A lesser-known but deliciously juicy cut of meat
“One of the things that is really nice about working on the stall here at Borough Market is that you get to see what different people from around the world do with cuts of meat,” says Lizzie Vines from Wild Beef, when asked about a lesser-known cut of beef called the ‘skirt’.
“The Americans love to BBQ the thinner bits, so we often get them coming up and asking for ‘skirt steak’ as they call it. The fatter bit, which is sometimes known as the butchers’ cut, is more popular with the British. I don’t know why it has that name—maybe the butcher used to keep it to himself.”
The skirt cut, which lives underneath the ribs, is a long muscle so the quality it has changes along the length. “There is a nice fat juicy bit up the top, then it thins out as the cut moves further down the animal.” The animal in question is the Welsh Black breed, which Lizzie and her husband Richard have breeding on their Dartmoor farm for years. They supply to some of the best chefs in the land.
A lovely breed
“We have little baby calves running around at the moment. They are a lovely breed,” Lizzie says with affection. “They are hardy, perfect for where we farm. A lot of them were out on the moor until the beginning of February, happily eating the grass, which there was a great deal of.”
Grass is all they feed them—there is no concentrate, no soya or commercial cattle feed: “Just grass, dried grass in the form of hay or stewed grass, which is silage. The combination of an outdoor life and grass feeding gives the meat a lovely flavour.”
Beef skirt is a very versatile cut which works well in braises and casseroles—but with the sun beginning to peek out from behind the clouds, Lizzie suggests breaking out the BBQ. “Alternatively, one of my regular customers has just bought some of the thinner cuts to make fajitas this weekend using a fajita mix from Spice Mountain, to which she adds olive oil and a touch of vinegar.”
A celebration of spring
However, Lizzie is not the only fan of this cut of meat to be found at Borough Market. Morgwn Preston-Jones, executive chef at Bedales, loves cooking with beef skirt. “I have a recipe for beef skirt which is a celebration of spring, when peas, fava beans, asparagus, and even sweet corn start to appear,” he says.
“It also includes succotash, which is a classic southern American side dish that is usually made with fresh corn and lima beans. It goes really well with most meats, but especially beef, lamb, and pork.”
This cut is now very popular in Morgwn’s American homeland, but this was not always the case. “Beef skirt is now prized for its flavour, but it used to be a very cheap off-cut until people realised its potential,” the chef explains.
Succulent and juicy
Morgwn suggests cooking beef skirt “really hot and fast”, then resting it so that the juices are re-introduced to the meat. “This makes it very succulent and juicy. You can cook the steaks on a charcoal grill, like I do, but it is equally good seared in a hot, cast iron pan then basted in a bath of butter and aromatics.”
The key to this cut is to not overcook it—“rare to medium will result in the best steak; anything over medium and it starts to get chewy,” he advises. “It is also good to note that like all meat, cutting against the grain is key. It is all the more important here, as this cut has long muscle fibres.”