This is quite a weird topic for my first article on this blog, someone might think, but not too weird if you know that well done beef steaks are the cause of most of my frustrations as a chef in Indonesia (the number 2 is the crazy abuse of Sambal in every kind of food, from pizza to dessert ,which will appear in an article in the near future).
As a Tuscan guy, born and raised on the sweet green hills of that amazing part of Italy, my idea of a steak is a big cut of beef, with a heavy bone, thick, juicy and, most important rare, tender and red inside. In Tuscany, the homeland of the T-Bone steak (we call it Fiorentina steak, that is different from the football club), we don’t even consider it a steak if it’s less than 1 kg and believe me, i have cooked some above 2 kg.
See the size? Make it well done. It will take 1 hour. But that’s not the point.
Let’s say that you have a whole night to cook your steak, the time is none of your problem, although when you come to a restaurant you want to see your food on the table maximum 10 minutes after you ordered it, but still, there are many other reasons why you should have your steak from medium below.
Unfortunately (for me), Indonesians order their beef well done. No matter if you try to explain them that it’s gonna be tough, no matter if you tell them it’s gonna take time… They insist. It must be well done.
In my experience in this amazing country i can say that the 70% of the steaks i grill in my kitchen are well done, the 20% medium well and the rest 10% between medium and medium rare (where did i get these numbers? Of course i never counted lah! I’m just making a rough estimation but it’s not far from the real). The few rare steaks i cook, maybe 1 out of 40, will most probably finish their journey into the tummy of a bule (a white dude, for whom is not familiar with this word).
Everytime i asked to some indonesian fella why he gets his steak well done the answers are always the same:
– Because of hygiene
– Because i don’t like to see the blood inside
– Because inside the meat there are many bacterias and you need to cook it well done to kill them all
– I like it more well done
– “You know, orang Indonesia (indonesian people) have a different stomach than a bule, we must eat the beef well done or we feel dizzy, we have stomachache and diarrea until we throw up and get sick. It happened to a friend of mine, demi Allah!”
I don’t understand any of these points. I know that here in Indonesia, since you are a kid, everybody tells you that you have to cook your food well done because of the above reasons. It’s a mind set, something indonesians have in their DNA from a long time ago. It’s a part of indonesian’s inheritance. Your parents probably told you that, your teachers as well, if you are indonesian. But now deal with this: I always have my steak “blue”, which is extremely rare, i often eat raw beef like carpaccio and tartare, in Italy i was used to eat raw pork as well and i love it (don’t try this at home!), i eat raw fish when i get my sushi or sashimi and i’ve never had any problem.
I should be dead by now. I would not have gone through the puberty, if eating rare or raw beef would be a risk or a hazard. The fact is that i’m here writing on this blog, still alive, i have never been sick in the last 3 years… It seems like i’m the living proof that a rare steak will not kill you.
Now let me destroy, one by one, the most common wrong facts that indonesians think about rare steaks:
–It’s not hygienic. Wrong! The beef itself doesn’t contain dangerous contaminations and doesn’t give hospitality to any hygienic hazard. Maybe the environment where the beef is slaughtered and processed could, but not the beef itself. Every cow, before they peacefully pass away to be hosted on your table, go through a lot of rigid controls by veterinarians that will certify that it’s ready to be slaughtered (what a lucky son of a bitch, uh?). Then the same veterinarians check every cut of beef to certify again that it’s healthy, that it doesn’t present any hazard and it can be send to the supermarket’s shelves. If you buy beef from Australia, USA, Japan or Europe you have nothing to worry about, it’s certified and it respect every severe standard of hygiene. Then if you farm the cows yourself in your kampung and you slaughter them with your bare hands without any control… Well it’s your risk. But if you go to a trusted restaurant and they tell you that the beef is imported, it doesn’t come from the black market and the source is trustable, no need to worry about hygienic issues.
–I don’t like to see the blood inside. Wrong!
This might shock you but… The red colour of the beef is not blood. It’s caused by a protein which name is myoglobin. The myoglobin links the iron and in presence of oxygen it gets a nice red colour. What you see when you look at a raw red piece of beef is not blood, otherwise why is it not leaking everywhere? The red colour of the blood and the colour of the raw beef are the same because of the same reason, but when you eat a rare steak the red stuff you see it’s not because it contains blood, it’s just muscle fibers, proteins, which happen to be red.
