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No Beef with Spanish Beef

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#1 docsconz

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Posted 15 January 2008 - 01:23 PM

˙In this article from Men's Vogue, Jeffrey Steingarten says the best steak he has ever eaten was in Spain. His quest started during a trip to the basque region when he first had grilled buey or ox ( a castrated male greater than 4 years of age).

Three years ago, my wife and I were driving around Basque country in northern Spain, and we stopped at an asador, a restaurant specializing in grilling and roasting meat over aromatic wood and charcoal fires. When we had polished off a beautiful chuleta (a chop, which is what the Spanish call a bone-in rib steak), the owner-chef boasted that his meat had come from an eight-year-old buey from the region of Galicia in northwest Spain; the animal had worked all its life and had been fed both grass and grain throughout. As the chef was speaking in Basque and his sous chef was translating into French, I was sure I had misunderstood. And so I spent the next 10 minutes cross-examining him until I became convinced at last that, yes, I had stumbled upon a seriously major and novel gastronomic phenomenon, both revolutionary and earthshaking, and probably outmoded at the same time.


His quest was later aided by two member of the eGullet Society, Pedro and Rogelio.

I read everything I could find, which was nothing, and questioned everyone I could think of. My curiosity mounted into a preoccupation, and then into an obsession. Relief finally arrived a year later in the form of Lydia Itoi, a Japanese-American friend who writes about food and travel for the European edition of Time. Lydia introduced me to two of her Spanish friends who had been to a remarkable rural restaurant named Bodega El Capricho ("The Whim"), which specializes in serving the meat of aged bueyes and even cows. One of them, Pedro Espinosa, is an IT executive who also writes a weekly restaurant review for El Mundo, Spain's second-most-popular newspaper; his friend, Rogelio Enríquez, had blogged about the same restaurant on his own gastronomy site, pistoynopisto.com. Over the following six months we formulated a plan. I would fly from New York to Bilbao, where I would meet up with Pedro. After three days of dining at several of Spain's leading asadores, we would drive most of the way across northern Spain and eat a buey at El Capricho.


Speaking of his meal at El Capricho:

There was a chuleta from a 12-year-old Rubia Gallega ox, then a smaller chop from a 14-year-old Mirandesa, a more diminutive breed. The very apogee was a vast chuletón (a gigantic chuleta) that draped across the platter and onto the table, taken from a massive 16-year-old Rubia Gallega. This was the animal we had been promised weeks before, and it was probably the greatest steak I've ever eaten. It was followed by another small chop from a 15- to 17-year-old Mirandesa. The parade of flesh concluded with an unsuccessful experiment, a chuleta from a cow so old it had probably forgotten its day of birth; the meat of the poor thing had been unable to withstand the 90 days of aging, and its flesh had become mushy.


Those strong words certainly had me salivating, though I have never experienced what they had. Is there corroboration from others here? What kind of experience do people here have eating ox meat either in Spain or elsewhere? Does anyone have any particular recommendations on restaurants other than El Capricho where one can find steak this good? Any thoughts on El Capricho?
John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

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#2 docsconz

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Posted 15 January 2008 - 01:26 PM

BTW, I strongly recommend reading the article. As usual per Steingarten, it is a very informative, entertaining and well written piece.
John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."
- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

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#3 Pablo Carrion

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Posted 16 January 2008 - 12:43 AM

This place is interesting, http://www.elriscal.com/index1.htm
they rear their own oxen, feed them with grain and alcohol, not quite Kobe, but very good. Unfortunately in the restaurant they only offer slices of lomo de buey cooked at the table on hot earthenware plates, so you dont get to have the rib steak, which would probably be delicious.

Bedua also serves very good chuleta http://www.bedua.es/ and so does Epeleta http://www.elanuario...55760/ficha.asp
but then there are so many great asadores up there.

#4 Rogelio

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Posted 16 January 2008 - 01:09 AM

El Capricho is a very idiosyncratic restaurant located in Jimenez de Jamuz, a little village in the middle of nowhere in León. They search working animals from all around the iberian peninsule, mainly Galicia and Portugal. They do sacrifice oxen twice a year, the rest of the year they have old cows from different ages and origins.

This said, the worst part at El Capricho is their cooking technique, they roast the ox ribs over a charcoal grill for a few minutes and then they serve them with an oven heated clay dish so you can finish the cooking on the table. A technicke that doresn't satisfy me at all.

At El Capricho they do have the best product, but the worst technique. One can only imagine what Matías Gorrochategui, Antonio Zaldúa or Bittor Arguinzoniz would have donme with these animals.

Lydia Itoi has also written about this restaurant on Time Magazine, special mention for the pictures illustratig the article.

