For centuries, humans have adored aged food. We see the benefits of this in some of our culinary favourites such as wine, cheese and beef. Dry Ageing food has the power to deepen flavours and enhance our enjoyment of food.
This is especially the case with dry-aged beef, which is famous for its nutty, rich flavour and its buttery texture. The process is slow and labour intensive resulting in a heftier price tag to its un-aged counterparts.
What is it?
If I was to explain dry ageing scientifically, it’s a controlled decay process. The process begins when we close the door of our dry-age chamber. This chamber is humidity controlled, allowing the perfect atmosphere for the natural enzymes within the meat to get to work. These enzymes then continue to break down the tissues in the meat, in turn altering the flavours and textures.
A mould forms on the surface of the meat which overtime extracts the moisture. The mould uses this moisture to extend its life and grow. Don’t be alarmed by the use of mould in the process. This is good mould, in fact, it’s in the same mould family as the mould responsible for serving us the blue cheese we all love.
Dry ageing affects taste mostly due to evaporation. Meat is 75% water, when you lose a few per cent to evaporation, what’s left is more concentrated, thus leaving the flavour more concentrated.
I always compare it to when making a red wine jus. The longer that pot simmers on the heat, the more moisture evaporates, leaving you with a concentrated, thick, flavoursome sauce for your dinner.
Dry ageing not only affects taste, but it also has a huge effect on texture as well. Meat has a complex internal structure that can be difficult to bite through. By breaking these proteins down, the teeth can go easily through the meat.
It’s true, dry-aged meat is expensive, but there’s a reason for it. It’s a costly product to produce. We sometimes lose 50% of the meat due to evaporation and trimming off the mould. This means, when we buy in a 10kg piece of meat, by the time we have it ready for our customers, we’re left with 5kg, hence doubling the cost.
Dry Ageing vs Ageing
You’ll often see the word “Aged” used by meat retailers to describe their cuts of meat. When you see this, what it essentially means is the meat is vacuum packed and trapped in plastic for weeks or months to prevent evaporation. This is turn has a massive effect on texture and flavour.
Ageing is a word that’s thrown around loosely. It’s a marketing buzz word used to create a premium feel for a not so premium product. Ageing will not deliver the same nutty flavour or same tenderness as a dry-aged steak.
You can’t fake dry-aged.
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