Matambre: the elephant ear, twitch or fly shaker that is a must try cut at an Argentinian restaurant

Matambre is a must have beef cut at any argentinian steakhouse. However, it is rarely seen outside Argentina, or outside the Southern Cone of America, as Uruguayans, Paraguayans, Brazilians and Chileans also eat matambre.

In the US, Matambre is called Rose Meat or Shoulder Rose Meat

According to the USDA guidelines, as included in the Item Number 194 for beef cut purchasers, the matambre, elephant ear, or fly shaker beef cut is called Rose Meat or Shoulder Rose Meat.

In the US the rose meat is very rarely seen as a whole cut. It is used a ground beef for burgers combined with other cuts (some 50% of beef in the US is consumed as ground beef).

usda definition of matambre fly shaker beef rose meat elephant ear
USDA meat purchasers guide for Matambre cut

What muscle is the rose meat, fly shaker beef cut or elephant ear cut?

The rose meat cut comprises two muscles: cutaneous omobrachialis and the M. cutaneous trunci from the flank of the carcass. It is extracted from the exterior of the carcass before making the primal cuts.

Matambre is actually the whole cutaneous muscle of the cattle. It is a long and flat meat cut that extends on the cow’s flank from the chuck to the inguinal part of beef.

The matambre, meaning literally “hunger killer” is a non expensive beef cut everywhere. In Argentina is now more appreciated as urban grill masters have discovered the virtues of an honest cut.

Originally the matambre was used in Argentina to feed dogs as its meat if not treated correctly could be chewy.

Matambre a la parrilla

The Matambre a la parrilla is one of the most common ways to have this beef cut made in the interior of Argentina, not in Buenos Aires.

Normally, the whole cut, the cutaneous muscle is grilled slowly in a wooden fire pit on the ground, making it tender slowly and losing its fat excess.

Matambrito tiernizado

The matambrito tiernizado was a creation of Buenos Aires steakhouses in Argentina to make use of a beef cut that cannot be processed or grilled in a whole piece.

The matambrito tiernizado is the whole matambre cut in rectangular pieces, that is tenderized for a whole night with milk.

The morning after the matambre cut is ready to grill and show off its flavors. A firm fire would be great to make the exterior fat crispy so as to mix textures in the same bite.

A bit of Salsa Criolla or Chimichurri could be a good way to accompany the matambre.

Matambre a la pizza

The matambre a la pizza is great way to combine two Argentinian passions: beef and pizza. About 60% of people living in Buenos Aires are from Italian descent, combined with may other immigration origins, who integrated in what is now known as the Argentina culture.

The matambre a la pizza is a tenderized fly shake cut that is left clean of fat excess used as a base for pizza. Once the matambre reaches its grilling term on a charcoal parrilla (or alternatively in an oven), it is topped with traditional pizza sauce (tomato, garlic, oregano) and then covered with ham and mozzarella cheese. Olives on top are commonly used.

What part of the cow is matambre or fly shaker from?

The matambre or fly shaker is the cutaneous muscle that separates the ribs of the cow from the skin. When cattle are disturbed by flies and other insects, they twitch the cutaneous muscle, creating a vibration so as to get rid of the bugs. That is why the matambre or suadero (in Mexico) is called in the US fly shaker, elephant ear (elephants use their ears to shake flies) or twitch.

In this video, a traditional argentinian butcher, Mario Ponce de León, de Dean Funes, Provincia de Córdoba, shows how the fly shaker cut is the first one to be extracted from the beef carcass upon arrival to the butcher shop.

He also describes the exterior fat cover of the rose meat beef cut, and its rose meat. These two different components of the cut, the fat and the rose meat, when grilled, give the fly shaker in the traditional Argentinian parrilla a complex texture and a delicious flavor. The exterior fat is browned as it is facing the charcoal most of the grilling time.

As opposed to the humble standing of this cut abroad, in Argentina some “asadores” call it the king of the asado, as it is a must have in any special barbecue celebration like mothers’ day, and birthdays and other special events. This is true for Argentina’s interior, but not so common in Buenos Aires.

