At the beginning of last month I went to the French restaurant Les Artistes in the big square next to the Mercat d’Olivar on its east side (Tel:871-50 48 83) mainly because they had onglet steak on the menu. That’s a rare find because each cow has only one and it’s a small cut. Depending on the size of the animal, an onglet weighs between 400 grs and 1.5 kilos, so even the largest one is barely enough for five people.
Alain Alzerat, cook-owner of Les Artistes, didn’t want to tell me where he bought his onglets (he at first thought I was doing a spying recce on the dishes he’s serving) and I know of only one butcher who sometimes has an onglet for sale.
He is Mateu Garau, whose stall at the Mercat d’Olivar is popularly known as ‘la carnicería francesa’ because Mateu’s Mallorcan father had emigrated to Rennes in France where he had a butcher’s shop, and then returned about 50 years ago to open his stall at the Olivar.
When Mateu Sr retired his son took over the business where he had been helping out since the age of 16.
Many years ago I read about the onglet that comes from the extreme ends of the thoracic and abdominal cavities. It consists of two muscles separated by a layer of connective tissue.
The onglet has long fibres and when fried or grilled rare it is tender, with a slightly chewy consistency and also a tremendous amount of flavour. At its best it is arguably the juiciest and tastiest cut of beef I have ever tasted.
Mateu has two pieces of onglet available every time he orders a full side of beef. He butchers it himself, so he is able to extract the onglet, which he usually puts aside for one of his regular Mallorcan customers, some of whom know it by another name.
On a few occasions in the recent past, I have come across a Mallorcan cut called ‘floquet’: no one has ever been able to tell me the Spanish word for this piece of meat. When I asked Mateu more than a year ago, he didn’t know the Spanish word, either — but he put me right in the picture by announcing: “It’s the onglet.”
The onglet, which Mateu sells at €15.90 a kilo, is one of three French cuts the average buyer seldom comes across — even in France. That’s because they are small cuts and rather than sell them the butcher takes them home for himself — which is why the French call them ‘la part du boucher’, or the butcher’s piece.
One is the araignée (the spider) on the hindquarter of sirloin, and another is the poire (the pear), a round muscle on the inside of the rump steak. The third one is the onglet.
Even Mateu doesn’t have access to the araignée or the poire because they are essential parts of popular Spanish cuts of steak — if they were removed those cuts wouldn’t exist. If you know what you are looking for, you can see the araignée and the poire on Spanish cuts of frying steak.
In the old days you never saw an onglet on the menu of French restaurants, not even the little bistros in Les Halles, the former gigantic central market that Zola called ‘the belly of Paris’, because that was where all foodstuffs had to pass before being sent to shops and suppliers all over the city and surrounding areas.
You never see recipes for onglet in French cookbooks, although if there’s a drawing of cow showing all the different cuts, then the onglet will always be marked.
A few years ago I saw a recipe in a French food magazine that was illustrated with a picture. On this occasion the onglet was served with Belgian endives flavoured with curry. That is a total sacrilege.
The onglet is such a rare and special cut of meat that when you finally find one you don’t want to start messing about with vegetables cooked with curry powder. When meat tastes as delicious as onglet, any overpowering flavours should be completely shunned.
A piece of onglet needs only to be done a la plancha or in an extremely hot cast iron frying pan, over a high heat and for a very short time. Serve it with some chips straight from the deep-fryer and a simple salad made with cogollo lettuces (baby gems), tomatoes, a little white onion (cebolla blanca), some black pansides olives and a few capers. Any Ribera del Duero or Rioja red that doesn’t cost more than €10 (shop price) will be an ideal wine.
The picture of the sliced onglet on today’s page was one of the best I’ve ever had. Mateu waited until he had a large onglet and we took it to the restaurant on the first floor of Mercat’ d’Olivar where customers can take their own fish and steaks to be done a la plancha.
The cooking time was nicely calculated and the meat was beautifully pink, juicy and flavourful. I sent that picture to an old French girlfriend and she wrote back asking how she could get her onglets to look like that. The answer was simple: a large piece of onglet with a uniform surface, a very hot plancha and a short cooking time. It’s a recipe that always works.
Mateu has other cuts of beef, including Angus steaks and stewing meats that come from animals bred on the island. The babilla cut (€14.95) is situated above the thigh muscle, so the upper part doesn’t have much connective tissue and is tender enough for frying. The lower part isn’t so tender and is best for stews and casseroles. The whole piece can be roasted.
Another Spanish cut is the contra (€10.90 per kilo) which is at the top of the thigh muscle. This is a very good looking piece of meat but it isn’t very suitable for frying and its lack of fat means it’s not a good choice for stewing.
