boils. Remove from heat, let cool. Toss with beef salad. Makes about 2 cups dressing.

LIGHT BARBECUE BEEF

1/2 cup dry red wine

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons finely chopped onion

1 teaspoon dried tarragon

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 pound top round steak

Combine wine, water, lemon juice, onion, tarragon and pepper in baking dish. Trim steak of fat. Place in baking dish, turning to coat meat with marinade. Cover and refrigerate overnight or up to 48 hours.

Cook steak on barbecue grill 4 inches from hot coals 12 to 15 minutes or under broiler 4-inches from source of heat 10 minutes on each side or until desired doneness, basting often with marinade. Slice steak across grain into thin slices. Makes 4 servings.

CHINESE ORANGE BEEF

1 pound top sirloin or round steak

1/4 cup soy sauce

1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon grated ginger root

1 tablespoon oil

3 pieces dried orange peel

1 or 2 dried red chile peppers

1 carrot, sliced

1 green pepper, sliced

1 sweet red pepper, sliced

1/4 pound pea pods, trimmed

1 (8-ounce) can sliced water chestnuts

1 head iceberg lettuce, shredded

Trim fat from steak and slice into thin strips. Combine soy sauce, cornstarch and ginger. Pour over steak and toss to mix well.

Heat 2 teaspoons oil in non-stick skillet until hot. Add orange peel and chile peppers and cook over high heat 1 minute. Add beef and stir-fry until browned, about 3 minutes. Remove beef mixture to plate.

Add remaining 1 teaspoon oil to wok and heat. Add carrot, peppers, pea pods and water chestnuts and stir-fry 3 to 4 minutes. Return beef to skill and stir-fry until beef is heated through.

Discard chiles and orange peel. Place lettuce on serving platter and top with beef mixture. Makes 4 servings.

FRENCHED FLANK STEAK

2 tablespoons oil

1/2 cup red wine

1/4 cup vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon peppercorns, crushed

1 teaspoon marjoram

1 (1 1/4 to 1 3/4-pound) flank steak

Combine oil, wine, vinegar, salt, crushed peppercorns and marjoram. Place steak in shallow pan and add marinade, turning to coat meat. Marinate in refrigerator 6 hours or overnight, turning several times.

Place steak on rack in broiler pan or on grill so surface of meat is 3 to 4 inches from heat. Reserve marinade. Broil at moderate temperature 5 to 6 minutes, turn, brush with marinade and broil 5 to 7 minutes or to desired doneness. Carve steak diagonally across grain into thin slices. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Food Styling by Minnie Bernardino and Donna Deane

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