Matambre de cerdo

Matambre de cerdo or matambrito de cerdo (“pork matambre”) are the same cutaneous muscle as the beef matambre, but coming from a hog.

In the case of the matambrito de cerdo, the cut does not need to be boiled or marinated for more tenderness, however many Argentinians do it anyway. The Argentinian hogs are smaller and lighter than the US or European hogs, so the meat is always tender.

Difference between Matambre and Suadero

Suadero is the Mexican word for Matambre. It refers to the exactly same cutaneous muscle of cattle.

However, as for most beef cuts, the Mexicans prefer to trim the cut to small pieces so it can be eaten like a taco.

The Mexican suadero is usually not grilled, but fried in pork fat (“manteca” as they call it). The suadero then is mixed with onions and other spices and fried in large pans at the streets. The suadero is a very popular taco for people eating street food throughout the cities of Mexico. Unlike the Argentinian matambre, the suadero tacos use a lot of spicy sauce made of different type of chiles.

How do you say Matambre, Fly Shaker meat/Rose Meat/Elephant Ear beef cut in other Latin American countries

Name of Fly Shaker meat or matambre in:EcuadorCaucara o Falda dorada
Name of Fly Shaker meat or matambre in:BrasilMatambre
Name of Fly Shaker meat or matambre in:ColombiaSobre Sarriga
Name of Fly Shaker meat or matambre in:ChileMalaya
Name of Fly Shaker meat or matambre in:México Suadero
Name of Fly Shaker meat or matambre in:Costa RicaRollo de res
Name of Fly Shaker meat or matambre in:UruguayMatambre
Name of Fly Shaker meat or matambre in:PerúMalaya o Falda
Name of Fly Shaker meat or matambre in:VenezuelaSobrebarriga
Nombres que recibe el matambre en diferentes países

Why Argentinian Steakhouses in the US don’t grill Argentine beef?

Surprisingly enough for the customers of an Argentinian steakhouse, when they eat asado, vacio or bife de chorizo, they’d most likely be eating US, Canadian, New Zealand or Uruguayan beef, not Argentinian. The US consumers eat 20x more Mexican beef than Argentinian beef!

For twenty years starting 1999, the import of Argentinian beef cuts in the US was banned. The formal excuse to ban it was an outbreak of foot and mouth desease in South America, a viral infection that affects cattle but has no risk for humans.

Argentinian beef cuts were famous because of its grass fed beef tradition, and were replaced by beef from another countries that also have pasture cattle. Grass fed continues to be the norm in the initial phases of the beef business, breeding and stocking. However, most of the beef produced in Argentina now is finished in a feed lot on a corn based diet. What remains totally natural is that Argentina does not use any growth promotion hormone as the ones used in the US beef production industry. Growth promoters are totally banned in Argentina. Also, there is a growing base of Argentine ganaderos that are going back to purely grass fed beef, using process technologies such as rotational grazing, high density pasture grazing, Voisin Rational Grazing and other regenerative techniques that also are more efficient in beef production on a per acre basis.

A trend back towards the grass feeding is expected to be pushed when Argentina’s cattle ranchers can receive their fair share of carbon bonds. Grass fed beef production sequesters more carbon than the methane gas cattle producers, and the ganaderos may have a bonus to produce more grass fed beef if they can cash in the carbon bonds.

Only recently, in 2019, Argentina re-started exporting beef cuts to the US. Actually, the first import was done by the Argentinian steakhouse and food market Graziano’s from Miami.

The US are an obvious export destination for the Argentine beef. They will never replace any US beef. It will only be a specialty, competing against Japanese wagyu, Korean rat meat or Chinese vampires.

Graziano’s imported premium Argentine beef cuts like Bife Ancho/Rib Eye, Bife Angosto-Bife de Chorizo/New York-Sirloin, Tapa de Cuadril/Rump top, Vacío/Flank and Entraña/Skirt steaks and a very particular cut that Argentinians love: matambre (skin muscle).

