NICK SOLARES CORNER
#5 - ADVENTURES IN DRY AGING: A SHOCK TO THE SYSTEM
In the last episode, I pulled my short loin from my DRYAGER cabinet after 31 days. I got it of a fresh, hanging beef from my butcher friends at Golden Packing in New York’s Meatpacking district. This is one of the few remaining traditional butchers in a now gentrified neighborhood, and one of the few in the city that one can access whole hanging beef carcasses. As I discuss in the first episode of this series, my goal was to assess the DRYAGER cabinet's capabilities from as early as possible in the meat aging process. The short loin I procured was freshly cut an hour before it went into my DRYAGER unit. This is as close as you can get to fresh beef in this day and age as most of the meat brought to market nowadays comes in a vacuum sealed bag, meaning the wet aging process has already started.
I do have a DRYAGER bone saw at home, but my friends over at Golden Packing have a real band saw, and also a team of gifted butchers that can break down and cut my meat far better than I can! So I asked for their help to break down my short loin and I asked for their feedback on the way my dry aged meat looked and felt, considering it came from their shop. The short loin was broken down into six bone-in NY strips including the sirloin end, which features the commonly known “vein steak,” which I could use for a roast. The “vein” isn’t a vein at all, it is actually a sheath of sinew that surrounds the gluteus medius muscle, which spans the sirloins and short loin Primals. There is nothing wrong with this muscle per se, but it does have a tougher texture than the other short loin muscles, and the sinew can be chewy.
To say that I was impressed by the initial results would be a massive understatement. The bouquet, the feel, the look of the now withered and desiccated short loin was exactly what I expect from a commercial grade facility. To my surprise, the DRYAGER cabinet accomplished this level of curing in a residential sized unit, and without a direct water connection or drain. And it wasn’t just my opinion: my friends at Golden Packing were also suitably impressed.
Obviously, the ultimate proof is in the tasting. The external scent of the meat was what I expect from well aged beef. At first I perceived a sharp blue cheese-like pungency which was followed by a softer nutty undercurrent. Would this translate on the palate? And what about the texture? A great steak cannot depend on a single parameter, it is about the collusion of flavor, mouth feel, tensile resistance and the intensity of the lingering essence - does the flavor disappear or does it echo on the palate?
I am both happy, and a little shocked, to report that the flavor and texture of a steak aged in the UX500 was on par with what you can get from a local butcher or in a restaurant environment. The DRYAGER unit produced a steak I felt superior to many well-known steakhouses I have visited. I started off with the best possible product — USDA Prime beef, exactly what you would expect from a steakhouse, but certainly not what is often sold in them!
I prepared my first DRYAGER UX 500 aged steak by generously seasoning with salt and searing to rare temperature in a cast iron skillet. The aroma was instantly familiar, the look and feel of the now charred and glistening steak was what I expect from a properly aged steak. And the texture was spot on. The searing heat and rich marbling produced a dense crust the color of dark burgundy that gave way to a lush, crimson interior. The texture was tender but had a pleasing chew, it wasn’t the softness that a steak filet often provides, rather it had body and form. And a supremely beefy flavor.
I know what you are wondering — yes, it had an unmistakable tang of dry aging, the steely, blue cheese like funk that is so sought after by steak aficionados. But to be clear, it was only on the very exterior of the cut, where the Primal was directly exposed. This is what I expect, and indeed demand, from a 28-31 day dry aged product. The interior tasted predominantly like beef, not the secondary flavor notes for the dry aging process itself. It is important to note that it is the concentration and the flavor of the beef itself that is the primary reason for dry age in the modern world. By removing moisture from the muscle what remains is a more profound and intense flavor.
If ones aim is simply to achieve tenderness, then wet aging does that just fine and with little weight loss. But the idea that every bite of dry aged steak should taste like a piece of Roquefort cheese is unrealistic and frankly, quite unappealing. Long aged steaks have their place — indeed I have been an advocate for the practice my whole career — but the one month sweet spot should still be upheld as the industry standard. And the DRYAGER unit accomplishes this with aplomb. The steaks had a delectably beefy flavor, a succulent mouthfeel and just enough resistance to let you know you are eating a steak cut from Prime beef.
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