What is a lean cut of beef (steak) to use in low calorie recipes? I am interested in creating some low calorie recipes using steak but am unsure which are the best cuts to start with.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the leanest cuts are:
- Eye of round roast or steak
- Sirloin tip side steak
- Top round roast and steak
- Bottom round roast and steak
- Top sirloin steak
However, grain/corn fed beef may have more marbling (more fat embedded) so if you're going for low-cal, you might want to consider buying naturally raised/grass fed beef.
Personally, I prefer to find a meat source that has leaner beef in general and buy Skirt Steak or Clodhammer (rotator cuff) for their taste, tenderness, and reasonable price.
The easiest way to go low calorie is just to use less. Most Americans think 1/4lb (4oz, 113g) is a serving, but you can get away with 1/2 that pretty easily if you think of it more as a flavoring than a main item.
That being said, meat selection depends entirely on how you're planning to cook it, or how many people you're cooking for. You mentioned steak, but serving a large chunk of meat isn't particularly low calorie. GdD's suggestion of slicing it thin and stir-frying it is quite good, as you can easily vary the amount that way.
If you prefer rare meat, such as in a thai-style beef salad, then I'll look for a more 'london broil' cut (1.5" to 2" steaks), in something like a bottom or top round (what's more important is to look for the grain running in one direction). Trim any major fat, cook over high heat for 4-6 minutes per side (less if it's thinner), then rest, slice across the grain, and serve.
I think the question you need to ask first is whether lean cuts are good for what you want to do. If you want a steak or a roast then don't bother, lean cuts will come out dry and flavorless, and probably be tough as old leather as well. You need to choose recipes which suit the cuts.
If you want something really quick then some lean steak like flank, skirt, or maybe round can be sliced thin and then stir fried. Marinate it with a reasonable amount of acidity for at least 2 hours as that will help tenderize it, then flash fry it as hot as you can on a cast iron pan or a wok for 2-3 minutes at most.
To me the best possible way to cook lean beef is to braise it in the oven, and my favorite cut for this is shin (leg meat). It's very lean, and has loads of connective tissue which all turns to gelatine in the presence of heat and moisture. It's also one of the cheapest cuts you can buy. I coat the meat in flour then fry in a bit of oil before adding a couple cups of water, a glass or red wine, and a couple of bay leaves before covering it and baking it in the oven for 2-3 hours on maybe 250F (120C).
Round (top round, bottom round, eye of round) are among the lowest fat cuts of beef, as MandoMando stated. When I'm dieting, I like to stew round cuts on the weekend, discard the liquid, and save the beef for salads and recipes during the week. Stewing is great because it does not add additional fat since you are cooking in water (adding the spices of your choice). Enameled cast iron is best for stewing and braising. I put the meat in the dutch oven, add enough water to cover it, add the lid and roast in the oven at 325 for roughly 4-5 hours depending on the size of the meat. I add more water during the process as necessary. If there is a layer of fat on the beef, I pull it off after stewing (I just find it easier that way), then put the meat in the fridge for later use.
This is different from making a beef stew. For that I add tomato paste, pinot noir, stock/broth, and vegetables to the stew. I just use the method of stewing in water to get a low fat yet tender piece of beef that I can use later in steak salad.