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Originally published February 23, 2011 at 4:57 PM | Page modified February 23, 2011 at 4:57 PM

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Shaved steak, a favorite with many names

At Italian stores, it's "carpaccio." At Korean markets, it's "bulgogi." At Japanese stores, "sukiyaki-style." By any name, shaved steak is a versatile player, and affordable too. Recipes: Beef Involtini with Grape Tomato Sauce, Glazed Beef-and-Scallion Rolls, and Mexican-Style Pepper Steak

The New York Times

You turn up the flame under a sizzling pan and sear steak for just a minute or two, barely cooking it before you sit down. The beef is remarkably tender. You are eating:

A. Expensive rib-eye from the nicely marbled rib section; or

B. Cheap, lean, chewy top round, from the hard-working upper leg?

It's a trick question, because if the meat is shaved steak — handkerchief-thin slices of beef cut across the grain — it can come from any part of the steer and still be tender.

"All cuts become almost indistinguishable when you slice them so thinly," said Jake Dickson, the owner of Dickson's Farmstand Meats in Chelsea Market, where shaved top or bottom round is sold as "sandwich steak" for a high-minded Philly cheesesteak. Compared with $25 a pound for boneless New York strip, Dickson's shaved steak is a bargain at $9 a pound. It is even more affordable in local supermarkets, where the same amount goes for around $5 or $6 a pound.

Shaved steak is often marketed under the name of one of the dishes it's traditionally used in, which gives an idea of its versatility and broad fan base. At Italian stores, it's "beef for braciole" or "carpaccio." In German butchers' shops it's "rouladen," beef rolled around bacon, pickles and onion. At Korean markets, it's "bulgogi," for barbecue. At Japanese stores, it's "sukiyaki-style," for hot pots, or "shabu-shabu" as it is called at Fleisher's Grass-Fed and Organic Meats in Kingston, N.Y. Vietnamese find "pho" sold for their traditional soup.

Since a slicer or band saw can cut any meat thin, shaved beef can cost as much as the most expensive cut or even slightly more if it's sliced to order. But there's no need for such extravagance, and most sliced steak comes from the round. A home cook can save even more money and control quality by freezing a whole piece of round, defrosting it lightly and slicing it with a very sharp knife. That is a pain, though.

"Think of slicing a pound of prosciutto," said Champe Speidel, the chef and butcher and an owner of the restaurant Persimmon, in Bristol, R.I., and the artisan butcher's shop Persimmon Provisions in Barrington, R.I. "The time adds up fast."

That's why most supermarkets buy it already sliced. Speidel said that meat-department managers often purchase shaved steak in modified atmosphere packaging, plastic tubs filled with nitrogen, carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide, which keeps the slices rosy red.

Wherever the beef comes from and whatever the cut, when sliced between 1/16- and 1/8-inch thick it is economical because a little looks like a lot. That feeling of abundance also makes it a good choice for people who, for one reason or another, are trying to eat less red meat.

And as Dickson pointed out, shaved steak is an unintimidating cut for people who aren't entirely comfortable at the stove. Precision timing is not required. The meat is going to cook quickly, and whether it ends up medium or well done it will still be tender.

"Sometimes people don't think they can cook a thick steak," he said. "But nobody says, 'I can't cook that.' " Shaved steak, he said, is "foolproof."

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For that reason, perhaps, it has been the kitchen training wheels for many chefs, though most of them would never think of putting it on the menu.

Hugue Dufour, the chef and owner of M. Wells in Long Island City, Queens, said that when he was growing up in Alma, Quebec, 350 miles north of Montreal, shaved steak fondue was the best treat he could have. He remembered dipping slices of the meat into the steaming onion soup his mother prepared with beef broth made from Oxo cubes. The second day, she would add Gruyere toasts to the broth, which had been enriched with the juices from the steak, and serve gratineed onion soup.

Later, beef fondue was the first dinner he made with friends as a teenager. "It made us feel grown up, doing adult things," Dufour said, "even if it was simple."

In Philadelphia, the chef Marc Vetri, of the restaurants Vetri, Osteria and Amis, was raised on a down-to-earth version of shaved steak, the cheese steak. "Most Sundays we'd go down to my grandmother's house, six blocks from the steak sandwich place. Once a month we'd walk over to Pat's King of Steaks. It was a special day."

When he was old enough to cook at the stove, he made his own steak sandwiches, using Steak-umm, the chopped, shaped and frozen version of shaved steak. "I loved Steak-umm when I was 11 or 12 years old," he said. But he would not countenance a cheese steak adaptation on any of his restaurants' menus. "I'm a traditionalist," he said. "I don't want to mess with it."

Marco Canora, an owner of Hearth and the two Terroir wine bars in Manhattan, used to serve beef in brodo when he was the chef at Insieme in Midtown. "The thinly sliced beef looks so beautiful raw," he said. "Then pouring hot consommé over the top lightly poaches it."

