Although I don’t eat a great deal of red meat, over the past 55 years or so I have had the pleasure of cutting into some of the world’s finest entrecôtes and other steaks, including the wagyu from Japan — the one that comes speckled with pinpoints of fat and is the world’s most expensive beef.
But last week I had what was most definitely my best ever piece of red meat. It was a chuletón, the thick chop from a standing rib roast with a piece of the bone to add extra succulence.
It was my first ever Basque chuletón and what made it so very special wasn’t just the incredibly tender and flavour-packed red flesh done very pink, it was the puffy silky fat.
I know from past experience that the fat on some breeds of beef, as well as that on the best Iberian cured ham, are very special indeed.
But this fat was the most luscious I have ever tasted. And it was the fat that helped to make this chuletón a supreme epicurean experience that was worth a 10.
Taberna Bilbo cook-owner Maxi Goikotxea was born in Uruguay but he comes from pure Basque stock (his father, mother and grandmother are Basque) and although he imports some of his beef from Uruguay (the entrecôte I wrote about last year) he wanted his menu to feature the Basque chuletón.
He gets them from his brother-in-law who is a butcher in Bilbao, and he keeps them in the special ageing room of a butcher-friend in Palma who cuts them to order when Maxi needs them.
A mere glance at this chuletón was enough to tell us that it would be a fine one: it was well and truly marbled with fat. But the final proof is always in the tasting —and that’s when the hand and the eye of the cook take over.
Maxi works with beef he knows and he is also well aware that the fat distributed throughout a chuletón keeps the meat lubricated while enhancing its taste — if he applies the heat properly.
Maxi gave the chuletón the degree of heat it needed (and for the correct length of time) to make the chemical changes that turned juices and sugars into a crust of intense flavour.
Basque beef is among the world’s finest and the Basques are the greatest connoisseurs of the chuletón. So it’s best to have a chuletón from an animal bred in the Basque Country, butchered by a Basque, cooked by a Basque and with a red from a Basque winery. We even had that wine, as you can read next door.
When you have a chuletón at a restaurant where the cook is a Basque you will always be eating an excellent one. But even when we are dealing with excellence, there are different levels. With the Basque chuletón at Taberna Bilbo everything fell into place nicely and the end result was the finest piece of red meat I have ever had. The most surprising thing about this Basque chuletón was the fat: I had never thought fat could be as memorable as this. I look forward to the next one. I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again. There’s a lot of eating in a 1.2 kilo chuletón and before we even get to the halfway stage, the french fries are half cold. So it makes sense to serve the french fries in two lots. That way we end up eating hot fries with the last of the meat. A chuletón like this supreme version deserves piping hot fries from start to finish.
Taberna Bilbo, La Rambla, Palma (Tel:871-533713). Open from Thursday to Monday. Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. This is the kind of place that can fill up on any day of the week so it’s always best to book a table. They serve Basque pintxos (done by a Basque) from about 8pm.
There is no item-by-item bill this week. With a 1.2 kilo chuletón at €54 on the menu there was no question (for us) of even having the lightest starter and we kept our appetite for tackling the chuletón. It’s more than enough for two. And Maxi had allowed us to bring a 2007 bottle of Artadi Pagos Viejos, so there was nothing to pay for drinks. And the price of the french fries is included in the €54.