Last night was Halloween. Too cold to trick or treat, a sirloin steak blind tasting sounded like a fun way to spend the evening.
The plan was quite simple: (i) buy a few sirloin steaks; (ii) lightly coat each steak in olive oil and season with salt and pepper; (iii) sear the steaks on a very hot Le Creuset griddle for a very short time - so that they're all rare/medium rare; (iv) rest the steaks in foil for 5 or so minutes; (v) serve the steaks on very hot plates; and (vi) taste the steaks; and (vii) write tasting notes on the steaks and score them out of 10 (5 points for taste and 5 points for texture).
Why sirloin? It's the steak I buy when I want tasty, good quality meat I can cook and eat in a few minutes. It's cut from the lower portion of the ribs, continuing off the shortloin from which the more expensive fillet steaks are cut. Sirloin is generally cheaper than fillet - sirloin is not as tender because the muscles work harder. The up-side is that the more active muscles give sirloin more flavour and character than a fillet.
After a good lunch a butcher might tell you that "Sir Loin" is derived from a King of England (variously said to be Henry VIII, James I and Charles II) knighting this noble cut of beef because of its superiority. But it's more likely to have come from the old French surlonge, from sur "above" and loigne "loin".
On a dreary Wednesday afternoon I managed to get hold of sirloin steak from 7 different butchers - 2 on-line butchers (who had delivered a day or so before) - and 5 well regarded butchers close to home.
The tasting panel comprised me, V and S. In a perfect world it would have been much much larger, but sirloin is not cheap and plan-less tasters are difficult to find without notice on Halloween. Many thanks to S for her patience and observations - dinner with C and V is not all beer and skittles.
In wine-speak, we tasted the steaks single-blind - we knew who supplied the 7 steaks but not their order - in one flight of 4 and a second flight of 3.
What were we looking for? For taste the question was as simple as did you like it and if so how much? I generally like my steak to have a pronounced flavour and some character. Of course not everyone agrees.
For texture we were examining juiciness, firmness, and tenderness. My ideal steak has some firmness yet is tender and juicy. The panel found judging texture a bit easier than judging the taste.
At the end of the tasting we each ranked the 7 steaks from 1 to 7 (with 1 being the best and 7 the worst). The scores for each steak were then added up and the steak with the lowest score judged the winner.
Farmer Sharp (see Tasty Old Ewes posting of 24/10) won with Crosby & Sons second and The Ginger Pig third.
Full results are set out below along with prices (in pounds) and tasting observations (mine unless otherwise stated).
1. Farmer Sharp, Borough Market (22.70 kg). Gallaway beef from Cumbria. Hung for about 21 days. Dark around edges with good fat marbling. Pronounced flavour and aroma. Tight grained but tender and succulent. Very distinctive. C' and V's preferred steak. S thought the taste too distinctive and too pronounced.
2. Crosby & Sons, Smithfield Meat Market (17.50 kg). No information on breed or hanging. Quite light in appearance and not much visible fat. Tasty and juicy. Firm flesh and succulent.
3. Ginger Pig, Borough Market (19.95 kg). Longhorn beef from Yorkshire. Hung for about 21 days. Most pronounced aromas (before cooking) and very dark/cherried. Flavoursome and tender. S' preferred steak - melted in her mouth and she wanted more and more.
4. Devon Rose, Devon (31 kg - including delivery). No information on breed. Hung for about 28 days. Medium dark in appearance with thin veins of fat. This was delivered frozen by BinB and defrosted before cooking. Solid flavour. Very firm flesh but also giving.
5. Meat City, Smithfield Meat Market/Farringdon (27 kg). No information on breed. Hung for 30 days. Quite dark but less so than the Ginger Pig. Highest visible fat content - thick veins. Good flavour but not outstanding. Firm texture bordering on not so tender.
6. Donald Russell, Aberdineshire (29 kg - including delivery). No information on breed. Hung for up to 21 days. Bought in vacuum packed bag and stored in fridge for a day or two. Light in colour with moderate fat marbling. Tasted a bit youthful. Average texture - quite dry and underwhelming.
7. Theobalds, Holbourn (18.75 kg). No information on breed. Hung for 21 days. Quite cherried with small veins of fat evenly spread throughout the steak. Not much flavour. Chewy and a dry (although not over-cooked). Disappointing.