Feeding a family can get expensive, so we're all about ways to prepare tasty and cost-effective meals. One outstanding way to stretch your budget is by using a tougher cut of meat and cooking it well, which generally means low and slow and with some kind of cooking liquid. There are several ways to tenderize meat by cooking it, but a time-honored classic is Swiss steak.
First, a quick reminder about different cuts of meat. The parts of an animal that get the most exercise tend to be tough and lean. On a cow, the beef round is the meat around the leg and rump. If you want to cook a round steak, you have to give it a lot of time for heat to break down the chewy connective tissues and you have to add liquid because there's very little fat.
Swiss steak is an old-fashioned main dish, but it's a classic for a reason. You can feed a crowd on a budget with hearty comfort food; all you need is some time (and some mashed potatoes on the side) for a dinner everyone will love.
Why the name Swiss steak?
Swiss steak has nothing to do with Switzerland. The recipe, which first appeared in print in 1915, gets its name from the way the meat is prepared. The first step in making any Swiss steak recipe is to pound the steak with a meat mallet to start the tenderizing process. The technique of tenderizing meat by pounding or rolling it is known as "swissing" thus beef that is swissed and braised becomes Swiss steak.
You can also buy cube steak to make Swiss steak, since cube steak has already been tenderized by the swissing process.
In England and the American South you may see Swiss steak served as smothered steak. Since Swiss steak is braised in and served with a mixture of stewed tomatoes and onions, both names work.
How to make this classic dish
The best way to make Swiss steak is to cook it in your slow cooker or in a Dutch oven on the stovetop in the oven. A cast iron pan works, too, as long as you have a good lid.
Start by tenderizing the beef, then sear the meat. Some recipes have you dredge the beef in an all-purpose flour mixture before searing, but all that does is brown the flour. To get that really good seared crust on the meat, skip the dredging step and brown steaks directly in vegetable oil or olive oil.
Take the steaks out of the pan and saute your onions until they're tender. Then add the steaks back to the pan and scoop the onions on top of the meat. If you're using a Crock-pot, add the seared steaks and onions to the slow cooker. Top that with canned diced tomatoes.
Some recipes call for bell peppers and garlic. If you want to use them, saute your peppers and garlic with the onions. You'll also add beef broth or tomato sauce for additional liquid. If your sauce is too thin, add some tomato paste to thicken it. The seasonings are up to you. Salt and black pepper, of course, and oregano and Worcestershire sauce are both traditional.
The total time for cooking is around 1 1/2 hours; the Swiss steak is done when the meat is fork-tender.
Get the recipe here.
You can serve the Swiss steak over rice if mashed potatoes aren't your thing. Make sure you dish up plenty of the stewed veggies to go with the meat.