Have you ever gone to a steakhouse and thought, "I can make this at home." You then proceed to try it and you DO make the best steak you've ever made, however, it's still not as good as the steakhouse? Well, it's because you're forgetting about a timeless technique that increases both the flavour and the price of that restaurant quality steak: dry aging.
What is Dry Aging?
Dry aging is the procedure in which a large cut of meat is placed in a controlled open-air environment with the goal of enhancing flavour and tenderness through biochemical processes within the proteins of the meat. Meat can be dry aged for several weeks or months.
Why Dry Age Meat?
Hanging your meat up for a week, let alone a month, might sound crazy. You might think that a fresh cut of steak right from the cow would be the most ideal tasting cut. Unfortunately, you're wrong. There are three main reasons why dry-aged meat tastes better:
1. Moisture loss: Intuitively, you lose moisture in the process of dry aging your meat. This will concentrate the flavours of the meat, as there is less water present to dilute them. Fun fact, up to 30% of the moisture in the piece of beef you hang up can be lost, with most of it coming from the outer layers of the meat. This outer layer (sometimes called "the bark") can become so dehydrated that you wouldn't want to eat it. As a result, restaurants often compost this part, which is still built into the price of your steak (bummer).
- Dry Aging Tip: Due to the inevitable loss of the outside of your meat, it's advised that you dry age a large piece of meat and expect to only eat 50% to 80% (depending on the duration) of it once it's done.
2. Tenderization: Your dry aged meat will become more tender as the proteases, natural enzymes in the meat, will breakdown some of the tougher muscle fibers and tissues. Science time. This happens when the μ-calpain system of proteolytic enzymes activates, which is responsible for the postmortem tenderization. Did we add that sentence just to prove we know what we're talking about? Absolutely (what was Jesse Pinkman's catchphrase again?). Simply put, there are proteins that breakdown the tough muscle fibres and connective tissues, which make them "softer," resulting in their tenderness.
3. Flavour change: We won't go into the biochemical processes of this one. All you need to know is a well dry-aged chunk of meat will enhance it's own flavours, and give meats like beef a "nutty" and even "cheese-like" aroma.
Can I Dry Age Steak at Home?
You might be wondering if you can really do this at home yourself. You likely won't have access to any industrial appliance designed for restaurant-quality dry aging (which can take as long as four months). However, hope isn't completely lost. You can dry age your beef at home and there are plenty of video tutorials on how to do it.
We would like to warn you though, the reason why a restaurant can prolong the dry age process for up to four or more months is because of those industrial fridges meant for it, as they keep air flowing and reduce bacterial contact. Dry aging meat in your own fridge, that is likely open and closed and has multiple hands in it a day, will come with it's own risks.
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