But it can be larded internally and slowly roasted in the oven. Done like that it is particularly delicious when cold and sliced thinly.
The redondo cut, which costs €15.95 a kilo, is very popular in Mallorca. A cylindrical piece from the rear of the animal, it has a dense muscular tissue and is almost completely lacking in visible fat, making it rather dry.
Mallorcan housewives usually lard it internally with fatty bacon or ham, before baking it and serving it with a sauce. If the redondo comes from a young animal, it can be cut into slices, breadcrumbed and fried.
Flank with the bone, called carne con hueso, is good for hot pots or making stock and costs €5.90 a kilo.
At the top end of the market, the Angus entrecôte costs € 21.95 a kilo. Most people buy slices and do them a la plancha but some prefer to get a whole piece and roast it rare in the oven.
Another good buy is ox cheek (€12.90 a kilo), called carrillada or carrillera in Spanish. When gently simmered in red wine it becomes butter-soft tender and nicely gelatinous. This is a superb meat, but the majority of housewives have yet to discover it.
Fillet steak, called solomillo de ternera in Spanish, has always been a favourite cut for most people because it is always very tender. For the busy housewife cooking for her family at the weekend, or on birthdays and anniversaries, fillets are a sure way to a successful meal. Mateu sells sliced fillets at €42 a kilo, and €39 per kilo for a whole one.
But even on ordinary weekdays, for many housewives cooking for two, a fillet steak is the ideal choice for a quick meal. A180 grs fillet, a normal size for most of us, costs about €8. Add 50 centimos for a lettuce and tomato salad and another 50 centimos for some chips and the cost for two would be around €18 — the price of a menú del día in some restaurants in the centre of Palma .
And it’s also a cheaper way of eating than buying dishes from the many prepared food places around town.
Red meat connoisseurs would always prefer an entrecôte to a fillet steak because it is much more flavourful. Red meat lovers value taste and texture above tenderness.
But those who don’t have much time for cooking are less likely to make disastrous mistakes with fillets: an overdone entrecôte will dry out and be on the tough side, but an overcooked fillet will remain tender, although somewhat dry.
If fillet steaks are cut thick they will always be a success even when simply thrown into a frying pan or popped under a hot grill for two minutes on each side.
It helps if the meat is of an even pinkness from top to bottom, a degree of doneness that needs a little practice. But it is easily achieved with a bit of observation and temperature control.
It is worth achieving because a succulent pink fillet steak with some chips and a simple lettuce and tomato salad is a delightful meal. And it’s quick.
If money is no problem, you can serve the fillet with a couple of the wild mushrooms that are usually available at the Montiel stall at the Mercat d’Olivar. With these mushrooms, stir-fried over a high heat for short time, the fillet steak with the french fries and the salad suddenly becomes a luxury dish suitable for any special occasion.
Most real connoisseurs of red meat do not want cooks messing around with high quality steaks of any kind, although the pan juices are always acceptable.
But if you prefer a sauce, an easy one can be made by pouring into the frying pan some alcohol of your choice (brandy, whisky, port, madeira) and stirring it vigorously over a high heat to dissolve the caramelised juices of the meat and to burn off the alcohol. The result is a scrummy silky sauce.
A more elaborate sauce for special occasions can be made with a small tin of good pâté. At its simplest this well known dish is made by melting butter in a preheated cast iron frying pan and searing thick fillet steaks over an extremely high heat for one minute on each side.
Remove the steaks, add a little more butter to the frying pan as well a small tin of good quality French duck or goose foie gras. Mash the pâté with a fork until it combines with the butter and becomes a thick paste and then stir in some alcohol of your choice. As this dish is of Italian origin, marsala is a good option but I have also used dry or sweet sherry and both have worked beautifully.
Bring the sauce to a nice simmer and cook it for a couple of minutes and then return the fillets to the frying pan. Warm a glass of brandy in a small saucepan or soup ladle, set it alight, and pour it over the steaks.
Shake the frying pan to spread the flames and keep them going for as long as possible. When the flames die out the steaks will be of a good pink colour. I serve this dish with three puréed vegetables, choosing from potatoes, carrots, turnip, pumpkin, spinach or parsnips.
The success of the sauce, which should be thick and creamy, depends very much on a tin of good French foie gras. One costing €1.50 from the supermarket won’t do. It also helps to use on of the better brandies. I usually do this dish, which is based on filleto Casanova in Elizabeth David’s Italian Food, during one of the 12 days of Christmas when I have some good sherry and brandy at hand.
When making a meal that features fillet steak, most of us do as I have done until now: we choose dishes in which slices of fillets are grilled or fried. But for those important meals when six people are at table, we mustn’t forget about the possibility of roasting a whole fillet that is sliced at table. It makes a splendid festive dish for those very special occasions.