With a knife kit hanging from a thick chain link around his hip, head butcher Lee Desrosiers steps into his walk-in at Reynard, to check on this week’s delivery. A whole cow arrives at the Wythe Hotel’s restaurant each week, and it’s Desrosiers’ task to break it down for the kitchen. He can get about 12 ribeye steaks from the animal, enough for maybe one night’s dinner service—but Desrosiers’ nose-to-tail mission means he’s just as concerned with showcasing often underutilized “off cuts,” as he is with sourcing chuck, T-bone and flank. “Each muscle has a different quality to it and needs to be treated and cooked differently,” Desrosiers says. “So as long as you know how to manage those muscles in the proper way, you can always get a delicious steak.”
Thanks to Desrosiers, cuts like bavette, coulotte (top butt) and oyster have regularly made their way onto Reynard’s menu, although they’re usually served during lunch service, due to lower yield. Which means that those specialty steaks can go quickly—especially Desrosiers’ personal favorite, the merlot, located on the heel of the cow. “Usually the rule is the closer to the ground the more work that muscle does,” Desrosiers explains. “So the heel can be a very sinewy area, but there’s a small muscle that you can clean and pull out of it that’s a beautiful steak with a deep color.”
Desrosiers has been at Reynard breaking down animals since July, and honed his butchery skills at Diner and Marlow and Sons before that. But it was his experience living on Martha’s Vineyard that really brought him up close and personal to the craft. Desrosiers was the sous chef at the esteemed Beach Plum Inn under chef Chris Fischer, and the two worked together to maximize creativity on the plate while using what they had around them. “We wanted to copy that model of working with the entire animal but didn’t know how to do it, exactly,” Desrosiers admits. “We read a lot of books, but mostly, our training was hands-on. All of the time I spent on farms on Martha’s Vineyard, witnessing the raising and eventual slaughter of the animal; being present when they’re killed for food… all of that sensory stuff is very moving.”
Desrosiers also began to familiarize himself with the animals’ muscles, and how they came apart cut by cut. “You start to understand why certain muscle groups are the way that they are,” he says. “You can feel them when you cut it with your knife—whether they’re tougher or really tender—the sense of touch is really important when it comes to the art of butchering.”
Desrosiers offers regular butchering demonstrations at The Wythe, but is full of equally helpful tips for those of us who can’t rely on regular cow delivery, such as asking good butchers (such as The Meat Hook and Marlow and Daughters), to set their off-cuts aside. And once you get them home, Desrosiers advocates cooking your steaks in cast iron pans. “When you don’t have a grill or don’t feel like grilling, a cast iron holds the heat really well,” he says. “And when you’re cutting into the steak, don’t be afraid of a little red liquid… it’s not blood, it’s juice.”
Need some extra guidance to making the most of off-cuts? Desrosiers breaks it all down in his alterna-beef primer below.
Merlot: This dark muscle is found on the heel of the animal. Loaded with tight bundles of fiber that get bigger as the muscle gets worked. Expect the cut to be chewier but still nice and tender. Pan sear in a cast iron skillet, until medium rare.
Bavette: Located on the flank of the steer, the bavette cut is an abdominal muscle and constantly working to hold up those muscles. The darker the meat, the more it’s been worked, making it especially flavorful. To cook, sear in a pan and then finish in an oven, until it’s medium to medium well.
Inside Skirt: Located on the inside of the ribs, this cut is a usual suspect in Mexican dishes such as carne asada. Marinate and then grill over very high heat.
Blade: This tender muscle is located on the scapula, on the opposite side of the flatiron. Pan sear to rare or medium rare.
Oyster: Thin, but beautifully marbled and packed with flavor, there are only two oyster steaks in the entire animal, making them especially precious cuts. Located on the inside of the pelvis, the oyster cooks quickly—so while you probably won’t achieve perfect medium rare insides, try to maintain a little bit of pink.
Coulotte: Leave the fat cap on this prime cut, located at the rear end of the steer. Cook it fat side down, and let it render in the pan before cooking on the other side, in order to get some nice color. Medium rare to medium is perfect for a deliciously juicy coulotte.
Reynard 80 Wythe Avenue, Williamsburg