Healthy Gourmet: Upper cuts

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 January, 2013, 4:56pm

An important principle of health is to respect the cultural and emotional connections one has to different foods. Argentina is a meat-lover's paradise. Argentineans consume an average of 60 kilograms of beef per year; it's an important part of their identity.

Pablo Rivero is the owner of Don Julio, one of the best parrillas, or steak houses, in Buenos Aires. I spent three days with him recently, learning his secrets. Rivero says meat is a family tradition: his grandfather owned a 25-hectare farmhouse along the Parana river with 500 cattle, all grass-fed.

What the animals eat and how much space they have are vital for tasty beef. "If you don't feed the cattle grass, you break the natural chain, which ultimately translates into the flavour and aroma of the meat. It's like cold-pressing olive oil compared to using industrial methods," says Rivero.

Some cattle are fattened up in large grain feeding operations called feedlots, which decreases costs and allows farmers to produce meat more quickly. Grass-fed cattle are leaner than feedlot, with lower fat content and fewer calories. Meat from grass-fed cattle also has higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid, said to help with long-term weight management and health, and omega-3 fatty acids, which benefit the heart.

If you don't feed the cattle grass, you break the natural chain, which translates into the flavour and aroma
Pablo Rivero, owner of Don Julio steak house, Buenos Aires

"Meat is the best protein we have. It is a primal food," says Rivero. Scientific studies are contradictory about whether eating meat is healthy or not. Those in favour say that meat reduces blood pressure, is high in calcium, vitamin D, protein and vitamin B12, and that the connection between animal protein consumption and cancer has not been established.

Many agree that cooking methods have an impact on our health. For example, meat cooked at high temperatures, such as grilling and frying, tends to be linked with a higher risk of cancer.

Here's how to be a healthier carnivore.

Choose grass-fed lean cuts.

The meat should be brilliant red and fat should be white, not yellow. Look at the muscles: you want an animal that has been walking for 2½ years, not standing still for eight months. Rivero says the best cut is rump steak, with its low fat and high omega-3 content. Tenderloin, sirloin and T-bone are also lean cuts. Skinless white breast meat is best for poultry. Eat pork sparingly.

Store the meat properly.

Before storing meat, pack it tightly with cling wrap to protect from bacteria and to avoid loss of water and vitamins. Make sure the temperature is between zero and four degrees Celsius; most domestic fridges are set to six degrees. Place the meat on the bottom shelf to avoid cross-contamination. Eat within three days of purchase; ground beef should be eaten within 24 hours.

Avoid cooking the meat for a long time at a high temperature.

Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are chemicals - some of which can cause cancer - formed when meat is cooked at a high temperature. I use the sous-vide method: cooking in vacuum-sealed plastic pouches at controlled low temperatures. When I don't have the sous-vide cooker, I pan-fry the meat in a very hot pan for two minutes per side. I then finish it in the oven at 250 degrees for two to three minutes.

Grilling also reduces HCA and PAH exposure. When grilling more than one piece of meat, Rivero suggests cutting them the same size, otherwise they will need different cooking times. The grill must be clean, or the flavour changes, and it must be very hot, with no fire underneath, only hot coals.

Easy on the salt and sauces.

Rivero says using too much salt is a major mistake. At his restaurant, no salt is added to the meat. The same goes for sauces; you need them only when the meat is tasteless.


In moderation, wine is healthy. "God gave us meat and malbec to compensate for our politicians," says Rivero. "Wine is amazing, meat is amazing, and together they are even more so."

Healthy Gourmet is a weekly column by private chef Andrea Oschetti.


Rump steak with vegetables

Serves 1

250 grams rump steak
1 tomato
100 grams salad of your choice
1 sprinkle of oregano
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil

  • Take the meat out of the fridge one hour before cooking it.
  • Choose one of the three techniques described above; remember to pat dry the meat with a kitchen towel before cooking it.
  • If you want to pan fry the meat, turn it over every 30 seconds to avoid toxic chemicals from forming, until the meat is ready.
  • Cut the tomatoes into small cubes.
  • Mix them with the salad and season with the oregano, oil and salt.