If you ask people about my eating habits, they will tell you that I, enthusiastically and passionately, eat virtually anything and everything. The crawly, the weird, the squiggly, the strange, the creepy, the ghastly, the eerie, the ugly.
It’s true. I do. But I’m also one of the most conventional…bordering on boring…eaters as well. Once a week, every week, I want a steak, I want a ribeye steak. What makes that very convenient is, once a week, every week, Don Day’s wife also wants a steak and, like me, her favorite cut is ribeye.
Ribeyes are those precious pieces of marbled meat that are traditionally cut from ribs number nine to eleven of beef cattle. The amount of fat that is streaked through a ribeye is the determining factor as to whether a USDA inspector grades a cow Prime, Choice or Select. It is almost always the most expensive piece of meat you can buy.
Being a poor pensioner, this unfortunately means that I usually have to choose the third highest grade when I’m shopping. Even for a Select ribeye, I’m used to paying close to $300 a kilo, which is more than I spend, by weight, on almost anything else that enters our kitchen or my mouth.
Now a Select grade ribeye is good enough but, occasionally, maybe once a month, I can’t help myself. I must blow the budget. I must buy one of those steaks graded in the top 50%. I must buy a Choice graded ribeye.
Don Day’s Wife and I have been living about half of the last 15 years of our lives in San Miguel de Allende. In San Miguel, almost all of our Prime or Choice ribeye business has gone to what was once called Mega and these days is called La Comer. In the old days there were occasional trips to Costco and, more recently, City Market and HEB got a little share of our meat allowance, but La Comer has consistently been the winner for quality and price.
But not any more. Recently I tried two other local retailers. First, let me tell you about the one who didn’t quite get my business.
No beef producer in Mexico is more well-known or more respected than Rancho El 17. They used to retail their meat through Carnevino on Ancha de San Antonio. I liked buying Mexican. I liked Rancho El 17’s ribeyes. But I didn’t like that their steaks were all frozen. And I didn’t like the price.
But that didn’t mean that I wasn’t excited when I saw a sign with the Rancho El 17 logo going up a few blocks south of where Carnevino was. The new shop is a franchise operation and is almost totally dedicated to beef. Maybe this was my chance to raise the red, white and green and be loyal to home-raised beef.
I was disappointed that the ribeyes were sliced less than half an inch thick.
I was disappointed that one was over 30% fat; I want lots of fat but in streaks not chunks. I was less than excited with the price of $702.50 a kilo. But I did like the enthusiasm and selling skills of the guy behind the counter and bought a couple of the fresh Choice ribeyes.
The taste was excellent with some obvious aging. But at that price, versus $536 a kilo at La Comer, I won’t be back.
And the other retailer? Well it’s one I’ve never really frequented, particularly when it came to fresh vegetables, fresh fish, or fresh meat. The other retailer is San Miguel’s other supermercado, Soriana. All of their beef used to be targeted at the Mexican market. Their featured steak cuts were diezmillo and arrachera. Which is understandable. There are more than ten times as many locals as there are expats in San Miguel.
Then, after writing about a ribeye from La Comer, I received an email from a reader. She alerted me to the pleasures to be found from the steaks in the frozen food bins at Soriana. Now I prefer fresh to frozen beef, but unlike fish or poultry where I will almost never buy frozen, I don’t have a major problem with frozen beef. So, last week, off I went.
The vacuum-packed steaks looked good. A color that suggested a few weeks of aging. A label that told me they were Hecho en Mexico. Marbling that confirmed the cattle had spent the last few weeks of their life eating corn and would have received a Choice rating from a USDA inspector. And a price tag that was close to what I was used to paying for Select grade. The ribeyes were priced at $122 for 340 grams or just $359 a kilo.
There was only one problem with these ribeyes. They were a little skinny. Which makes them very difficult to cook. Because, by the time you get a sear on them, they’re already bordering on well-done.
There was a solution. Soriana also had some cowboy cuts which are simply a bone-in ribeye with an extended short Frenched bone (a tomahawk cut has an extended long Frenched bone). Now, unless I’m trying to overly impress guests, I hate paying for that bone that ends up in the basura. But the cowboys were about an inch and a quarter thick which was perfect. Not only that, the size, 510 grams, was a perfect portion for two (about 8 oz. each not counting the bone).
Don Day’s Wife let the cowboy come to room temperature, patted it dry with paper towels (essential for a crusty sear), sprinkled her favourite spice mix, put the burner under the cast iron frypan on high and added a tablespoon of butter.
After two minutes on each side, the burner was turned down to medium and the steak was given another four minutes on each side (for rare it would have been two minutes, for medium-rare it would have been three, for well-done it would be…well let’s not go there). After 10 minutes of resting, the internal temperature was 135°F. The perfect reading for medium.
Don Day’s Wife kept the sides fairly simple, just mashed potatoes and romeritos sautéed with garlic and onions. Leese-Fitch, a Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon was an affordable ($211 at Costco) accompaniment.
The beef, from a processor called Grupa ViBa in Monterrey, was juicy, flavorful and almost fork tender. It wasn’t quite as rich in taste as the El 17 ribeyes but, at half the price, Soriana has won all of my future ribeye business. Once a week, every week, starting now.
Soriana is located in Plaza La Luciérnaga, Libramiento José Manuel Zavala Zavala, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The supermarket is open from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm, seven days a week.