Pieces of Pismo (PSMO)
Peeled Side Meat On. That’s what PSMO stands for but I guess that doesn’t really explain much. For our house, it means filet mignon for dinner. There are some hoops to jump through in order to get a filet from a pismo sure, but it is worth the cost savings by far. Alton Brown did show on the Food Network, “Tender is the Lion” and if you can find video of that, it is full of great info (the fan page has his shows dictated and that’s very helpful if you have an imagination). If you’re squeamish, can’t handle blood, seeing where your food comes from or words like “tissue” and “fascia” bother you, you better stop reading.
Daniel and I enjoy eating good food and a good steak can be pricey, especially a cut as nice as the filet! At a restaurant, a filet mignon dinner can start at around 25$ for a 6 oz piece and can certainly go up to 40$ or more depending on the restaurant and size of the cut. So that option would get me a good filet steak about once a year. Ugh. I can order eight 8oz steaks online from Costco at $42.50/pound…but thats just weird getting steaks mailed to me plus it is still expensive! The grocery store is a little better with filet at around 20$/pound. This option is OK if you just want one meal of filet and don’t want to go through the prep. It’s still a splurge, but two 8oz steaks for 20$ is not impossible to swing on our budget. At Sam’s – or whatever buy-in-bulk store you might be a member of, they sell the pismo in the meat department for around $9.50/pound. Now we’re talking! It is a big piece of beef so the upfront cost ranges from $50-$80 depending on the size they have available and really, the bigger the pismo, the bigger your filet so it’s worth it to get the big one. The other downside besides a steep buy-in price is that you do need to spend a good hour prepping the meat when you get home. HOWEVER! A pismo will give you 6-8 filet steaks, a hunk of roast meat (if you got a big pismo, then a big hunk of roast meat) and the chain. So saying I cut, store and eventually use every bit of this meat? I will get 3-4 steak dinners for two, 2-4 roast dinners for two, and 2-4 authentic Philly cheese-steak sandwiches from the chain. So if I bought a 60$ pismo, got 10 meals out of it then the price per meal is about….$6.00 each, not including the sandwiches. We’re talking a fancy steak-house dinner for a Burger-King price!
The task is not hard, time-consuming maybe but with practice can be done without too much mess or waste. The first few times I did this, my steaks were a little sloppy and I probably had filet meat still on my roast or worse, stuck with my chain! It’s not hard at all anymore and I’m pretty good at getting off the connective tissues and fat to make some lean and tender steaks plus the rest of the goodies. I’ve tried to photograph each step as I went and I’ll explain as I go. I’m hoping this post doesn’t come off clunky or confusing but here it goes!
Step One: Set up your prep station. It is always good to have a specific meat-only cutting board – my big one here will bridge my sink. You’ll also need a small fillet or paring knife to trim the meat and a large knife for cutting your portions. A paper towel is handy for wiping the fat and tissue that gets stuck on the paring knife, making it cut less effectively. A bowl for catching waste and a bowl for catching the cuts will be needed too. There is some liquid in the bag, Alton says it’s not blood but water with protein in it. I’m not convinced but either way, we don’t want it so throw it out and wash off the meat in cold water. It will be slippery if you don’t and hard to work with.
Step Two: You’ll see and feel on the outside of the meat (top side is the smooth side) very thin layers of connective tissue or fascia laying over the meat. With your fingers, and a paring knife if needed, start peeling that off, in layers until you’ve got it all. At this point, the “silver” will be exposed. Any obvious gristle or fat you can get off now too.
