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Yesterday, I was lamenting the salmon season being late and the fact that I can’t really afford to buy any of it. After I wrote that blog, I realized that the wild salmon I can currently get my hands on and consequently, teeth into, is about the same price as dry aged beef. That led me to thinking about my mother who is type B and my husband who is O type (no, he’s not a typo). So, although I’m an AB, today’s blog will be more for the B’s and O’s or someone who cooks for a B or an O. I hope that everyone though will be interested in it.
Last week, I got my husband his very first ever dry aged steak. It was one pound, 2” thick, and marbled just enough not to dry out while it was being cooked and to have a good flavor (I think that is one of the reasons we like fat and oils so much - they are flavor carriers, literally). When he saw the price per pound, he almost had a fit of some sort. He hadn’t had any beef in awhile at all except for hamburger, so I got it for him anyway and told him to just trust me. It would be worth it.
After we got home I cut it into two pieces 1” thick because he still prefers to eat his meat more on the well done side than medium, but he’s getting there. Anyway, I rubbed it with olive oil, seasoned it with some kosher salt, and let it grill. When it was done, I lightly dabbed it with some butter and seasoned it with some freshly ground pepper.
He said it was indeed worth the price as I had said it would be. Why? What was so special about dry aged meat that made it taste so much better and cost so darn much?
After an animal is slaughtered, rigor mortis sets in. It is a chemical change in the muscles that makes them stiff. Veal, sheep, and pork also do it, but these smaller animals don’t require as much time to soften back up. When a cut of meat is so fresh that it is at this stage, it is inedible. Over time, enzymes naturally present in the meat soften it back up. These enzymes develop the flavor of the meat as well. This is why all beef is aged and the highest quality lamb can be.
So that you don’t get the wrong idea here, aging is NOT old meat. Aging is purposely holding the meat to give it time to develop it’s flavor and to become more tender. Old meat is just old meat - past its prime.
In the modern age in which we live there are two ways to age meat rather than just the traditional one. The cheapest, and therefore most commonly used, method is called wet aging. In this method the meat is fabricated (cut down to small sizes from the big primal cuts) and then sealed in plastic vacuum packs (think Cryovac). The packaging protects the meat from bacteria and mold. More importantly, it preserves the weight of the meat because it does not allow any evaporation to take place. This means the meat weighs more when it’s sold. That makes the price per pound cheaper, but it also means that it will most likely lose more weight when it’s cooked.
The second method of aging is the dry aged type that my husband enjoyed. This is the traditional method. It is usually done with large pieces of meat (I’ve even seen it done with entire hindquarters). The meat is never packaged in anything. Instead the opposite is done. It is surrounded by air as much as possible. Now days, the temperature and humidity are controlled to help prevent spoilage and fans are often used to keep the air circulating around the meat. Ultraviolet lights can be used to kill off any bacteria. All this air exposure means evaporation - up to 20%. This makes it more expensive, but it also makes it better flavored and textured. It also must be trimmed more because the outer part does get too dry (think inedible jerky). It can also discolor. I don’t eat dry aged beef any more because beef’s an avoid for us AB’s...but I can still serve it as a special treat now and then to my O’s and B.
One more thing about my B mom. When she first started this way of life, she couldn’t eat beef - it made her sick. She kept trying to eat small amounts of it though from time to time. Now, she really likes her shiitake mushroom burgers with cheese. She also always wanted something to drink with her meals. Now, she genuinely doesn’t even have the desire to drink something when she eats. We all need time to make the changes (both in our mind set and physically) that go with this way of life. They are really worth the effort.