Graziano’s imported chilled beef cuts, of a very high quality. At their beef packing plant, they process 132.000 lbs of beef per month, to be sold at its steakhouses and markets in Miami (FL).

mario graziano Graziano's Argentine restaurant Miami
Mario Graziano, owner of Graziano’s Argentine restaurant and food market chain in Miami

Graziano, an Italian born, emigrated very young and ended up building a successful butchery chain in the poor suburbs of Buenos Aires. Because of the 1989 hyperinflation Argentinian crisis, Graziano emigrated to Miami, where his brother was already living.

The rest of the beef imported from Argentina to the US is frozen beef of inferior quality that ends up ground to make burgers. Burgers are the favorite American way of consuming beef, explaining roughly 50% of total consumption.

Argentine beef exports to the US 2019 – 2020

Argentine beef Imports US 2019U$KgUS$/TonLbs
20199.865.9491.481.8736.6583.264.037
Frozen beef7.664.0361.246.4556.1492.745.496
Chilled beef2.011.978208.4189.654459.070
Frozen and chilled offals189.93527.0007.03559.471
January 20201.644.781276.8915.940609.892
Frozen beef1.454.084251.5445.781554.062
Chilled beef187.74124.9407.52854.934
Frozen and chilled offals2.9564077.263896
February 20205.066.989895.1585.6601.971.714
Frozen beef4.466.497812.2025.4991.788.991
Chilled beef421.18355.6417.570122.557
Frozen and chilled offals179.30927.3156.56460.165
March 20206.224.5321.222.1965.0932.692.062
Frozen beef5.819.3911.159.1655.0202.553.227
Chilled beef399.46762.1436.428136.879
Frozen and chilled offals5.6748886.3901.956
Argentine beef Imports US Q1 202012.936.3022.394.2455.4035.273.667
Frozen beef11.739.9722.222.9115.2814.896.280
Chilled beef1.008.391142.7247.065314.370
Frozen and chilled offals187.93928.6106.56963.018

Vacio

Vacio is a must-have of every Argentinian Steakhouse. “Asado y vacio” is the answer you’ll hear when you ask what beef cuts they serve at a simple Argentine restaurant.

The vacio cut is the flank muscle around the belly of the animal. It is known also as flap meat because of the flap shape of the whole cut. It is the bottom of the sirloin, and the continuation of the rib cage in the posterior part of the steer.

The cut, is also very popular in France, where it is called bavette and served at all bistrots with “frites”.

The vacio is well marbled, and has firm fiber with a well defined grain, as the muscles of the belly of the cow are subject to substantial effort. Because of not being that tender it was underestimated in the era of tasteless filet mignon. Now, because of its flavor and its fat, it is rediscovered as one the best Argentinan beef cuts.

The vacio outside Argentina is normally cut into steaks and cooked on pans on high heat. However, at a true Argentinian steakhouse, the vacio has to be grilled in one single piece (over 2 kg of weight) on the wood fired or charcoal parrilla. It is a lot better to grill the full cut if you plan to slow cook it Argentinian style so it does not losses the juice inside.

Vacio is a very versatile beef cut. Apart from the traditional Argentinian vacio a la parrilla, you can also roast it in the oven. The vacio al horno is also a very popular dish in Argentina, especially in Buenos Aires where people live in apartments with no barbecue place. It is also very popular in lunch menus in Buenos Aires fondas and bodegones. The Fonda or Bodegon is a very basic and affordable Argentine restaurant that offers traditional Argentine food like roasted beef cuts, ravioli, ñoquis, fideos al tuco (vermicelli with tomato sauce) and other staples of the Argentine cuisine.

Vacío beef cut price keeps on delivering good news: it is affordable

In Argentina, the vacío is a non expensive beef cut. It is considered a key part of the “cortes parrilleros”, the set of beef cuts that are traditionally grilled at parrillas by locals. The other “cortes parrilleros” are “tira de asado” (rib cage, short ribs), “matambre” (fly shaker meat, rose meat or elephant ear cut) and the “entraña” (skirt steak, both inside and outside).