Step Three: The silver is a particularly tough bit of tissue. Tendon-like, it is very elastic and helps with muscle movement in a living muscle. When cooked though, it shrinks up and is SUPER chewy. That awful bite at the edge of some steaks too chewy to eat? That’s untrimmed silver. Alton calls it “dental floss”. The more silver you get off your meat, any meat, will give you a better steak. In order not to completely ruin a filet it is important to get off every last bit you can. Do this by freeing up one end with your paring knife. It’s hard to cut through which makes it easy to slip the thin knife under it and, with the knife-edge tipped up towards the silver, will release it from the muscle without cutting a bunch of good meat off too. Once there is enough to pinch, pull it up at an angle, and with the knife-edge still tipped up slightly, cut it away in a long strip. Repeat until it’s all off. Turn the meat over and even up the bottom. There are notches here from where the ribs used to be – and this area is also fattier. Run your knife parallel with the meat and trim off a layer of the fatty meat, taking out the notches. (this is a fattier bit so either save it with the chain meat for later and don’t worry about the fat content or give it to the other necessary helpers)
Step Four: Separating the different pieces. Back on the top side, to one side of the meat there is a bit that tapers off into kinda a chunky mess. It’s fattier but there are some good bits of meat there too. This is the chain. With your fingers, you can feel for the area where it meets the tenderloin and pull it away. Use the paring knife for cutting off fascia as you go if needed. Be careful not to damage the tenderloin if you can, damage the chain! This chain meat, according to Alton was the birth of the Philly Cheese-Steak sandwich. He says in the 1930’s a sandwich shop owner in Philadelphia wanted to make himself something to eat but didn’t want to eat what he sold to his customers. He had been saving some bits of steak off the chain so he grilled it and put it on a bun. A cabbie came by and wanted one because it smelled so good. Poof there it happened. Cheese came later and maybe the veggies too but that’s the story AB is sticking to! Sorry got off on a tangent there….back to the chain. So once it’s separated, cut off as much fat as you like, saving the little bits of steak as you go. Lump them together somewhere for later.
Step Five: Separating the petit roast from the tenderloin. With your fingers, again find the place where the roast meets the tenderloin on both sides. Gently peel this away too, careful not to damage the tenderloin. The bigger piece, the one furthest from me in the picture, is the roast. The other side, if it’s really fatty can be more chain or if it’s nice looking, an even smaller roast. Remove any fascia and silvering from your roast, and if any was under the roast on the tenderloin side. Set this aside.
Step Six: Cutting your steaks. Each tip of the tenderloin may be ragged, flat or tapered – cut each tip-off, about 0.5″, and throw it over in the chain meat pile. The ends are still tapered though and would make for some pretty skinny steaks if you just started cutting steaks from here. Measure about 3 inches from the tip and cut here for your first steak. Now with that tapered tail, you want to butterfly it so it ends up being a good-looking steak. Cut it almost all the way through in the middle but be careful NOT to actually cut it in half. With it butterflied, bend it backwards on itself and set it flat on the cutting board and admire your first filet steak. Repeat this process on the other tip if it’s tapered too. For the rest of the tenderloin, it depends on how thick you like your steak and how big a pismo you have in the first place. AB recommends 1.5″ thick steaks so that’s a good place to start. Measure off the 1.5 inches, cut there and repeat until your tenderloin is all chopped up.
If you couldn’t find a big enough pismo, the steaks may look disappointingly small – know going in that if your pismo is less than 60$ whole that your steaks will be around 6 ounces each if cut this way. If you want bigger steaks, you’ll have to cut thicker and naturally, get fewer steaks. Unfortunately, the biggest pismo I could find this day was about $50.00, which has made for smaller steaks. I usually like to get a $70-$80 pismo if I can. No worries though, it’s so tasty we enjoy every morsel anyway and I will look for a bigger piece next time.
Storage: It is important to store your beef properly if you aren’t going to cook it all at once. For this, you’ll need some cling-wrap and freezer bags. For each piece of meat, or for steak servings, double wrap them in cling wrap before putting them in a freezer bag. Don’t forget to date your bags so you know how old they are! They’ll keep for 3-4 months in your freezer to enjoy over time. What I do is cook 2 of the steaks that night for dinner or four, if I want leftovers for next night. You can just save two raw in the fridge to cook them fresh too if you like, they’re probably tastier that way. I wrap the other raw steaks in groups of 2 or 4 so I can take out and thaw individual meals when we’re ready.
Cooking Ideas: For ideas for preparing the different cuts you now have stored check out the Alton Brown fan page again, they have links there to each of his recipes off the tenderloin shows. Click on my link there and at the top, left hand side of the screen they have an index by show title – go to “Tender is the Loin II”. A Food Network online search for his recipe’s can also give you ideas on how to prepare that roast meat or the chain.
Additional Necessities: Dogs – two or more. They’re very handy for eating up the scraps you accidentally took too much meat off with. Our dogs Kendi and Mia are front and center anytime I’m preparing any meat! They just know when I’m deboning a chicken, prepping a lamb roast or a pismo. I think they’re praying I’ll lose my mind and throw the whole thing on the floor but will settle for a bite when I’m done.