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Meat-Loving Argentina Asks: Where's The Beef?

Cost-conscious chefs in Buenos Aires veer away from top sirloin to lesser cuts -- and pork and poultry too.

Buenos Aires' Mercado San Telmo
Buenos Aires' Mercado San Telmo
Mariana Garcia

BUENOS AIRES – It’s not easy being vegetarian in Argentina. Known for its delicious meat cuts and one of the world leaders in beef consumption per capita, is the meat capital of the world undergoing a beef revolution?

The most popular meat cuts consumed today are the ones used to make milanesas (wiener schnitzel) – tenderloin or rump steak. Following these are sirloin and strip steak, short ribs, and flank steak. What do all of these cuts have in common? Well, they’re the priciest cuts. So, lately, chefs all around Argentina have been trying to bring other, less expensive cuts en vogue.

Standing over a hot pan, Fernando Trocca, owner of Sucre, a restaurant on the culinary forefront in Buenos Aires, puts a piece of veal shank in, looks at the camera and says “I love ossobuco.”

Trocca has been using veal shanks for 20 years now. “It’s a very good cut if you know how to cook it properly. These days, it’s hard to make money in the restaurant industry so, when you’re putting a menu together you must be smart and know how to use the least expensive cuts in order to make a reasonable profit margin,” he says.

For some restaurateurs, it’s a question of numbers, for others its snobbism. What is true, however, is that many chefs are now paddlling upstream and using older, cheaper cuts.

Meat for health or for wealth?

Food critic Pietro Sorba reaffirms that Argentines are indeed reducing the amount of beef in their diets. Thanks to rising prices and busy schedules, they’re eating more pork and chicken.

“People are looking for cuts of meat with less fat and that don’t need long and complicated preparation. In general, consumers are looking for beef that is deep red in color, with little fat marbling,” he wrote in his book New Argentine Cuisine.

Piaf is a butcher’s shop in the Palermo neighborhood of Buenos Aires that also sells to big restaurants. Manager Florencia Crucci boasts that the store still sells every meat cut – everything from chuck blade to trotters. She explains that even though the trend is slow, shanks are definitely having a revival. But, it’s not a question of fashion, she continues, it’s because of wallet capacity – the shanks cost about $5.39 per kilogram while tenderloin goes for $15.20.

“One of the problems is that people don’t know how, or have the time, to cook properly anymore. For veal shanks to be tasty, you have to leave them for 2 hours, at the very least,” she says.

Diego Salas from the Majan butcher agrees: ossobuco might be selling like hotcakes lately, but it still doesn’t beat a steak.

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