Friday, September 23, 2011

BEEF CUTS - Fraldinha (Flank Steak)

#15 - Fraldinha (Flank Steak)
One of the things that we try to do from time to time here on Flavors of Brazil is sort out the different cuts of beef that one finds in Brazilian butcher shops and supermarkets when one is used to beef cut the way the do in North America or Europe. One the beef has been slaughtered, it's normally cut into a variety of cuts before it's sold to the consumer - cuts with different characteristics, different quality and different price points - whether in Brazil or elsewhere. But there are many ways to divide a side of beef, so the traditional cuts in one culture don't always correspond to the cuts in another. Brazilian butchers might make a cut just "here" while their colleagues in the Northern Hemisphere might prefer to make a cut just "there." The result? Confusion for the trans-border shopper, confusion for diners reading restaurant menus, and problems for recipe translators.

One cut that is very simple to translate, though, is the one known in North America as flank steak. This piece of beef, cut from abdominal muscles along the side of the animal behind the ribs - from the flank as it were-  is cut just the same way in Brazil as it is elsewhere. In Brazil the cut is known as fraldinha. Fraldinha is the diminuitive for fralda, a word that means flap, lappet or (unfortunately) diaper in Portuguese. A fraldinha, therefore, is a small flap or a small diaper. Because  Flavors of Brazil is a culinary blog, let's go with small flap, please.

Whether it's a flank steak or a fraldinha, this cut is a very useful piece of beef, indeed. It is long and thin and because it comes from a very muscular part of the animal is full of connective tissue. Because of this tissue it is usually cut across the grain when it is cooked quickly, as in grilling or in frying. This is piece known on restaurant menus as London Broil. It can also be successfully braised or cooked slowly in liquid and in those cases cutting across the grain is not so essential, as the meat becomes tender during the long cooking process.

Flank steak is used extensively in Chinese cooking, where it is the beef normally used in stir-fries and in Mexican cooking. A true fajita is made with flank steak and nothing else. Because of it's long and thin shape it can be stuffed and rolled, as is done with the Argentinian matambre.

Next up on Flavors of Brazil, a traditional recipe for this delicious and economical cut of beef.

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