My go-to guidebook, the Food Lover’s Companion, describes top round as the most tender portion of the round. Which doesn’t really clear things up, but I’ve decided to forge ahead anyway and cook the one-pound steak as our farmer Scott Meyers recommends, in a stir-fry. As usual, the steak is rich and beautifully colored, with fine marbling. The surprise is that the knife cuts it like it’s tenderloin. In fact, the meat’s so silky that I entertain the idea of grilling the remaining chunk before deciding there’s only enough for what we’re cooking tonight, a stir-fry with ginger and fermented black beans. The beef marinates briefly while I chop Tuscan kale and broccoli florets from Willie Green’s Organic Farm, plus mushrooms, red pepper, and asparagus that’s clearly marked as ‘grown in Mexico’.
The cooking is a snap. The beef browns very quickly in the sizzling beans and ginger, and I pull the pan off the heat just as soon as a slice starts to look taut. The meal is mostly successful. There are a few tough slices, thicker pieces that I clumsily cut along the grain. There are also plenty of thin pieces that come out perfectly tender and juicy, that have retained a hit of marinade. The beef has superb flavor and the kale fortifies the dish with a green heartiness that’s just right.
We’re getting to be downright Pavlovian about this beef.
More on top round: Julia Child and Elizabeth David use chunky pieces of this cut for braises, stews, and daube de boeuf. Scott Meyers recommends it for shabu shabu, the Japanese dish in which paper-thin slices of beef are cooked at the table in a boiling pot of broth and noodles. Top round is also used commonly in stir-fries; be aware that it’s delicate meat, as Scott notes on his cheat sheet, and cooks really fast. Essentials of Grilling suggests that the round is the one part of the cow that doesn’t have a steak cut suitable for grilling, though an Internet search yields several preparations for top round steak marinated overnight, grilled, and cut thinly against the grain. I guess it depends how badly you want steak.
Recipe: Chinese marinade for top round steak (for use in stir-fry)
1 lb top round steak / 1 tbls minced ginger / 1 tsp minced garlic / 2 tbls oyster sauce / 1 tbls soy sauce / dash sesame oil / 1 tsp cornstarch /2 tsp Shao Xing wine / ½ tsp sugar / ground pepper to taste
Slice steak thinly, against grain, and mix thoroughly with remaining ingredients. Marinate for 20-30 minutes prior to frying.