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The term “minute steak” is a generic phrase that covers pretty much any very thin cut of beef, and it gets its name from how quickly it cooks. Most people are able to bring this sort of steak from the butcher to the table in only a matter of minutes. Different butchers tend to have slightly different definitions of what exactly this cut is, though; in most cases it is made up of round steak or sirloin, but just about any boneless beef can be used. Sometimes butchers will cut the meat very thinly to begin with, but it is also common to find steaks that have been pounded down. Meat prepared this way is often sold as “cube steak,” a reference to the square-shaped indentations most commercial tenderizers leave behind.
Type of Steak and Cut
Minute steaks are usually classified more by their shape and size than by where they come from on the animal. People typically buy these cuts when they are looking for a quick meal or for something that will cook evenly without requiring much attention or care. As a result, butchers often take some liberties when it comes to preparing them. So long as they are boneless and thin, they can typically be sold under the “minute steak” name.
These cuts tend to be less expensive by weight than other steaks in part because they aren’t always made from top quality beef, or because they are made from scraps that might not otherwise be marketable. A butcher who has more sirloin steaks than he thinks he will sell may pound a few of them flat and advertise them with the “minute” name, for instance, and may be able to get two or three steaks from each original cut. In many places, butchers will also pound meat to order, essentially creating minute steaks from beef that might have otherwise been sold differently.
Tenderizing the Meat
Butchers usually use a tenderizer or meat mallet to get a uniform thickness. Some steaks are sliced very thin during butchering, but this is relatively uncommon. Most of the “minute” cuts for sale in supermarkets or specialty shops have been pounded flat after the initial butchering.
The meat can be pounded flat on a steak-by-steak basis, usually with a special meat mallet, but this can be very time consuming. It is a good way for cooks to create their own fast-cooking meal, but this isn’t usually very efficient for retailers who have a lot to do at once. Most of the cuts available commercially have been tenderized with professional-grade machines that pound a lot of meat at the same time with a series of metal blades and plates. These machines typically leave a cube-like, almost checkered indentation. Many people know this steak as “cube steak” as a result, and it is sometimes sold under that name, too.
The main reason this meat is pounded thin is so that it will cook quickly, but the pounding also helps it retain its flavor and makes it easy enough to cut with just a fork in most cases. Scoring and pounding usually helps the juices release more easily during cooking, too, which keeps the meat relatively moist and supple when it arrives at the dinner table.
This type of meat is almost always pan-fried, usually in a skillet over medium or medium-high heat. Many cooks season it lightly with salt and pepper, but it can also be marinated in a variety of juices or sauces. Pre-heating the skillet is one of the best ways to ensure even heat distribution, and the steak usually only needs a minute or so on each side. This cut can also be baked or broiled, but these preparations usually take a bit longer and risk resulting in tougher, chewier meat. The shorter the cooking time, the better the end result in most cases.
Basic skillet-cooked steak is one of the most common preparations for this type of meat, but there are a number of alternatives. “Chicken fried steak,” a dish that is popular in many parts of the southern U.S., usually works best with minute steak, for instance; the meat can also be cut into strips and served in sandwiches, on salads, or in tings like fajitas. Most cooks find this cut to be particularly versatile.
It can be difficult to nail down the specific nutritional or caloric information for minute steak since so much depends on where exactly they meat came from. Fattier tissues tend to have different compositions from leaner fibers, for instance. A lot also depends on cooking preparation and method. Pan-frying in butter or marinating in rich sauces can add a lot of calories to what might have otherwise been a relatively healthful dish. In general, though, all versions are high in iron and are good sources of protein no matter how they were prepared.