I was getting out of bed yesterday morning, pondering what I might try this year to tenderize the cube steak in my after-Christmas cube steak sandwich. As I’ve mentioned before, I got into this because cube steaks were kind of a special thing my dad made now and then: just fry them up and put them on a roll with cheese. He’d add other stuff too, but for me it was just the meat and cheese. And nowadays, during the Christmas break, my sandwich is teriyaki cube steak on a Kaiser roll, with Muenster and mozzarella, bacon, and freshly sauteed mushrooms. And even the bacon is a fairly recent addition.
Anyway last year because of my tooth being all messed up—I have an implant now so it’s all good—I was looking for ways to tenderize the cube steak more because honestly it’s always had a little problem with some connective tissue sticking around after cooking, and in a sandwich that’s not the greatest thing. So yesterday my brain and I had a little conversation.
Me: Is it worth trying the milk soak again this year? It seemed to work the first time but the second one, not so much.
Brain: Well that is what they do in diners, right? Where a cube steak is used for chicken-fried steak? They use milk or buttermilk. Of course they’re also eating it with a knife and fork.
Me: Right, so the issue with trying to cut the meat with your teeth so you don’t pull it all out of the roll is off the table there. But what about for me?
Brain: Hmm… Diners. Steak. Texture. I wonder…
Me: What are you thinking?
Brain: Consider this: What do you want out of this tenderizing process, really?
Me: I want a nice soft cube steak that has a meaty mouth feel but won’t have bits of connective tissue I need to bite through.
Brain: Right. You want your beef easier to chew. Also you want the marinade to penetrate better.
Me: Oh right. I forgot I wanted that too. So what’s the plan?
Brain: Think about what else a good diner is known for. Besides breakfast.
Me: With cube steaks? I have no idea.
Brain: You want your beef to have a nice texture. You don’t want to worry about connective tissue. You want it to be easy to marinate. So…
Me: We’ve been over that. But cube steaks in a diner are cut with a knife, not your teeth. They’re more tender than a regular steak, but they still need a knife.
Brain: More tender why?
Me: Because they’ve been through a machine that cuts a lot of the connective tissue. Also it increases the surface area of the meat a little bit.
Brain: Getting warmer…
Me: It’s about as much mechanical alteration as you can make to a steak without going for a full grind. But if you ground the meat, then you’d have… Wait a second. Are you talking about a hamburger?
Brain: Ding ding ding ding ding!
Me: But that’s not a cube steak at all! And I can’t grill in the winter anyway.
Brain: It’s not about the cube steak, stupid. It’s about the meat. You’ve tried sous vide, you’ve tried soaking in milk, you’ve tried a million things. Ultimately none of them have performed any better than marinating the steak overnight in teriyaki sauce, patting it dry, and throwing it on the broiler pan.
Me: That pan is a pain to clean.
Brain: Stick with me. All you really care about is the flavor and texture, right? A hamburger won’t cook any differently than a cube steak would, and at most you only want a quarter to a third of a pound. So why not make a hamburger with ground beef yourself, mix teriyaki sauce right in when you do it, and then cook the thing like you would a cube steak?
Me: Because it’s not a cube steak!
Brain: You don’t care about that and you know it. Basically the only difference between your sandwich and an awesome bacon mushroom cheeseburger is it’s not a burger. So just make it a burger already. The fat ratio in the meat will be better, you won’t have to worry about the meat trying to stay in one piece, and it’ll take the marinade beautifully. Plus you don’t have to worry about the cube steak being oblong and not fitting well on the roll because it’ll be round.
Now the only problem with my brain’s plan is that ground beef is typically sold by the pound, and being honest I really only plan to make two sandwiches at a quarter pound each. Still, my brain has a point.
It would even be sensible to buy pre-made patties, if Wegmans has any in the winter, and just give them more time to marinate. But I do think making my own would result in a superior flavor and texture, so I think that’s what I’ll have to do.
No, it’s not a cube steak. But if the soul of my favorite sandwich is intact, do I care?