Alternative Methods to Dry Aging Beef
You ever wonder why dry aged beef tastes so damn good? Well its because of science...duh!
There is a tendency to assume that "fresher" means better when dealing with animal proteins but this is not always the case. Butchers and slaughter houses generally allow their meat to age slightly before it hits retail shelves because it allows for moisture loss (and consequently concentration of flavors) and tenderization through relaxation post mortem. The result is a much more flavorful and tender cut of meat than something that has just been slaughtered and served fresh.
Dry aging at home can be a hassle and I don't recommend it due to space, cleanliness and efficiency issues but understanding some simple science behind the process can make you a much better consumer. Dry aged beef is always more expensive because of time and moisture loss. It costs money to sit on and maintain a large cut of an animal you raised. It gets even more expensive as moisture is lost and the overall weight of the animal decreases. In a properly managed dry aging environment, moisture loss over a three day period will be up to as much as 3% of the total weight and after nine days that percentage will increase to as much as 7% of total weight loss. Those numbers are significant especially when dealing with primal cuts weighing north of twenty pounds. An extremely well maintained and quality piece of dry aged beef will see moisture losses upwards of 30%.
So what does all of this mean? Well, through precise control of time, temperature and humidity you can transform a normal cut of beef into an extraordinary cut of beef! The dry aging process will develop flavor and make the cut of meat more tender through enzymatic breakdown of fibrous muscle tissue. The bacterial enzymatic activity will produce nutty and cheesy flavors that don't exist with "fresher" products.
KOJI (aspergillus oryzae) is a fungus that is propagated and used in the making of miso, soy sauce, sake and shoyu and is something that I have been playing around with to help accelerate and add flavor to the dry aging process. Like the natural bacteria present in the traditional dry aging of beef, the KOJI breaks down muscle tissue through enzymatic activity and converts muscle protein, starches and sugars into more complex elements and thusly deepens complexity and flavors. In a chef's tasting menu dinner I am hosting on December 22nd, I will be preparing dry aged ribeye that has been dry aging in a "jacket" of salted emulsified butter mixed with KOJI and left to dry age in ideal conditions. The result? Come check out the dinner on December 22!