Before leaving Boquete for Argentina my mouth was watering for Argentine beef. We were never disappointed, I wish I could say the same in Panama. The debate is why is the beef in Argentina, Canada or the US better tasting and more tender than what Panamanian cattle produce.
In the US and Canada the best and most expensive beef is marbled with fat and aged, preferably dry aged for several weeks. Dry aged Prime Beef is the gold standard and is bought and sold at a premium price in steakhouses.
Neither Panama nor Argentina ages it’s beef. The beef ages in the truck in route to the store. Yet when I bit into the steak below in El Establo in Buenos Aires I was in carnivore heaven. Aged or not it was tender and excellent.
Some would argue that beef in the US and Canada is grain feed and that beef in Panama grass feed. Grass fed beef is not as marbled as grain feed beef and thus is not as tender. The beef in Argentina is grass fed and not aged, so that is not the magic although it may help. Add that grass feed beef is probably healthier than the grain and antibiotic laden beef from the US feed lots.
The display of beef in Argentina shows beef cuts available there. They are not the same cuts as we see in the US or Panama, perhaps that is part of the difference. I kept looking for heavily marbled beef to cook, I never found any.
So what makes the difference, why is beef in Argentina heavenly for a carnivore and beef in Panama usually only good for stew? It is not the marbling nor the aging. An article in Epicurious suggests it is that they cook their beef longer in Argentina. Epicurious . Since no one can cook their beef longer than a typical Panamanian I will disagree. It could be how they cook their beef. We ate only grilled beef in Argentina, most beef here is stewed to a second death.
After some trial and error I think I found the answer to a good steak in Panama. First find a butcher that knows what a steak is supposed to be. I cannot find a chart of beef cuts for Panama, I once saw one at Riba Smith in Panama City and it looked like the beef does, large sections slabbed off the cow.
The chart of Argentine cuts is surprisingly from La Prensa in Panama.
The chart below shows where the beef you want to grill comes from.
This a nice list from Chile making an effort to cross reference countries that actual have defined cuts. In Panama few people appear to grill beef, they guisado, stew it to death and therefore anything will become tender and everything will lose it’s flavor.
So how does a someone who has no intentions for buying and butchering a beef cow deal with the lust for a good steak in Panama. If you have deep pockets Super Baru and several restaurants have beef imported from the US. If you don’t want to spend $20 or more on a steak I am going to share some learned facts.
First Filete is Filet Minion, it is always tender but not very flavorful. You can follow and recipe for Filet Minion or oven roast a filete as a Chateaubriand. Since you can buy a filete here in Boquete for under $4 a pound, now 454 grams, not a bad deal.
Go to Price Smart, they offer Rib eyes and New York cuts. Sadly they are usually all red and when grill like chewing gum. Every time I go to Price Smart I sort through all of them and if I find any that are well marbled, it does happen, I buy them. I then age them in my meat drawer for a week at 40ºF.
The other cut that works well for grilling is also from Price Smart, they call it Ropa Vieja and you can of course us it for that but it is skirt steak which when grilled and slicked diagonally cross the grain works great for frajitas or as aha I grew up calling London Broil.
It is clear that some of the other slabs of beef sold here can be used for grilling, they question is finding out what lies inside the slab and being prepared to grind it for hamburger or stew it to death if there is no marbling.