Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Aging 3

At the CIA I have been experimenting with aging meat for a while now. Over the years many classes have sampled the flavor of aged beef, lamb and even pork. We have compared dry to wet aging methods and discussed the advantages and disadvantages of both during our lectures. Most often we dry age a bone in 2x3 beef striploin for about 3-4 weeks and cut off all of the exposed area, conduct a yield test and then sample a few slices of steaks simply cooked in a hot black skillet. We compare this to a three week wet aged 0x1 boneless striploin cooked the same way. These are both non-program standard choice, not expensive prime or certified beef, but its not tenderness we are testing so much as the depth of flavor. Consistently the dry aged has more depth of flavor but a severe yield loss. I always try to encourage my students to think of how each would apply in the restaurant setting. A dry aged would be great for a stand alone steak where the flavor of the meat is the highlight. Wet aged might be more appropriate for a steak that is served with a rich sauce or spicy rub where the taste of the steak is lost to the seasoning.

The longest dry aged product other than cured stuff, was a leg of lamb that was aged for about two months. I thought for sure it would be spoiled but to my surprise it survived and presented a rich flavor and ultra tender texture. We also did a six week striploin over the summer break which was right on the edge of palatable. Some students didn't like it while others thought it was divine. We had some products that were wet aged too long and had a very funky "feta" cheese smell. We didn't sample those. Beef reaches maximum tenderness at 21 - 28 days after slaughter if held at normal walk-in temperatures so there is really no reason to wet age beyond that amount of time.

Many students and associates ask me if they can age in their small fridge at home. We age at the college in a large walkin with great fan circulation and good humidity control but a small fridge is a different situation. I often suggest using an extra fridge and sticking a small computer fan in it to circulate properly. Also place a small pan of water in there to keep up the humidity.

A while back we received a sample of a product named DryBag. I had read about this product on Chris Raines Penn State blog and I called DryBag. They generously offered a few for us to try. The concept is to be able to dry age beef without having to isolate the cuts in a seperate fridge. It is a water permeable bag the bonds to the meat when vacuum packaged. It dries out just like regular dry aging but without the worry of crosscontamination or air flow. It does require a quality vacuum machine and may not work with an inexpensive foodsaver, but a higher end home vacuum system will work.

We tested all three methods to see how this technology holds up. We took one very fresh striploin that had never been in a bag, cut it into thirds and aged it three ways. So what was the result? We conducted a basic yield test, not a cut test but a simple test to see how much the meat shrank over about three and a half weeks. The wet aged lost no yield at all, the regular exposed dry aged lost about 20% and the DryBag portion also lost an almost identical amount, 20%. So we concluded it was truly water vapor permeable. The wet aged was the usual dull off red of in bag meat that soon bloomed once the air hit it. The regular dry aged had developed some exterior mold and had its usual distinct salami-esque smell. The DryBag was discolored but not to the point of the regular dry aged. It had a slight odor but not drastic. We tasted it all and the three were all different. The regular and the wet aged followed their predictable flavor profiles and the DryBag steak came in about in the middle. It definately gained some Umami flavor but not as much as the traditional dry aged. I wanted to share the tasting with another chef so I sent the three to Certified Master Chef Brad Barnes and asked for his honest opinion. I sent him trimmed 8 oz. steaks that all looked pretty much the same. Brad has judged numerous chef competitions and has a quality palate so here are his notes:

Fragrance, none
Color, same
Flavor, mild
Normal texture

Dry Bag;
Fragrance, light
Color, same
Flavor, Mild, pleasant nutty hint
Moderately tender

Fragrance full, pleasant
Color, same
Flavor, moderate strength, typical aged flavor