In Argentina, these cortes parrilleros do not drive any export demand, so 100% of vacíos are kept inside the country for domestic consumption. Argentina’s most valued export cuts are those located on the rump & loin of the cow, and the steaks, that are exported to Europe as part of the Hilton Quota (a special customs regime with low tariffs for high value beef cuts).

How much does the vacio beef cut costs?

In Argentina it is hard to give an estimate of the vacio beef cut price due to the many macroeconomic crisis and inflations the country has experienced over the last 50 years.

However, the cost of a vacio cut has always been around $5-7 per kilo, that would be only $ 2.72 per Lb, less what chicken costs in the US or in Europe.

As shown in the image below, a cut of vacio at Wholefoods supermarkets is woth $18lb, or $39 per kilo. Due to the prevailing crisis in Argentina (q4 2020), a kilo of vacío beef in Argentina now is worth $3/kg, or just $1.32/lbs, a ridiculous price.

The vacio beef cut in the US is 6.6x more expensive than in Argentina

Vacio Argentine beef cut nomenclator description

what is vacio beef cut
The vacio is made by the main abdominal muscles of the cow

In the video below, from the minute 5.25 you can see how the flank steak is cut from the loin of the steer.

https://youtu.be/WrOzwoMKzH4
Butchering the a whole steer and taking out flank steak – vacio

The vacio beef cut is made of the following abdominal muscles: transversus abdominis internal and external oblique muscles and the rectus abnominis.

It is the continuation of the tiras de asado (ribs) train, and precedes the Tri-Tip, Rump tail, Sirloin Roast. Is is just below the Sirloin/New York area.

Vacío (Code 2469 and 2200) Está ubicado en la región abdominal, y lo integran los músculos y fascias que componen la pared abdominal. Tiene por límite en su parte anterior al asado y la falda, en la superior a los bifes angostos y en la posterior a la colita de cuadril.Composición Osea:
DEBE CONSIDERARSE COMO BASE ÓSEA A LOS PUNTOS DE INSERCIÓN DE LOS MÚSCULOS ABDOMINALES, YA SEA DIRECTA O INDIRECTAMENTE POR INTERMEDIO DE TENDONES O FASCIAS. TENEMOS ENTONCES: LA CARA EXTERNA Y CARTÍLAGOS COSTALES DE LAS ÚLTIMAS COSTILLAS, APÓFISIS TRANSVERSAS DE LAS VÉRTEBRAS LUMBARES, EL CUERPO DEL ILIÓN, LA TUBEROSIDAD COXAL Y EL PUBIS. Componente Muscular:
COMPRENDE LOS MÚSCULOS Y FASCIAS QUE CONTRIBUYEN A FORMAR LA PARED DEL ABDOMEN. ESTOS MÚSCULOS SON: OBLÍCUO ABDOMINAL EXTERNO, OBLÍCUO ABDOMINAL INTERNO, RECTO ABDOMINAL Y ABDOMINAL TRANSVERSO. Preparación:
SE PUEDE PREPARAR A PARTIR DE UN CUARTO TRASERO A 3 COSTILLAS. PREVIA EXTRACCIÓN DEL MATAMBRE, SE LO SEPARA DE LA COLITA DE CUADRIL INCIDIENDO A TRAVÉS DEL TEJIDO CONJUNTIVO QUE VINCULA LOS MÚSCULOS ABDOMINALES CON EL TENSOR DE LA FASCIA LATA, HASTA LLEGAR AL LÍMITE VENTRAL DEL BIFE ANGOSTO. A CONTINUACIÓN, SE COMPLETA EL CORTE EN SENTIDO PARALELO AL BORDE DEL BIFE ANGOSTO HASTA LLEGAR A LA 13º COSTILLA, LA QUE SE BORDEA HACIA VENTRAL HASTA LOGRAR LA SEPARACIÓN DE LA PIEZA. FINALMENTE, SE ELIMINAN LOS EXCESOS DE TEJIDOS CONJUNTIVO Y ADIPOSO.

Official Argentine beef cut Nomeclator SENASA IPCVA