DWAINE Smyth’s first food blog promoted a fantastic response from Portadown Times readers, who enjoyed his entertaining and informative slant on the age-old argument on how steak should be cooked. Now he’s back for second helpings and this week, Dwaine takes a closer look at the varied ways beef is aged.
‘It’s time to educate the masses on all things moo meat! You pay for your beef so why shouldn’t you know exactly everything about it and if your butcher doesn’t tell you... ASK! We love to talk, it brings in our day!
Dry-aged beef is one of those things that really get our customers excited whenever they come into our shop. We roll back the years at Meat Cleaver HQ and do it pure ‘Little House On The Prairie’ style.
Dry aging, far from being the exotic ritual we make it out to be today, is what pretty much all beef that wasn’t cured or canned used to be 40 years ago. What happened? Why is properly hung beef such an oddity today if it was the industry standard such a short time ago? Plastic bags, unfortunately, are the anti-climactic answer. Basically, the meat-packing industry figured out that if you stick a piece of meat in a vacuum-sealed bag, it not only reduces the amount of money that is lost in water weight and trim, but it also “ages” faster. Thus the age-old ‘wet vs. dry-aging controversy’ began. Sometimes demand outweighs supply and so from time to time HQ has to bring in a few extra ‘wet aged’ loins but it still gets dry aged for a further 7 - 10 days after the initial 21 days. That’s how we roll!
Okay, so what is aging and what are the differences between wet and dry aging exactly? Aging is the process during which microbes and enzymes act upon the meat to help break down the connective tissue, for the sake of making the aforementioned meat object more tender. Whether it happens in a bag or out in the air as a big swinging side of beef, that element of the process is the same (okay, almost the same).
During wet-aging, the plastic doesn’t allow the meat to breathe, so it ages in contact with its own blood, which lends it a more intense sour note and a more deep flavour. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing as everyone’s pallet will be different I’m just giving you the science guys and gals.
Dry-aging, on the other hand, allows the meat to breathe, lose water (which increases its ‘beefiness’ since there is now less water and but the same amount of muscle fibre), and get acted upon by other microbes beside those of the exterior loin. So dry aging wins, right? It’s complicated: while most meat snobs (myself included) prefer dry-aged beef, we are in a world were ‘wet aged’ meat has become the norm in the industry and like anything it’s all down to preference!
Ultimately neither method of aging is the be-all-end-all: it is impossible to properly dry-age steaks like the flat iron, skirt steak, or chuck tenders because they lack the protective fat and bone that cover traditional aged cuts like rib and sirloin. Once they are removed from the carcass, they simply begin to degrade and dry out, which is why I think everyone agrees they should go into plastic.
What everything eventually comes down to is personal preference. I prefer meat that has been hung about 3 weeks and then the loin in question dry aged for a further 7 days on the hook. Some of my customers however have a few different ideas, for instance we have a doctor come into us and he wont touch a T bone loin until its been dry aging for a further 21 days even once its matured off the carcass. Our customers have come to associate the taste and texture of well-aged meat with having the true steakhouse experience at home. It’s time to re-train your eyes! Supermarkets have us programmed into believing the more red a steak is the better it will taste! I can tell you that is a combination of the meat being ‘too fresh’ and also the fact that supermarket meat has 70% oxygen funnelled into its air tight trays which then reddens the steak. Go for beef that is well aged and therefore a much more darker red in colour!
What does all of this tell us? That the best kind of aged meat is the kind that you, as an individual, like best. Whether it’s a wet, bloody Ribeye or a six-week-old Porterhouse steak, all in all, the customer/meat freak is always right!
Dwaine Smyth is co-owner of The Meat Cleaver, a local, trendy butcher shop on the Armagh Road, Portadown. He loves good meat, good music and good whiskey, but not necessarily in that order.