Like most visitors to Argentina, when I was there, I ate a lot of steak-way more than I normally consume, in fact. Beef eating is a bit like a national sport in Argentina. According to the Washington Post, Argentina boasts the highest beef consumption in the world: 140 pounds a year per person, which is about 50 percent more than the average American eats. When you're devouring all this meat you can't help but start to think about it, and I found myself wondering how Argentinean beef compares to American beef. As far as I can tell, there are three major differences: what the cows eat; how long the meat is aged; and how it is cooked.
Unlike here, Argentina 's beef predominantly comes from grass-fed cows (grass-fed beef is available in the U.S., but grain-fed beef is more common). Folks can debate the flavor and texture of grass-fed and grain-fed beef, but it's difficult to dispute the health benefits of choosing the former-for more specifics, check out a post on the topic from Epicurious blogger and Iowa farmer Ethan Book. Grass-feeding is also gentler on cows (because they are eating their natural diet, grass-fed cows don't typically require supplements, hormones, or antibiotics) and the environment (because growing grass usually requires less energy and pesticides than growing grain).
As I mentioned, when it comes to taste there is some debate. Detractors argue that grass-fed beef's lower fat content makes for tough, chewy meat with less flavor, while proponents point to its increased beefiness. Grain-fed beef tends to have a more consistent taste, whereas the flavor profile of grass-fed varies based on the land where the cattle graze, their breed, and the time of year.
In the U.S., aged beef is the gold standard. In fact, it's not uncommon for restaurant menus to specify just how long different steaks have been dry-aged (beef can also be wet-aged, but dry-aging is preferable). According to Richard J. Epley of the University of Minnesota Extension, most retail beef is aged five to seven days, while most restaurants serve beef aged 14 to 21 days. The dry-aging process is said to make meat more tender and more flavorful.
In Argentina, beef is consumed within days of slaughter. The lack of aging can make for a chewier, tougher steak, but Argentineans make up for this by slowly and thoroughly cooking their meat. This leads me to the third major difference between American and Argentinean beef: how it is cooked.
Most of the serious steak lovers I know prefer their meat rare, medium rare, or medium, but in Argentina , steak is typically served well done. In my experience, "jugoso" (translation: "juicy") will get you a medium steak, while "muy jugoso" or even "muy, muy jugoso" ("very juicy" and "very, very juicy") will deliver something more akin to medium rare. I'm not sure why Argentineans favor such thoroughly cooked meat. Some folks attribute it to the fact that the beef isn't aged, which sounds like a reasonable explanation, but I imagine it's also just a personal preference based on experience.
When it comes to my own meat preferences, I'm torn. I'm always in favor of grass-fed beef, but even though I like the taste, my choice is due more to the health, safety, and environmental benefits than the actual flavor. And even though I've spent my life eating aged, medium-rare steak, I enjoyed several nonaged, medium steaks in Argentina. In general, I think it all really just depends on what you're used to and what you've come to prefer. What are your steak preferences? And can you explain them?
Lauren Salkeld is an Assistant Editor at Epicurious.com. She has also worked at Bon Appétit, Chocolatier, and Pastry Art & Design magazines. She is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute's Classic Pastry Arts Program and has worked for New York 's Bruno Bakery and at the DeGustibus Cooking School , as well as the Houghton Mifflin corporation. Her favorite foods include oysters, bacon, grilled cheese, mangos, and ice cream; she detests fennel.
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