Food & Drink

Why fillet steak is for wimps

Short ribs, marrow, lamb, a perfectly chargrilled burger. It’s not our fault, it’s nature. Simply put, the smell of fire makes humans crave meat. The theory set out in a book called Catching Fire by Professor Richard Wrangham is that cooked meat is the missing link between ape and man. Because when we started cooking meat, about a million years after we discovered fire, it meant our bodies could break the tissue down faster, so our digestive tracts shrunk and brains received more nourishment.

That’s the historical explanation, but my fascination goes deeper. People say fish is harder to cook, but that’s twaddle. Meat is totally different. The taste depends on the type of animal, the age, the activity, sometimes the sex, and most importantly, where it came from.

I’m often asked what my last supper would be. As a carnivore, the manliest answer would be a bollock. A beef testicle. But would I want my final meal to basically be a plate of balls? No. I'm tempted to say onglet. It’s an unheralded cut – the feathered skirt just inside the ribcage – that’s traditionally cooked blue. It’s quite chewy but generally, the tougher the meat, the bigger the flavour.

Fillet steak? That’s just wimping out. It’s a quiche-eater’s piece of beef. You eat it because you don’t want to do any chewing; because it doesn't challenge you in any way.

Of course, if you want to go really manly it would be chitlins – the poo shoot. Now that puts hairs on your chest.

Raw reindeer would be an interesting choice. I once ate an almost-still-beating muscle and a bit of the warm raw kidney, but I can’t say I’d want reindeer kneecap to be the last thing I ever tasted.

Ribs? Cooked for 72 hours at just under 56 degrees to activate the enzyme that retains all the moisture? Now you’re talking. And of course, you can’t be a true carnivore unless you agree that marrowbone is fabulous. I used to cook it in a risotto with sustainable foie gras and cock’s comb (the chicken’s crown).

But, all considered, it would have to be a chargrilled burger made from sirloin and brisket, which has this soft, creamy fat. I’d want the outside to be charred and crispy and the inside to be juicy and pink – the anthropological reason being that if you have a crust on the meat, the chewing generates saliva, which makes your mouth water and increases enjoyment.

And on that happy note, I’ve got a pig’s head to boil – 6-8 hours, peel the face off, cut round the eyes, mind your fingers on the teeth and sauté the meat – delicious. Enjoy!

Heston’s new Channel 4 series Heston’s Fantastical Food starts on 6 November at 9pm

Images: Rex

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