Origins and History of the Porterhouse Cut

Known for its generous size and satisfying flavor, the porterhouse steak occupies a special place in the hearts of meat lovers. However, not everyone is familiar with the interesting history and origin story of this delectable cut of beef, which includes references to vintage inns, hearty meals, and the American Presidential campaign. Let’s delve into the past and explore the fascinating journey of the porterhouse steak from its inception to the present day.

The American Origin Story

The term “Porterhouse” originates from the U.S., specifically the public alehouses that flourished in the Northeast during the 19th century. These establishments were referred to as ‘porter houses’, named after the dark ‘Porter’ beer they commonly served.

As per popular legend, the name ‘porterhouse steak’ was coined around the 1820s by an innkeeper named Zackariah B. Porter from Cambridge, Massachusetts. He had a custom of serving a large T-shaped cut of beef, which soon gained popularity amongst his patrons. Thereafter, this cut began to be associated with the name of Porter’s establishment and quickly became famous as the ‘Porter House Steak’.

An Alternate English Legend

Interestingly, there is an English tale that lays claim to the Porterhouse name. Martin Morrison, an innkeeper in Lincolnshire, England, during the early 1800s, served a similar T-bone steak. Morrison’s specialty was believed to have preceded Porter’s version, and the name ‘Porterhouse’ came from there. However, there isn’t enough historic evidence to back this claim, so the American version generally stands accepted.

Oxford English Dictionary’s Recognition

Adding another layer of credibility to the U.S origin of the ‘Porterhouse Steak’, the Oxford English Dictionary lists the earliest documented usage of the term in 1814 in New York.

A Presidential Campaign Connection

The porterhouse steak made significant headlines during the Presidential campaign of 1840. When William Henry Harrison won, his supporters celebrated his victory by serving porterhouse steaks, perpetuating the fame of this cut further.

Porterhouse Steak Today

The porterhouse steak continues to be celebrated at steak houses across the world. In the U.S., specific regulations dictate the size of the tenderloin and strip portions for a steak to qualify as a porterhouse. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) specifies that the tenderloin portion must be at least 1.25 inches wide at its widest point to be classified as a porterhouse.

The Anatomy of a Porterhouse

The Porterhouse steak is a substantial cut taken from the rear end of the short loin of a steer or heifer. What distinguishes the Porterhouse from its close relative, the T-bone steak, is the size of the tenderloin portion. A true Porterhouse boasts a larger tenderloin section, and by industry standards, it should have a tenderloin that measures at least 1.25 inches in diameter at its widest point.

Bottom Line

Porterhouse steak, with its historical roots entrenched in American gastronomy, continues to be a symbol of culinary luxury. Its distinctiveness lies in its substantial size, T-shaped bone, and the presence of two-prized cuts – tenderloin and strip – all in one. This combination makes the Porterhouse not only a remarkable piece of culinary history but also a significant cut of beef to savor.

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