I walked into the kitchen today and found my wife engaging in the primitive practice of pounding on a slab of round steak with the edge of a saucer. Every so often she would pause and sprinkle flour over the meat, then savagely attack it with the saucer again. I have witnessed this strange behavior for so many years, first by my mother and then by my wife, and I have generally taken it for granted. But suddenly it struck me as so Neanderthal that I should maybe ask some questions. But questioning someone who is pounding meat with a saucer can be dangerous. When my mother used to do it she had that same fierce look on her face that she had when killing a snake with a hoe. One learns to address beef pounders very humbly and gently because they are liable to be in a bad mood from having to do such base work. In fact, one of my millions of theories about the human race is that people who decide to pound beef with a saucer are already in a bad mood and are taking it out on the poor round steak.
“Honey, shouldn’t I be doing that?”
Cold stare. “No, you won’t do it right. Go out and bring in some potatoes if you want to help.”
I don’t want to do that either. “Why don’t you use the regular metal meat tenderizer?”
Even colder stare. “That thing doesn’t do the job. And the flour plugs up the teeth. Go get some potatoes out of the pit.”
Thus it shall always be.
I like to talk about pounded round steak in this holiday season of eating high on the hog—or cow— mostly because I love the stuff, and when Carol turns it into Swiss steak with onions and tomato sauce and all sorts of mysteries out of the herb cabinet, this lowly kind of cheap meat tastes as good to me as the best prime Porterhouse steak in Omaha.
As all of you know, round steak comes off the rump of a beef steer and can be as tough as old shoe leather. With the smithereens beaten out of it with a saucer, it becomes quite tender and with the magic of flour broiled into it along with herbs and seasoning, it loses all that mousey taste that untreated round steak sometimes possesses. When we were first married, we ate lots of Swiss steak because it was cheap and we were poor. The fact that I love the stuff is just another instance of how being poor does not have to be all that bad.
But the main reason I like to talk about pounding beef is that it makes a good argument against those who think the whole secret of a luscious steak is the way the steer is fed. Not so, I say. The real origin of good taste is the kitchen, not the barn. I have no patience anymore with those gourmets who say that juicy prime steaks from steers stuffed with corn are far superior to lowly grass-fed round steak. The cost of that prime steak stuffed with corn is so much greater to the environment and perhaps to health that only the ultra rich may be able to afford it in the future. Munching on savory, tender. cheap Swiss steak, one gains enough courage to say something blasphemous: Baloney to the supremacy of corn-fed T-bones.
Come to think of it, fried baloney is pretty good too.