Something smells good over at our farmers market. While the broad at the market is totally eye-pleasing, chef Cathy Shank beefs up the excitement for the attendees’ other sensory organs, specifically their nostrils (and tastebuds), every Tuesday.
Brandt Beef plants itself in the heart of the market every week. Shank, a chef for the family-owned company, cooks up different samples of the hormone- and antibiotic-free beef for everyone to try. “We raise cattle for two months longer [than conventional cattle farmers] because we use absolutely zero antibiotics and hormones in the steer,” Shank said. “We have consistency in tenderness and great flavor.”
The beef company, which comes out of Brawley in Imperial County, also raises their cattle on a consistent diet. “We start them on corn and grass and the diet never changes,” Shank said. But before you go turning your nose up to a corn-fed diet, Shank assures that it’s a corn product that’s easy on the stomach. “The corn is milled and steamed into flakes, making it easy to digest.”
While many people prefer grass-fed beef, market manager supports Brandt’s decision to feed them corn. “This is southern California. There isn’t much grass. Go to the northwest or Midwest and there’s plenty of grass to feed the cows.” Basically, Brandt Beef uses the resources they have and uses them in the best way possible, like milling and steaming the corn.
You can also expect this beef company to put out a great, humanely made product. “We’re family-owned, “Shank said. “We oversee the raising and handling of the steer. We’re very involved.”
The company is anything but wasteful and uses every part of the cow for multiple products. “We truly are tongue to tail. We use the entire steer,” Shank said. Brandt sells all different cuts of meat, as well as a demi-glace made from different bones of the cow. They even use the cow manure for their fields, reducing the need for pesticides!
The company also doesn’t waste cows that may become sick and require a dose of antibiotics. “They have conventional beef, too,” Hillebrecht explained. “Nothing goes to waste. If they must use antibiotics on a cow, they still use [that cow] as a product [sold elsewhere.]”
Not only is Brandt Beef exceptionally tasty and humane, they also sell some unusual cuts of meat. People stop by Shank’s table and curiously ask what beef bacon is (the plate on the steer), along with the cullotte (the cap on the top sirloin which is usually left on) and the bavette (the flap meat off sirloin which is most often used for carne asada). “I had some French people walk by and recognize the [cullote and bavette] cuts!” Shank said.
Brandt also has American favorites for sale. “New York’s and rib eyes do well,” Shank said. Some cuts are seasonal, like the chuck roast which is delicious in the winter but inconvenient for the summer when no one wants to turn on their oven. Each week, Shank posts all meats for purchasing as well as various specials she’s offering that day only.
Locals like purchase Brandt’s beef weekly as an indulgence. And an indulgence it is. Shank doesn’t cook the beef with anything when she demos at the market, only lightly seasoning it with kosher salt at the end of cooking. “I want people to taste the beef flavor,” she said. But even if you marinade her steaks in a glaze with bourbon and brown sugar, like I did, the strong and unlike-anything-you’ve-ever-tasted beef flavor still shines through.
Hillebrecht only chooses the best to be at her markets, and Brandt Beef is no exception. “I want to save the people that are really good at what they do—and these people are it,” she said. “They’re doing a good job and putting out a great product.”
Fast facts about Cathy Shank:
- She has worked for Brandt Beef for four years.
- She is the assistant to the corporate chef, Tom McAliney.
- She fell into cooking by accident. “I did a dinner for a friend one night and the rest is history. I’ve been cooking for 20 years,” she said.
- She went to college for a communication’s degree.
- She worked as a caterer before Brandt beef.
Local restaurants and beyond that use Brandt Beef:
- Kensington Grill
- NINE-TEN Steakhouse
- Bertrand at Mister A’s
- Urban Solace
- The Lodge at Torrey Pines
- And more!
Prime vs. Choice:
- Choice meat tends to have less marbling and is slightly tougher. Prime is top grade with a lot of marbling. Prime has a different color and is more tender than choice. But if you don't mind marbling, go for the choice. "A lot of times people tell me choice has more flavor," Shank said.
Shank’s tips for cooking the perfect steak:
- Always start with a hot grill on high for about 10 minutes, then cook on medium.
- Take the chill off the meat—let it sit out for about 10 minutes while your grill heats up.
- Depending on thickness, cook on each side for about 3-4 minutes, then let the steak sit on indirect heat for about 7-8 minutes.
- DO NOT COOK FLANK STEAK ON LOW HEAT … unless you are shooting for jerky.
- Pieces of meat with no marbling, such as flank steak, need to be cooked on high and fast.
- Let your meat rest for about 5-10 minutes, or half the time it took to cook, as this redistributes the juices. “Your last bite will be as juicy as your first,” Shank said.