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The Recipe Vault #7: Swiss Steak

Going through my mom’s vast collection of hand-written recipes, I came across one for what she called Scrumptious Swiss Steak (it was).  I remember my mom’s Swiss Steak very well, and how the braising meat and other ingredients created a wonderful and comforting aroma throughout the house.

I don’t know why Swiss Steak is called Swiss Steak. I’m pretty sure it’s got nothing to do with Switzerland. A Google search suggested there is a kitchen technique known as Swissing in which you pound a chunk of tough beef before braising in an effort to tenderize it. Who knew? This doesn’t make much sense to me, since the slow cooking of meat in itself creates tender cuts regardless of what you might do to it first. I’m certain Mom didn’t do anything like that for her Swiss Steak.

One of the ingredients Mom listed in this recipe is chili sauce. This is a condiment she made and jarred just about every year. It was a sweet sauce which I enjoyed from time to time, but I can’t recall what we did with the many jars of the stuff Mom would can. One of the great things about braises is that you can put whatever you want in the cooking liquid to create any flavour character you feel like.

I like braises. I still find the wonderful aroma intoxicating, and it makes the most of even the toughest cuts of meat. There was a time those tough cuts were inexpensive but that doesn’t seem to hold true in today’s supermarkets. Cuts like short ribs or flank steak, for instance, can be as expensive as the more tender cuts.

Today I don’t think of braises in terms of particular recipes. There are lots of ways to go. I like to make braises in a Dutch oven. I don’t use a slow cooker. The reason is that with a Dutch oven I can brown the meat in the same pot I braise it in and I think that’s an important step in building up flavours. The other thing I think about is how I’m going to finish the braise and make the cooking liquid into an amazing sauce. Often I’ll skim any fat from the surface and reduce the liquid by something like half, which usually takes about 20 minutes simmering the sauce with no lid.

Some of these recipes my mom collected – and this is one of them – are like paper time machines. They transport me back to the bungalow I grew up in and my mom’s tasty family cooking.


  1. Salvelinas Fontinalis

    There is a reason why flank steak and soup bones are outrageously expensive. Once upon a time grocery stores had meat departments with a real butcher and some meat cutters. They would buy a side of beef and cut it into consumer cuts. The objective was to make a profit in total on that side of beef. They would cut steaks and roasts. They would grind the parts that didnt sell very well into hamburger and life was good. There was waste. Bones, fat suitable for bird seed and sometimes more hamburger than they could sell. They were happy to just give fat and bones to their customers so they didnt have to pay to dispose of them. There were some cuts which they could sell if the price was low enough and flank steak was part of that group.

    Then everything changed. Huge meat packing operations opened and these packers offered to sell packaged meat to stores for less money than it cost to cut the meat themselves. The grocery stores signed up in a hurry and fired their meat cutters. Suddenly both the meat cutting factory and the grocery had to make a big profit from that same side of beef. The stores benefited because they only had to order what they thought they could sell. No more waste. This approach had consequences. The stores no longer had soup bones to give away to customers. Oh they could get soup bones if they wanted to sell them but they suddenly had to order them from the factory and they had to pay for them. If they paid for bones they had to sell bones at a profit or bones were not getting space in the display cooler so now bones cost $4 a pound for an item that was free. Most folks wont pay for bones so stores simply quit ordering them. Pretty much the same thing happened for cuts like flank steak. That was no longer a cut they sold for whatever they could get because they had to get rid of them. Now they have to order flank steak and pay whatever the factory demands and they mark it up with their usual healthy markup. Flank steak went from being a cheap cut of meat to a specialty item and if you wanted flank steak you were going to pay dearly or the store wouldnt stock the item. Brisket and short ribs and other cuts fell into this same routine. Oh, there are some groceries that carry some of these less popular cuts but generally it is because they have some customers that insist on having them rather than because they have an urge to offer all the cuts of meat. The process has become pretty slick. A grocer can order his steaks cut, put on a foam tray, wrapped, and pre-priced on a store label. Looks like that steak was fresh cut in the back room but it wasnt. All the store has to do is hire some cheap labor to open the case and plunk the trays into the display cooler.

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