Is fillet the most boring cut of beef? In a word... yes.
Woah, easy at the back, calm down, calm down... It's not fighting talk. I know that, when confronted with a menu offering a big lump of prize fillet steak, it's all too easy to order it and, yes, enjoy it for what it is: a decadent, soft dinner with an expensive feel. However, thanks to Ryan Hattingh of Gaucho (not to mention William Leigh of The Boy Done Food who set things up) I now know the truth. EVERY other cut of beef just tastes better.
Ryan is the Operations man at Gaucho, a big South African bloke with a passion for beef. This morning, at Gaucho in Smithfields (and how good is that match of venue and location?), Ryan took Will and I through the basics of the Gaucho menu, which boiled down to a masterclass in ceviche and steak preparation. And utterly fascinating it all was.
Having over done the Negra Modelo a little last night (and mixing it over the course of five hours with Ontario Chardonnay, Moosehead lager and some rather good Eis Wine), the energy levels were somewhat lacking. A couple of spoonfuls of ceviches though and life was good again.
As any fule kno - well, possibly - the ceviche is essentially raw fish 'cooked' with a citric acid, such as lemon juice. Ryan took us through three: an excellent salmon version, where the lemon juice is mixed with olive oil because the oil helps stop the fish 'overcooking; one with sea bass, again using the oil / lemon trick, combined with mango and green papaya; and finally, the stand-out prawn variety. The latter was almost a twist on the prawn cocktail (and will be if I get my 70s dinner party sorted for January). Thin slices of slightly cooked prawn cured in lemon juice for a minute or so until they pass from translucence to opaque white. The juice is drained off and in goes the Ecuadorian sauce. This is a combination of roasted tomatoes, onions and peppers, blitzed with orange juice and tabasco. Think 1000 Island dressing with decent flavour or really good ketchup with a decent but not overpowering 'four second' bite (i.e., the time it takes to go from initial taste sensation to chili warmth). And then think of something that matches these descriptions and somehow doesn't simultaneously. Whatever, it's a sauce I'm going to enjoy experimenting with at home. The prawns were then heaped with a little side 'salad' of avocado. We tried pure avocado, but also got to sample Gaucho's usual pairing, the excellent guacamole. Their secret? Alongside the avocado and finely chopped red onion sits little flecks of ginger, another trick that I'll be attempting to pass off as my own sometime soon.
After that, it was to the grill station for a lesson in steak cooking and preparation. It was way too detailed to go into here, but resulted in a lunch platter - between four of us in case you're my GP - of sirloin, fillet, rump and rib-eye. This allowed a rare chance to compare these four popular cuts for texture and taste. The winner... everything but fillet. Look , it's good, and feels luxurious and, in Gaucho's case, certainly tasted of beef, but the low fat content means much less flavour than the marbled joys of the others. Or, indeed, the thick strip of fat atop the sirloin. Yum.
So, if you're the sort of person who takes the safe fillet option, go fattier instead. Let it cook for longer - that melts the fat and flavours the beef, you see - and then enjoy...