At Bubby's in TriBeCa, Ron Silver buys a whole steer every week from Fleisher's, and it's his job to figure out what to do with everything from the tongue to the tail. Depending on the time of year, the top round might be turned into shaved steak. "I'll ask myself, 'Is it cheese steak season or beef stew season?"' Silver said. Shaved steak is not a staple of Mexican cuisine. Most cooks prefer the slightly thicker beef milanesa cut, similar to minute steak. But Memo Pinedo, the proprietor of a restaurant and a food truck in Houston, both called Jarro Cafe, appreciates Angus beef sliced from sirloin for his tacos de bistec. It's so thin he can cook it in steam coming off a skillet of sizzling onions, tomatoes and jalapeños. "It's the most juicy meat and the most tender," he said. "It's hard to find in Houston. I have to slice it myself."

At Takashi, a Japanese raw beef and Korean-style barbecue restaurant in the West Village, Takashi Inoue treats 10 or so cuts of very thinly sliced beef like a delicacy, showing that, depending on the thickness and cut of meat, you will taste a difference.

"The rib-eye is the thinnest because I want people to feel the melt," he said. "You don't even have to chew. The short rib and skirt steak have more texture, and the texture should be enjoyed."

But few chefs etherealize shaved steak.

"I do love it," said Silver, of Bubby's. "In the roulette wheel of stuff I like to eat, it makes a trashy, greasy sandwich that hits the spot."

MEXICAN-STYLE PEPPER STEAK

Adapted from Memo Pinedo, Jarro Cafe, Houston

Time: 20 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, halved and sliced

2 medium Roma tomatoes, coarsely chopped

1 medium red bell pepper, cut into julienne strips

4 jalapeño or habanero chilies, sliced crosswise with seeds

Kosher salt and black pepper

1 cup unsalted chicken broth

8 fresh bay leaves

1 pound shaved beefsteak

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1. In each of 2 large skillets, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat and add half of the onion, tomatoes, bell pepper and chilies, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until slightly softened, about 2 minutes.

2. Add half of the broth and bay leaves to each skillet and bring to a simmer. Lay beef slices over top, season with salt and pepper and cook, turning beef once, until it loses its pink color, about 3 minutes total. Transfer meat to a platter or plates. Simmer pan juices until slightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Spoon vegetables and juices over the beef and sprinkle with cilantro.

BEEF INVOLTINI WITH GRAPE TOMATO SAUCE

Time: 1 hour

Yield: 4 servings

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 anchovy fillets, chopped

4 fat garlic cloves, 2 sliced, 2 minced

1 pint grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise

1 cup canned crushed tomatoes

Kosher salt and black pepper

1 tablespoon minced sage

1 tablespoon minced rosemary

1 pound shaved beefsteak

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Boiled fettuccine, for serving

1. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add anchovies and stir until they begin to dissolve. Add sliced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add grape tomatoes and crushed tomatoes, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat.

2. Meanwhile, mix sage, rosemary and minced garlic in a small bowl. Lay a slice of beef on a work surface. Sprinkle a little herb mixture on top, and season with salt and pepper. Starting with a short end, roll up, tucking in sides; transfer to a large plate. Repeat with remaining meat.

3. In another skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Season meat rolls with salt and pepper. Working in batches, brown them all over, about 30 seconds per side; transfer to tomato sauce.

4. Stir parsley into sauce and cook over medium heat until involtini are heated through, 2 to 3 minutes. Spoon involtini and sauce into a shallow bowl or plates, and serve with fettuccine.

GLAZED BEEF-AND-SCALLION ROLLS

Adapted from Takashi Inoue, Takashi restaurant, Manhattan

Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

½ cup soy sauce

¼ cup orange marmalade

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

2 tablespoons grated garlic

2 tablespoons Asian sesame oil

1 ½ tablespoons white sesame seeds

½ tablespoon black pepper

½ tablespoon cayenne pepper

24 thin scallions, tops and bottoms trimmed

24 thin asparagus spears, bottoms trimmed

1 pound shaved beefsteak

Canola oil

1. In a large shallow baking dish, whisk the soy sauce with the marmalade, brown sugar, garlic, sesame oil, sesame seeds, pepper and cayenne powder.

2. Bring a large skillet of water to a boil. Add the scallions and cook until bright green, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a plate and pat dry. Add the asparagus and cook until bright green, about 1 minute; transfer to plate and pat dry.

3. Lay a slice of beef on a work surface. Arrange a scallion and an asparagus spear crosswise at a short end and roll up. Add to soy sauce glaze and turn to coat. Repeat with remaining beef rolls.

4. Brush a grill pan with canola oil and heat over high heat until smoking. Working in batches, cook beef rolls until nicely charred all over, about 15 seconds per side. Transfer to a platter or plates.

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