What is dry-aged beef? And, more importantly, why is it so prized?
“Today, under the constraints of time and profit, the practice of aging beef in France is disappearing. A well-aged slice of beef has lost at least 30 percent of its original volume in evaporation—a considerable amount if your product is sold by weight. It’s next to impossible to find a Parisian butcher or steak bistro offering boeuf rassis, Bernet told me.”
-Ann Mah, Mastering the Art of French Eating: From Paris Bistros to Farmhouse Kitchens, Lessons in Food and Love
One of the main specialities of the quality butchers, Beissen, in Hamburg is dry-aged beef. I noticed on my return that Fortnum & Mason in London also offer this type of beef, as does Macellaio in South Kensington and elsewhere. You can also buy it on the internet from James Whelan.
What exactly is dry-aged beef? And, more importantly, why is it so prized?
Dry-aged beef is just what it says on the tin – it’s beef which has been aged, for anything between two weeks and two months, by drying. The aging time depends on the quality and the size of the cut. The meat is dried by being hung, or (for smaller cuts) laid out on racks. in near-freezing temperatures. It’s the energy required to keep the temperature down which contributes to its high cost.
Another contributor to the price tag is the fact that the method only works with top quality meat – that is, meat which is well-marbled – with quite a lot of fat well distributed through the flesh. The fat is important because it affords natural protection to the muscle and flesh and stops the meat drying out to early.
And, of course, there’s weight-loss as the moisture evaporates – the meat loses 20-30% of its weight – so pound for pound it becomes more expensive.
What are the advantages of dry-aging?
- has a very intense flavour (thanks to the drying)
- is wonderfully soft and tender (thanks to the enzymes in the meat breaking down the tissues)
It looks a little off-putting, old and crusty if you like, and indeed the surface crustiness is an important characteristic. It’s a fungal growth (entirely healthy) which adds both to the flavour, and also produces additional enzymes to further tenderise the meat. The crust is cut off before serving (further increasing the price pound for pound). If the dry-aging is achieved by putting the meat in a bag made of moisture-permeable material then the fungal crust does not develop
The Glenarm dry-aged beef (which you can buy at Fortnum’s) is aged on the Glenarm Estate in Northern Ireland in a Himalayan salt chamber lined with over 1000 hand-cut salt bricks. The salt purifies the air, and further concentrates the flavour.
I got out a mortgage and tried some, it was to die for!
For more explanation and description
See BBC’s Remarkable Places to Eat, Christmas in Bristol, about 25 minutes into the programme.