Similar to El Capricho, with real oxen, though not as older as the ones from León is El Riscal in Carbonero El Mayor another little village in Segovia.
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#5 Pablo Carrion

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Posted 16 January 2008 - 03:31 AM

El Capricho is a very idiosyncratic restaurant located in Jimenez de Jamuz, a little village in the middle of nowhere in León. They search working animals from all around the iberian peninsule, mainly Galicia and Portugal. They do sacrifice oxen twice a year, the rest of the year they have old cows from different ages and origins.

This said, the worst part at El Capricho is their cooking technique, they roast the ox ribs over a charcoal grill for a few minutes and then they serve them with an oven heated clay dish so you can finish the cooking on the table. A technicke that doresn't satisfy me at all.

At El Capricho they do have the best product, but the worst technique. One can only imagine what Matías Gorrochategui, Antonio Zaldúa or Bittor Arguinzoniz would have donme with these animals.

Lydia Itoi has also written about this restaurant on Time Magazine, special mention for the pictures illustratig the article.

Similar to El Capricho, with real oxen, though not as older as the ones from León is El Riscal in Carbonero El Mayor another little village in Segovia.

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I would ban the hot plate concept altogether (just kidding...not!), best way to ruin meat, easiest way to overcook it and end up boiling it, and come out smelling like a greasy spoon...ill take a master grilling it expertly for me over charcoal any day over that.

#6 Rogelio

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Posted 16 January 2008 - 04:56 AM

You're right Pablo, and that's what we did, we took some cooks there: Ramón Ramirez, Sacha, Chicote... Who teached him different ways to cook the meat ten thousand times better that the way he uses. He agreed that this new techniques were much better, but you know how stubborn an old castillian can be, so he keeps serving his superb meat the same awful way than before.
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#7 vserna

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Posted 25 January 2008 - 12:38 PM

Less unique and younger meat, but often outstanding, in several Madrid restaurants led IMHO by the Ansorena brothers at Asador Ansorena and Asador Imanol and also by Julián de Tolosa. Madrid is undoubtedly the Spanish steak capital today.

I personally have strong doubts about the gender of El Capricho's older animals. I haven't seen any working oxen in Spain for decades! I tend to believe that nowadays all the older "oxen" used by restaurants in Spain are really retired milk cows which are fattened for some months or a year before being taken to the abattoir.

Another important development has been the creation of the first Spanish "Nyman Ranch wannabes", led by the Vega Sicilia-owned Valles del Esla, which are providing beef and veal of unprecedented quality (and unprecedented prices, I guess) to top Spanish restaurants and to the homes of beef fanatics.
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#8 Silly Disciple

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Posted 25 January 2008 - 04:08 PM

I personally have strong doubts about the gender of El Capricho's older animals. I haven't seen any working oxen in Spain for decades! I tend to believe that nowadays all the older "oxen" used by restaurants in Spain are really retired milk cows which are fattened for some months or a year before being taken to the abattoir.


Victor,
these are two of the animals that Jose showed us last time we where there, and supossedly being served this month at El Capricho. Whether all his animals are oxen is hard to say, but I would think that some at least are.
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#9 docsconz

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Posted 25 January 2008 - 06:23 PM

Less unique and younger meat, but often outstanding, in several Madrid restaurants led IMHO by the Ansorena brothers at Asador Ansorena and Asador Imanol and also by Julián de Tolosa. Madrid is undoubtedly the Spanish steak capital today.

I personally have strong doubts about the gender of El Capricho's older animals. I haven't seen any working oxen in Spain for decades! I tend to believe that nowadays all the older "oxen" used by restaurants in Spain are really retired milk cows which are fattened for some months or a year before being taken to the abattoir.

Another important development has been the creation of the first Spanish "Nyman Ranch wannabes", led by the Vega Sicilia-owned Valles del Esla, which are providing beef and veal of unprecedented quality (and unprecedented prices, I guess) to top Spanish restaurants and to the homes of beef fanatics.

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So much to eat and so little time. Unfortunately, I can not comment from personal experience vis-a-vis El Capricho's beef or Madrid's position within Spain's beef hierarchy, but I did have some cecina from Valles del Esla last Sunday at Asturianos that was amazingly delicious with wonderful silken texture. It was served with olive oil poured on top of the thinly sliced meat. Before the article mentioned above, I did not give much thought to eating Spanish beef, though I regret not having had the opportunity this week to try any of the steak places mentioned in this discussion. I am afraid that I will have to leave that for my next visit. Victor, have you been to El Capricho and had any of their special oxen steaks? If so, what are your thoughts relative to the quality of the meat irrespective of gender and work history?
John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."
- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

#10 pedro

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Posted 26 January 2008 - 04:49 AM

.....

I personally have strong doubts about the gender of El Capricho's older animals. I haven't seen any working oxen in Spain for decades! I tend to believe that nowadays all the older "oxen" used by restaurants in Spain are really retired milk cows which are fattened for some months or a year before being taken to the abattoir.

