A superlative cut of rare breed beef from Northfield Farm
“The tomahawk is a steak which comes from the rib of the animal and is made up of the circular ribeye cut, which people will be familiar with, but with the short-rib bone left attached,” explains Dominic McCourt, trained butcher and manager of the Northfield Farm stall at Borough Market. “The name tomahawk refers to a Native American axe, from which this cut takes its name due to its resemblance. Some people French trim the ‘handle’, which means removing all the meat and fat to leave a clean bone, but as a rule we tend not to.”
You can get this slightly unusual cut of meat from different animals, but those that have just arrived from the farm come from Northfield’s herd of Aberdeen angus-white park crosses that are bred on home base in Rutland. The meat is hung for at least three weeks before being brought to the Market.
“One of the things about the tomahawk is that it is a real visual spectacle,” Dominic says. “A lot of people buy them for sharing platters, as they make a great centrepiece and are a very good cut for two people as a joint to share. Because they have to contain the width of the short-rib bone, these cuts tend to be between two and three inches thick. The short-rib section is easily long enough to use as a way of holding the whole cut.”
There are a few different ways of cooking the tomahawk, but the method Dom recommends is called the ‘reverse sear’. This method of cooking is often found in steak restaurants but is not well known by home cooks. “You start with the steak in the oven at a very low temperature—I set it at 100 degrees, but some people like a little higher. You cook that for about 30 minutes, until the steak has come up to temperature. Then you put it in a pan that is searingly hot and cook it for four to five minutes each side,” he explains.
“What you get is a steak that is still pink on the inside, but without being cold, which can be a risk when you have it rare. Steaks cooked pink are wonderfully tasty, but if it is cold you lose something in the mouthfeel and it is not as enjoyable an experience. For me, the reverse sear is a great way of cooking tomahawk.”
Another method Dom suggests for the more adventurous cook is the barbecue. He cooks a two-inch thick steak for about seven minutes each side over the hot part of the barbecue as usual—but then things get a little different. “The thickness of the cut allows you to stand it on its back and it will stay there,” Dominic reveals. “I stand it up like this on the cooler part of the barbecue and let it cook in from the ends for another few minutes, depending on how you want your steak in the middle. It is a really tasty way to cook this cut.”
Restoring its fortunes
Of course, it all starts with the quality of the meat—and Dom is justifiably proud of what the farm produces. “The white park is one of the breeds of cattle that was in serious decline, with the possibility of being lost completely before several breeders—of whom my father was one—set about restoring its fortunes,” says Dom. “And while the Aberdeen angus breed has been used so much in marketing the name may have lost a little of its cache, there is no doubt that when you are dealing with a true pedigree herd like we have cross bred on the farm, you will get really wonderful meat.”
So the next time you are after a celebratory feast, this unusual steak from the heart of the British countryside is definitely worth considering. Just make sure everyone involved brings a healthy appetite—they will need it.