–Inside the meat there are bacterias which needs to be wiped out by a long and massive quantity of heat or maybe a nuclear weapon. Wrong!
Inside the meat there are not dangerous bacterias, if the meat has been controlled by veterinarians and judged suitable for your table (and in the restaurants all the beef is like that). As i said before, you have to trust the source, and i do that. It’s possible that the meat hosts some bacterias on the surface because of crossed contamination with the environment, but the surface will be cooked anyway. The bacterias, if present, comes from outside, from a wrong handling process of the meat, not from inside the meat. If we go to the warung and we order a sate padang, yes, maybe better to get it well done, because of the absolute lack of hygiene of those places and the uncertain origin of the meat. But still, you might have your sate well done but then feel sick anyway because they serve it to you on dirty plates, “washed” in a bucket filled with dirty water which is changed 2 times a day. Then the frame of rats and cockroaches is not helping. I’m quite sure that the people who order a well done steak at my restaurant have been to the warung at least once in a lifetime, or maybe every week. Ya? Ya? Ya?
–I like it more well done. Wrong!
Well, ok, as my latin ancestors said “de gustibus non disputandum est” which means “we can’t argue and discuss on the taste of the people”. Yes, everybody has his taste and everybody likes what they like. I agree. But in this case i can’t really believe that someone would prefer a tough, hard, dry, flavourless, chewy and black piece of coal rather than a juicy, tasty, tender and flavourful steak. When you cook a steak well done the fibers of the proteins become tough, it looses all the juice and the taste, it becomes hard to chew and the flavour vanishes. It happens that people buy an amazing cut of japanese wagyu then ask me to massacre it on the grill until it’s well done. Well, dude, don’t make a fool of yourself, don’t spend a million rupia for a piece of beef that, after the treatment you request, will taste and look like a cheap anonymous cut of who knows what from who knows where. It’s not only stupid, it’s an offense. I could grill two different cuts of beef: a grassfed japanese wagyu (1 million/kg) and a cambodian no brand beef (100 thousand/kg), both well done and you will not taste the difference. Then i challenge you in a blind taste with the same beef, the first time well done and the second medium. I’m sure you will not choose the well done.
–Indonesians have a different stomach, we get sick if we eat rare beef, it happened to my friend demi Allah. Wrong!
Come on man, should i really talk about this point? This is kinda urban legend stuff. First of all the stomach of an indonesian is just like the stomach of a bule. If it happens to your friend maybe it was not because of the rare beef but because of the place where he got it or because he had too much sambal. Or because of masuk angin. I told you, i should have been dead by now. Come to my restaurant, get a rare steak, then if you feel sick i will reimburse you the meal (please attach the medical certificate if you want to be reimbursed. I don’t accept certificates from massage therapists, i’m not that stupid).
I didn’t convince you yet. Next time you go to a restaurant and you feel like having a steak the imperative will be “Well done!”
You don’t trust in a medical research. So trust in Wikipedia and take a look at this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heterocyclic_amine_formation_in_meat
You were too lazy to read all that stuff or you didn’t understand what they said? Let me explain you in few simple words.
When the proteins of the red meat are under a high temperature for a long time they change structure. They link to other molecules giving birth to a category of substances which are called HCAs. These HCAs are mutagens. No, you will not become an X-Men, they will not give you superpowers such as being able to see naked girls through their dresses or become invisible so that you can get into the women’s changing rooms (i don’t know why but i have always contemplated the advantage of having superpowers in terms of seeing naked girls) or take a trip with Transjakarta and find a seat available.
It has been scientifically proven that the consumption of well done beef increases the possibility to have a colon rectal cancer because the mutagens that are created when you cook the meat for long time at high temperature are much much more than in a rare or medium beef.
I’m not saying that it will happen. It will not happen, ok? But well done beef is for sure less healthy than medium or rare. Then the proteins contained in a well done beef are less in number and harder to digest.
This is why i get so frustrated over well done steaks: it’s less healthy, less tasty, tough and dry. It makes me waste a nice cut of beef, why should i select a good product if later it will taste like shit anyway? It’s stupid and it’s a waste of money. And all of this because of a wrong mind set and wrong beliefs.
Now keep having your beef well done but don’t tell me that i didn’t try to warn you. Come on man, give medium steak a chance, it’s worth it, believe me. I care of you.