.....


El Capricho sources a good part of its oxen from Portugal and some --less and less-- from Galizia, Cantabria and Asturias.

Having tasted in a week steak at Casa Julián in Tolosa, Rekondo, Baserri Maitea, El Capricho, Ansorena and done a comparison of Valle del Esla, Casín Asturiano and Valle del Esla with a steak from El Capricho, the latter was the clear winner.

The best way, however, of become a believer is going there, Víctor. In February they're going to have three different oxen for their Jornadas around oxen, with a menu consisting of oxen dishes. Including steak, of course.
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#11 Pablo Carrion

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Posted 28 January 2008 - 10:37 AM

On Saturday I went back to el Riscal to taste their ox meat again, first as a delicious carpaccio and then sliced quite thinly, across the grain, to cook on the dreaded hot plate. We then tasted another cut, which was slightly thicker and even more tender. The meat looked like the best jamon iberico or kobe, vibrant in colour and very well veined with fat. It was so good that I ate it practically raw.

#12 yonatanbram

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Posted 30 January 2008 - 02:19 AM

pedro, i couldn't find any mention of Rekondo in the article, is this the Rekondo in donostia? can you describe their chuleta in comparison to the others you tasted?

Edited by yonatanbram, 30 January 2008 - 02:20 AM.


#13 pedro

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Posted 30 January 2008 - 06:10 AM

Without mentioning in its name --lost in the editing, probably--, Jeffrey wrote this about it:

At dinner we reverted to the quotidian at an asador just outside of San Sebastián, where we were again served pretty ordinary meat.

The steak was nicely cooked from a technique perspective, but lacked flavor and wasn't well aged, thus coming the greater part of its taste from the grilling rather than from the meat itself.
PedroEspinosa (aka pedro)

#14 GeordieSteve

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Posted 30 January 2008 - 10:32 AM

I know I've asked this before but does anyone know of a restaurant or even better a carniceria serving or selling beef of a comparable quality in Barcelona?

#15 Rogelio

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Posted 31 January 2008 - 12:48 AM

Without mentioning in its name --lost in the editing, probably--, Jeffrey wrote this about it:

At dinner we reverted to the quotidian at an asador just outside of San Sebastián, where we were again served pretty ordinary meat.

The steak was nicely cooked from a technique perspective, but lacked flavor and wasn't well aged, thus coming the greater part of its taste from the grilling rather than from the meat itself.

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I thought that he was refering to Julián de Tolosa on that paragraf.
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#16 pedro

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Posted 31 January 2008 - 02:33 AM

No, he's not. We had lunch at Julián de Tolosa on Saturday, while we had lunch at Baserri Maitea and dinner at Rekondo the next day.
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#17 yonatanbram

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Posted 01 February 2008 - 03:18 AM

my flat-mate is staging at rekondo (we're all students at luis irizar, where we have stages all over donostia), she says their chuleton comes from a 'caserio' not too far away, and that it's generally vaca vieja (old cow), the way she told it didn't give the impression they were anywhere close to being as fussy as el capricho about the origin of their beef.

#18 pedro

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Posted 01 February 2008 - 05:32 AM

When we asked the owner, Txomin, he told us that he used meat from Trasacar, which sources its meat from Denmark, Holland and Germany. Trasacar is the company serving many asadores all over the country.

Ansorena in Madrid is an exception to that, as well as El Capricho and El Riscal. I'm sure there are others, but they're the exception and not the norm.
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#19 dagordon

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Posted 09 December 2010 - 04:18 PM

We had lunch at El Capricho several days ago, and would echo Steingarten's assessment -- probably the greatest steak we've ever had.

I was a bit worried after reading this review by Steve Plotnicki on Opinionated About saying that the restaurant was "disgusting" and more importantly that the steak wasn't very good. His review was from about two and a half years ago, so maybe things have changed since then, but we found the setting absolutely amazing.

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While it is indeed in an old wine cave, it turns out that an old wine cave can be a beautiful place to eat; it's perfectly clean, well lit, they have freaking Riedel stemware...

We started with some house made cecina, which was outrageously good. We'd been having cecina in the area and this was in a different league from everything else we'd had. In fact, I'd rank it up there with the best jamon iberico de bellota as one of the greatest cured products I've ever had.

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As for the main event: there was a bunch of different beef on the menu, including, amusingly, "washyugu" -- isn't this from the U.S.? -- but Jose said that the specialty was the "chuleton el capricho", so of course we ordered this. Unfortunately not a whole lot of English was spoken so we didn't get very much more info about what exactly we were eating, but here are the pics:

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Now, there was a hot plate involved here, but it was not for cooking the beef, but rather just for keeping it warm once it was cut. The beef arrived at the table perfectly cooked. I don't know if this is something that has changed recently, but we had absolutely no complaints about the cooking method.

