Mention Seattle to most people and a sizzling, deliciously marbled, perfectly prepared steak may not be the first image that comes to mind. Yet, one of the country’s premier steak houses, El Gaucho – located in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood, has been serving such steaks for years. Their 28-day dry-aged, Niman Ranch Certified Angus Beef® and custom-aged Certified Angus Beef® tenderloin makes Seattle a must for diners looking for one of those unforgettable dining experiences.
Certified Angus Beef LLC, and the Certified Angus Beef® brand (CAB®), were created in 1978 by members of the American Angus Association® to provide consumers a guaranteed standard of flavor and tenderness in the Angus beef they purchase.
Not all Angus beef is equal. In fact, the name Angus is derived from the county in Scotland where early development of the breed began. But, other than the natural benefits of the breed (higher degree of marbling for one), the name describes a breed of cattle, not a level of quality.
The USDA grades beef into seven categories, with Prime, Choice, and Select being the best known. Only beef graded Prime or Choice is considered for the Certified Angus Beef® program, and then 10 additional requirements must be met to earn the Certified Angus Beef® brand.
The origins of what would become the Aberdeen-Angus breed remain hidden, but it is known from prehistoric carvings found in Aberdeen and Angus (Northeast Scotland), that a polled (hornless) breed of bovine existed in ancient Scotland. These native cattle are believed to be the progenitors of the modern Angus breed.
In the last half of the 18th century, cattle breeding in Scotland began to expand significantly. Two strains of native polled cattle were used extensively in breeding programs, “humlies” from the Buchan district of Aberdeenshire and “doddies”, from Angus County. These formed the foundation of the modern Angus breed. By the mid 19th century the breed was flourishing, and the American chapter was ready to begin.
In 1873 George Grant brought four Angus bulls from his native Scotland to the middle of the Kansas prairie. These were bred with Texas longhorns, producing black, hornless calves that wintered better and were larger than their predecessors. None of Grant’s bulls left registered progeny, but American cattlemen saw the value of the Scottish breed and between 1878 and 1883 over 1,200 Angus cattle were imported from Scotland to America.
On November 21, 1883, the American-Aberdeen Breeder's Association, with 60 members, was founded in Chicago, Illinois, helping to further establish the breed in America. Over the next quarter century the Aberdeen-Angus breed was fully established, and is the dominant breed of beef cattle today.
Originally, the American-Aberdeen Breeder’s Association registered both black and red animals in its herd book, but then limited registration to black Angus in 1917. In America, black and red Angus are considered separate breeds, although in other countries they may be registered in the same herd book.
In the 1950s the Association shortened its title, becoming the American Angus Association®, and "Aberdeen" was dropped from the breed's name. The Association has grown to over 30,000 rancher members, and the Certified Angus Beef® brand is the only brand it owns.
The USDA began grading beef in the early 20th century. Although no mandate requires a producer to submit beef for grading (the program is voluntary), most restaurants and retailers require USDA graded beef from their suppliers. Beef is graded on marbling (the flecks of fat distributed throughout lean muscle), and maturity, factors that affect the tenderness, juiciness, and flavor of meat.
The USDA provides grading services on a “cost-recovery” basis. Costs include graders’ salaries, and administrative expenses. They are considered affordable (averaging 38 cents per carcass), and are offset by the marketing benefits associated with graded beef (U.S. Prime, U.S. Choice, and U.S. Select grades).
The quality of beef is enhanced with proper aging. The process allows the enzymes in meat to break down proteins, which improves tenderness and flavor. Most of the improvement in tenderness occurs within the first 10 days, although longer periods, while costlier, do add to the flavor and tenderness of beef. The majority of supermarket beef is aged 5-10 days. In foodservice the range is usually 14-21 days.
Not all beef is aged, but of the beef that is, the vast majority is wet aged. In wet aging beef is stored in vacuum packs where the air has been removed and kept at temperatures between 33-36 degrees Fahrenheit. Wet aging improves tenderness and flavor, without yield loss.
Dry aging, applied to less than 1% of beef, improves tenderness, while providing more intense flavors. In dry aging beef is stored on racks, without packaging, in temperature-controlled coolers. Airflow and humidity are also regulated. During dry aging, meat undergoes dehydration, a process that concentrates flavors, much like a reduction sauce. However, this results in a 15-20% yield loss, which increases product cost. Substantial marbling is required in both styles of aging, but particularly in dry aging, thus aging is usually reserved for the higher grades of meat, prime and choice.
Certified Angus Beef LLC recommends 21-day aging for most cuts of beef, and many licensed distributors of CAB® branded products can provide custom aging services to local restaurants and retail outlets. Since all CAB® branded beef is either prime or choice it is perfect for aging, but aged or not, the brand provides the highest assurance of consistent quality when used by consumers or foodservice operations.
Paul Mackay, Chairman of the Mackay Restaurant Group, took a Seattle landmark, the El Gaucho, and fused old-school elegance with youthful exuberance, a bit of pomp, and a dash of theatre to create a superb dining experience. The restaurant’s menu is anchored with such signature dishes as dry-aged bone-in New York steak, tableside-carved Chateaubriand for two, and Flaming Sword Brochette of tenderloin, all prepared on a one-of-a-kind charcoal grill in an open, exhibition style, kitchen. Prime cuts of beef are extensively used. Fresh seafood, shellfish, ribs, lamb, and locally sourced produce are also available.
The Mackay Restaurant Group currently owns and operates six Pacific Northwest properties, the flagship El Gaucho in Seattle, with locations in Bellevue, Tacoma, and Portland; a seafood themed restaurant, AQUA by El Gaucho located in Seattle's waterfront district; and the Inn at El Gaucho, a boutique hotel located above the flagship restaurant in Belltown.
Chad Mackay (Paul’s son) oversees day-to-day operations as President and COO of the restaurant group. Paul remains the visionary.
The Certified Angus Beef® program was established to provide a guarantee of quality and consistency to restaurateurs and retailers who prepare and serve Angus beef, and to the consumers who enjoy it. The effort has proved to be wildly successful with over 14,000 businesses participating in the CAB® program, including the Mackays, who have made Seattle’s El Gaucho, and its siblings in Portland, Tacoma, and Bellevue, must visit restaurants in the Pacific Northwest.
Certified Angus Beef, LLC: http://www.certifiedangusbeef.com/
El Gaucho Restaurant Group: http://elgaucho.com/index.html
American Angus Association: http://www.angus.org/