Sunday, May 10, 2009

ooh, science! the mysteries of dry aged beef.

I happened upon an episode of the Food Network's Food Detectives today and learned about something I've been itching to investigate-- dry aged beef. A very informative clip that I wish I could find on You Tube... but I'll do my best to sum it up.

On the program, they visit Milton Abeles, the largest supplier of prime beef in the United States, to see how dry aging works on a very large scale. Dry aging allows the breakdown of natural collagen in meat in a strictly controlled environment to restrict the growth of harmful bacteria. What they explain is the ideal conditions for dry aging- temperatures that are low but not freezing (which stops aging), proper humidity levels (so the meat doesn't dry out), and special lighting to prevent bacteria growth. Beef can be aged for various lengths of time depending on what is requested by a client, but the minimum is usually three weeks or so. Obviously, this extra aging time will make for a more expensive cut of meat, but another reason for the costliness is the amount of waste involved. Dry aging creates a thick crust on the meat that must be cut off before it is broken down into steaks for purchasing.

What is the other option? The more common practice of wet aging-- supermarket meats have typically been wet-aged for 14 days. Wet aging basically refers to a piece of meat that is slapped on a tray, wrapped in plastic, and sent off to hang out in the refrigerator until it is purchased. This process (if you can call it that), draws moisture away from meat because it is sealed in air-tight packaging. Dry aging exposes meat to the air so a natural crust can develop to seal in moisture and enhances enzymes, resulting in a "beefier" tasting and considerably tenderized piece of meat.

Gosh, what an exciting process. I'm curious to try it, but wary, particularly after seeing microscopic views of the bacteria that appeared on a chunk of meat after it was sitting out for even a short while. Guess I'll leave it to the experts at this point.

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