Approximately fifty years ago the majority of America’s beef was dry aged. More so once butchers realized that beef carcasses which were left hanging for several days or weeks, somehow became more tender and far more palatable. This is due to the natural enzymes inside the meat which breaks down connective tissues and proteins. The 1960’s arrived and saw beef being vacuum packed. The reason for vacuum packing was so that the packaging itself could ‘wet age’ the beef while not losing any of its weight. Wet aging was deemed far more economical and eventually consumers became acclimatized to the new taste of beef, forgetting the true taste of a superb steak.
During dry aging the beef is aged for two to six weeks. During this time a hardened crust forms on the outer side of the beef which is somewhat like a beef jerky texture. Within this time, the enzymes within the beef breaks down the muscle fibres and connective tissue while tenderizing it. This makes the beef lovely and tender and quite buttery to touch. 20% of moisture loss will now occur and this aids in concentrating the beefy flavours within the meat. (One will notice a relatively intense taste, somewhat like game when they finally cook their steak.) Dry age beef also develops a crust which has to be trimmed away, resulting in an additional loss of the beef’s original weight. At times up to 25% more weight loss is then noticed.
What makes beef so tender? The juices are given time to absorb into the beef during the processing period, this enhances the beef’s natural flavour while tenderising it as well. In the world of white linen dining, dry aged steaks are a true delicacy and one of the most popular choices on the menu. Dry aging requires patience and special care, it is time consuming and relatively expensive, requiring the right storage. Due to the fact that up to 20% of the original weight of the beef is lost during the dry aging process, it’s understandable that dry aged steaks are usually only offered in the more elite restaurants, gourmet steak companies and in upscale grocery stores.
New concepts on stock handling have been incorporated into the management of cattle. It is now known that stressed cattle produce lower quality beef. In fact a stressed beast can lose 5% of its overall body weight in less than 48 hours. Most steak connoisseurs, spend good money on top quality dry aged steak. They love the rich, decadently tender, nutty, beefy tasting steak over all others. Considering only a handful of butchers and steakhouses carry out their own dry aging, the cost of a succulent dry aged steak can be astronomical. Dallas home cooks are fortunate in the fact that Rudolph’s Market has been Dry Aging beef for well over 100 years.
Although dry aging is often deemed controlled rotting by many chefs, its popularity is astounding. Yes it is an acquired taste and some steak connoisseurs say that it has a somewhat ‘green’ taste. If you are not too fussed about a richer, more marbled rib-eye or strip steak, dry aged beef may not be the choice for you. When the beef is chosen for dry aging only prime beef makes the grade. Dry aged beef is hung inside large sterile refrigerators with the air flow, temperature and humidity carefully controlled. The air controlled temperature for dry aging steak is between 34F and 38F. The humidity level is between 50% and 75%. So is dry aged steak appealing to the eye? Visually dry aged steak is hard to distinguish between wet-aged steak. But dry aged steak has much more flavour. Woody and smoky yet the texture does remind one of liver at times. Dry aged steak is worth trying, a myriad of people state that it’s just too good to be ignored.