A Note on Aging Beef

August 10, 2014

I really love the taste of aged beef. I recently ordered dry-aged ground beef from the wholesale butcher, DeBragga (they sell meat to the likes of Daniel Boulud, Jean-Georges and Tom Colicchio), and it made the most wonderful burgers. They had that deeply complex, funky flavor you only get when beef is beautifully aged. 

The problem: Dry-aging beef is extremely expensive. Unlike wet-aged beef (which is aged in cryovac), air-drying shrinks the beef, leaving the butcher with less to sell. And because they have to cut off the outside of the meat, there’s a serious amount of waste. 

So when I read Nathan Mhyrvold’s trick for aging steak at home, I had to try it. 

The method is simple: you buy a couple of inexpensive (not prime, not aged), boneless rib eye steaks, about 3/4 of a pound each, cut an inch thick.  You put the steaks in a plastic bag, add a tablespoon and a half of Thai fish sauce, squeeze out the air, and put the packages in the refrigerator. 

Three days later you remove the meat from the bag, wrap each steak in a double layer of cheesecloth (I actually used a single layer of a thicker Japanese cloth intended for marination), put the wrapped steaks on a rack and leave them in the refrigerator for 3 more days.

When I took the steaks out of their bloody wrappers they were enormously changed. They were dryer, denser and darker.  I let them sit for half an hour, sprinkled them with salt, then cooked them in a very hot cast iron pan for three minutes a side (leave them another minute a side if you like your meat medium-rare).  I put them on a cutting board, left them to rest for five minutes, and took them to the table. 

They were, without any doubt, the best cheap steaks I’ve ever cooked. The process had drawn the liquid from the meat, and concentrated the flesh.  They cooked beautifully, with a terrific sear.

But they did not taste like aged meat; they had none of that rich almost nutty flavor you get from meat that’s been left to hang.  My guess is that there’s just no way to cheat the process.

Will I do this again?  Definitely.  Will I continue to splurge – every once in a while – on well-aged beef?  Definitely.  



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1 Comment

  • Augustus Wasmuth says:

    I will never be able to experience real dry aged beef. I just can not afford it. The key here is getting the most flavor and texture out of average, everyday beef. The “Fish Sauce” technique is a great flavorizer. (not a word I guess) I have had great success with this method. Dry aged beef must be awesome, but again, I will probably never get the chance.
    I have had very good results using the Fish Sauce, Sous Vide, searing, and smoking meat.
    (Not necessarily in that order)