Monday, November 8, 2010
Dry vs Wet Age
When you hear the term "dry aged" at a restaurant or at your grocer it can be confusing even for me. There are a few ways to age proteins and the durations of dry aging can vary from a few days to about 45 days. About 99% of the time when you talk about aging beef is the subject at hand. By aging after slaughter or "harvest" enzymes in the meat have a chance to go to work. This helps to develop flavor and evaporate excess moisture. Most of the time an animal is harvested and then halved and hung to dry only for a few days, then broke down into what we call primal cuts (top and bottom round, sirloin, tenderloin, prime rib, strip loin, etc) then it is cryovacked and sold to your meat market, butcher, grocer, or restaurant supplier to be further processed in to steaks.This is wet aging. Sometimes the animal is allowed to hang longer (chilled of course- think 10-15 days) to allow the enzymes to do even more work and more evaporation to take place. Still in some other cases the animal is hung for a minimal amount of time and then cut into primals and aged as primals with cold air circulating around them. This allows the depth of flavor to develop more than any other approach. The cuts can go any amount of time and at a really nice steak house you will see some different options on the menu. 45 days seem to be the max I have seen and it will even allow some good bacteria to come into play. The cut will pick up some mushroomy flavor and in some cases will taste of good bleu cheese. This is what I consider to be truly dry aged, and most really serious steak houses will do it themselves in a cooled area built just for such a purpose so that they can better monitor the process while it goes.
We don't see this much anymore as it is a very expensive process. You need the room to do it, but more than that the aging process will lose weight (water) as it goes. By losing weight you have lost money. If you bought a prime rib and aged it whole for 45 days you will lose about 30-40% of its total weight. So if it was 15 pounds to begin with at $10 a pound it costed you $150. But now its only 10# (and thats not all usable) and it still costed $150, if your cutting 16 oz rib-eye steaks you can only cut 10 instead of 15. Each cut cost you $15 dollars instead of $10, and that assumes 100% usability, and doesn't factor in the time and money it cost to store and manage them while they age. Mostly due to this simply math you understand why you don't see "dry aged" at your local grocer. If you do, or are at a restaurant that offers it, I encourage you to ask questions. Where was it aged, and for how long. Does the restaurant age it themselves or do they buy it as such. All of this will factor in to the overall taste.
This is a picture of a few prime graded rib-eye steaks that I cut that we are going to age ourselves in the walk-in at work. Since they are already steak cut I am going to only go about a week and see what happens. I will flip them daily until then. I hope to be able to get another picture of it when its done to offer a side by side look.
This post is the first of many where I am going to get involved in the way we raise and harvest animals, some of the misinformation that surrounds those processes, and even some of the terms used to make us feel better about animal and egg harvest. Please consider this fair warning that they will not be very pretty. The way we raise and slaughter animals in this country is cruel, and as a country we spend progressively less of our incomes on food then ever before, and less than any culture on earth. My attempt of course is not to get you to become vegetarian, but to talk a bit about the political side of meat industry. To try to clear up the fog so that you can make the best decisions for yourself and family, while at the same time making you understand that both meat and fish on your plate or cutting board represent a life that was taken to be there. If you had not ordered or bought it, it would still be alive. I have convinced myself that if I respect and treat that the best I can, and waste none of it, then I have done that animal the justice it deserves. I worry more and more that that isn't enough. For some research purposes I would love to hear from any vegetarians (privately via email) describing why you have made the decision not to eat meat. You can expect to hear information on terms like grass fed, free range, organic, heritage, natural, pasture raised, cage free, hormone free, sustainable, RBST, etc.