Last time you entered an up-market steakhouse you may have noticed large chunks of meat hanging in a glass cabinet on display. Surprisingly this is not just for aesthetic purposes, rather a process of aging their meat to ensure maximum tenderness and flavour called Dry Aging.
Before you start freaking out about eating old meat, let me just remind you that most meat you eat is aged to enhance tenderness. When you see meat in a vacuum sealed packet, that is known as wet aging as it’s sitting in its own liquid. This is the most popular form of aging as it only requires a bit of plastic, as oppose to the big refrigerators you see in restaurants and butchers.
However, to really tug on the meat eating heart strings, there’s dry aging. This process involves placing whole chunks of meat (ie. before they are cut in to a steak) in to a ‘hot box’ which is a technical (and expensive) type of refrigerator where the temperature and humidity is carefully controlled to create perfect drying conditions. Generally speaking, the meat is kept at a near freezing temperature for somewhere between 14 to 28 days, depending on the size and type of cut.
Both wet and dry aging increase tenderness, however dry aging has the added benefit of altering and intensifying the beef, achieved through a combination of oxidation, enzyme breakdown and bacteria. As you can imagine there is significant water loss during this process too, which also helps concentrate the meatiness. When you see this dry aged meat in the fridge it doesn’t look overly appealing, however rest assured, the exterior, jerky coloured part is trimmed off prior to eating. Because so much of the meat is lost through this trimming and moisture loss process, as well as the added expenditure of the hot box, it’s no wonder dry aged steaks at your local steakhouse come at a premium.
If you’re wanting to cook a special treat for your husband on his Birthday, maybe give a dry aged steak a go. To get the most out of it, pat it dry and season generously with salt just before cooking. Quickly sear the meat on a hot pan or BBQ to lock in those juices. Once sealed, place in to the oven at a moderate temp until cooked to your liking. Just make sure he savours it…