How to make a tough cut of beef more palatable is an age-old culinary conundrum. Round, chuck and other tough steaks are often tenderized via pounding with a mallet or cubing machine. Pounding the meat into a thin cutlet tenderizes it and leaves square imprints on the surface -- hence the name "cube steak." If you want to make your cube steak even more tender, a few key marinade ingredients can do the trick, as can preparing it with a slow, wet cooking method like braising. These options aren't complicated, but they do extend your prep or cooking time.
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Submerse the cube steak in milk, buttermilk or yogurt in a non-reactive dish for up to four hours, turning it once halfway through. These dairy ingredients have tenderizing enzymes while being relatively low in acids that break down muscle fibers and can make your meat mushy. Cover the dish and keep it in the refrigerator.
Soak the cube steak in a marinade made with pineapple juice as an alternative to dairy products. Use a covered, non-reactive dish and refrigerate the marinating meat. Stir in a bit of soy sauce to balance the sweetness of the fruit juice, along with seasonings like freshly cracked black pepper or rosemary. Because this is a highly acidic marinade and a thin cut of beef, marinate only for about an hour, flipping the meat over after about 30 minutes.
Include raw fruit with tenderizing enzymes in a marinade, or simply lay slices over the cube steak. Pineapple is one option, and papaya, kiwifruit, fig and honeydew are others. Again, place the food in a non-reactive dish, keep it in the refrigerator and limit marination to about one hour, or two if you're only using slices of fruit; turn the meat over halfway through to ensure both sides tenderize.
Braise cube steak to make it more tender if you don't want to marinate it. Sear it in cooking oil in a Dutch oven on the stove over medium-high heat, then take it out and add about 1/2 inch of beer, red wine or another braising liquid to the pan, along with desired aromatics, herbs and spices. Deglaze the pan after adding the liquid by scraping up the browned bits stuck to the bottom and sides with a spatula. These caramelized remnants add lots of flavor to the preparation. Put the beef back in, bring the liquid to a boil and cover the Dutch oven. Simmer the cube steak for about 45 minutes in a 325-degree Fahrenheit oven, turning it once halfway through.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- The New York Times: Turning to Cube Steak, and Back to Childhood
- PBS: Learn Three Techniques for Tenderizing Meat
- Cooking Light: Cooking Class -- Marinating
- Cooking Light: How to Marinate Meat
- Fine Cooking: Marinades Add Flavor but Don't Always Tenderize
- Esquire: How to Braise
- Bon Appetit: Four Simple Rules for Braising Anything
- Real Simple: Pineapple-Marinated Steak with Spicy Potatoes and Green Beans