Toppling the Idols.
There’s a lot of confusion about the definition of aged beef. Wet aged, dry aged, and even fish sauce aged are used in lively but uninformed conversations. We are not intending to provide a full explanation of how to dry age beef, but rather a demystification of it. The aging of beef is not unscientific. It is, however, ancient, and was almost certainly inadvertent in its origin. Dry aged beef in its simplest form is merely given time to shed moisture, while being protected from the destructive influences of bacteria, cross contamination, and spoilage (autolysis).
There are a few ways in which this can be accomplished. All of them include:
- making sure the surface of the meat is clean to begin with.
- consistent temperature control (40F or thereabouts).
- light, to discourage mold.
- relatively low humidity, also to discourage mold.
- an enclosure that prevents cross contamination.
There are products available on the market that can be used to dry age beef. They include enclosures with fans and small lamps, and special sealed bags that allow moisture to exit, but not to enter. That sort of thing. It works.
Aging beef is not really so difficult, as it is time consuming and ultimately expensive. The meat can lose as much as 30% of its weight, while occupying space for a month or so in some restaurant’s cooler. Time costs money. Truly dry aged steaks in a restaurant can seem unreasonably expensive.
- I bought a really large, bone-in rib eye from a custom butcher in Portland. This cut was almost 26lbs., which is really too big to be served as prime rib.
- Why? It won’t fit on the plate, for one thing, and the slice might weigh over a pound without being a half inch thick. That’s not what people want.
- Chefs want their “export ribs” to weigh about 16lbs.
- I wanted to do something completely different with this rib eye. More than can be explained in this one treatise.
- So, for this application, I used the leaner, loin end of the cut, as opposed to the fattier, shoulder end.
- Which gave me this. This muscle is on its way to becoming what we call a New York steak, further down the spine of the steer.
- I removed the bone, and a lot of the fat.
- Now we have about 5 lbs. of choice rib eye.
- I aged it in my home refrigerator, on the top shelf, on a towel, on a rack, close to the compressor fan, and crossed my fingers.
- I firmly instructed my spouse not to touch it, not to breathe on it, and, above all else, not to throw it out while I was asleep.
- After 28 days, I had this:
- The color deepens, and you can see the dryness in the surface of the fat.
- There is no smell, and that’s a good thing.
- This weighed in at just over 3.5 lbs., which is also a good thing.
Giant Steps, part II
- This next step is very important, and frequently neglected.
- After deciding that we had a success on our hands, I vacuum sealed the beef and kept it refrigerated for a week.
- This gives it time to equalize. The center will get a little drier, and, equally important, the surface will get a little moister and softer.
- A lot of people resign themselves to cutting away the surface of their aged beef. In the extreme, this may be necessary; it can get pretty dark and dry.
- In most cases, if we can ignore our urges to carve away, waiting that extra week can improve our overall experience.
- By the way, “wet” aged beef is treated just like that. The packers seal it in a bag, and refrigerate it for 21 days. That’s why you see some red liquid in the cryovac pack.
- That’s not blood. That’s water that drained out of the beef, with a little myoglobin in it.
- I served some raw at a gathering of friends and associates, it was well received.
- I decided to move forward.
- I cut a one lb. piece from the aged rib eye, and processed sous vide @127Fx12 hours.
- This is a long time, considering how tender the steak already is.
- We are pasteurizing it, too, and that’s how long it takes.
- After processing, the color is somewhat darkened, but the juices are still quite livid.
- Shock in ice water.
- Why freeze?
- After partial defrosting, it makes the carpaccio a lot easier to slice thin, thin, thin.
This concludes part one.