The beef was just outrageously good. The closest thing I've had to it was probably the super long aged beef at Carnevino in Las Vegas, in terms of the depth of the aged flavor and the quality of the meat itself, but this was really in a different league from anything else we've ever had.

Oh, and Jose picked out a bottle of 2004 Sierra Cantabria Amancio for us, which was just stunning, and paired perfectly with the beef.

Interestingly, we did go to Asador Ripa in Bilbao, which Plotnicki mentions as serving beef that's far superior to El Capricho's, and we didn't find this to be the case at all. The chuleton at Asador Ripa was an excellent steak in its own right, and in any other context we'd probably be raving about it, but after El Capricho it was no contest. The grilled/smoky flavor on the Ripa steak was much more prominent, to the point of being overpowering, and while there was nice aged flavor the beef itself didn't have nearly the same complexity and pure beefiness.

We also had beef as the final savory course at Etxebarri. Our meal at Etxebarri is probably tied with a meal we had at Sushi Mizutani in Tokyo as the single greatest meal we've ever had, but again the beef course, while perfectly delicious in its own right, was a bit disappointing after El Capricho!

We basically planned the entire first portion of a Spain and France trip around El Capricho and it was totally worth it.

Edited by dagordon, 09 December 2010 - 04:51 PM.


#20 bronihk

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Posted 30 May 2011 - 09:53 PM

big bump here as I realize this topic has been sleepy for a bit...

I'm trying to find out a little more about old beefs...specifically, how common it is to see 5-15 year old + cows/oxen on menus. I'm seeing, from this thread and from what I've read, that it's not a too rare thing in Galicia and have seen (in my limited research) that Magnus Nilsson has served beef from a 7 yr old dairy cow but, based on my own experience, have not seen it anywhere else. I know this is a Spain board and this may be off-topic here, but there seem to be a few of you who know quite a bit. Plus, I can't find the damn Men's Vogue article anywhere online anymore. I figure it had/has a lot of good info.

Anyway, I'm super curious about this both as a person who's had experience raising steers and who loves meat (I'm in the USA).

Thanks all.

#21 Culinista

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Posted 14 November 2011 - 03:39 AM

big bump here as I realize this topic has been sleepy for a bit...

I'm trying to find out a little more about old beefs...specifically, how common it is to see 5-15 year old + cows/oxen on menus. I'm seeing, from this thread and from what I've read, that it's not a too rare thing in Galicia and have seen (in my limited research) that Magnus Nilsson has served beef from a 7 yr old dairy cow but, based on my own experience, have not seen it anywhere else. I know this is a Spain board and this may be off-topic here, but there seem to be a few of you who know quite a bit. Plus, I can't find the damn Men's Vogue article anywhere online anymore. I figure it had/has a lot of good info.

Anyway, I'm super curious about this both as a person who's had experience raising steers and who loves meat (I'm in the USA).

Thanks all.


Disclaimer: I was involved in the original Spanish beef odyssey with Jeffrey Steingarten and came to the same conclusion about the superior quality of the superaged beef from older cattle at El Capricho in my article for TIME.

The beef quest continues, and my recent trip to Pastorale in Reet, Belgium to taste 2 steaks from a 5-year-old dairy cow (breed unknown but originating in Holland) confirms some of the things I learned on the Spanish trip. First, breed does not matter as much as the individual genetic characteristics for particular protein structures within the muscles and connective tissues. Until the animal is killed or its muscle tissue sampled in a lab, it is impossible to tell which of an identical herd from the same farm will produce that great steak. Secondly, older animals have superior complexities of flavor if they are properly tender to begin with thanks to genetic blessings and then properly aged. The Dutch slaughterhouse processes old dairy cows normally sent for dog food, etc. The supplier for Pastorale is a local butcher who has taken to examining the meat from the carcasses before processing and selects maybe 1% for potential aging for high-end restaurants, based on the individual genetic characteristics I mentioned. One steak was dry-aged 15 days, the other 50. The superiority of the 50-day steak was obvious unless you ate it with the overly strong sauce served by the restaurant. I think my favorite steaks have still originated from Galicia or Portugal, but this was very, very close.

I understand that it would be possible to breed for the desirable characteristics of protein/acid structure, but it would take about 30 years to identify the correct genes and breed them into the herd. So far, the beef industry has bred for other characteristics besides tenderness, juiciness and flavor--which, incidentally, have little to do with marbling or other visible fat.

As for the dairy cow/oxen debate, I think it is really about the individual animal and the preferences of the diner. Oxen, particularly the older ones, have a very distinctive flavor which can be spectacular or a bit of an acquired taste. The Marmite factor can come into play.





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