The so-called “dry ageing on-the-bone” process is probably the oldest method used for maturing meat. It was a technique that spent many years consigned to history, but now is increasingly making a comeback among meat experts and connoisseurs alike.
What does the term “dry ageing” mean?
Dry ageing refers to the dry hanging of pieces of meat after slaughter and the fermentation process that then begins. In dry ageing, meat is matured for longer than is usually customary in the industry and under certain stable conditions, in order to add additional refinement to the finished product. The aerobic maturing process renders the meat more tender, more aromatic and, above all, more palatable than freshly slaughtered meat or cuts that are left hanging for the standard length of time.
At the beginning of the maturing process, the meat has a high water content, of up to 75 per cent. This is where the enzymes come into play – they change the structure of the muscle cells during the dry ageing process and loosen them up. If this were to happen at room temperature, the meat would spoil very quickly. Therefore, humidity and temperature must be constantly lowered to allow the controlled loss of water from the meat, which can amount to up to 20 per cent of the meat’s total weight. This helps explain the pricing of these particularly mature cuts of meat.
What should I pay close attention to during dry ageing?
In order to achieve an optimal result and to exclude any chance of cross-contamination from the outset, the following points must be taken into account:
- Keep the meat ageing cabinet sterile and check both temperature and humidity regularly
- Use high-quality and freshly slaughtered meat
- Ensure a stable cold chain and hygienic transport
- Never touch the meat with bare hands
- Let time work for you – open the ageing cabinet as seldom as possible
- Only process meat that has been allowed to age when it is ready for cooking – thoroughly remove any dry, dark areas that serve as a protective casing
Why does dry-aged beef taste better?
Two decisive factors are particularly important for this – the work of glutamic acid and the process of evaporation. Glutamic acid is indispensable as a natural flavour enhancer that turns the aged meat into a genuine taste sensation. It is produced by the work of enzymes and intensifies the inherent flavour of the pieces of meat that are stored in the ageing cabinet.
The evaporation process comes about as a result of the meat surface’s contact with the air and runs in tandem with the process described above. While the meat becomes increasingly dry and leathery on the outside, tasteless liquid can be extracted on the inside and, with that, the aromatic flavour can be enhanced. Beef is particularly suitable for the dry ageing process. It has a long maturing time and is more resistant to germs than other meat.
This aroma creation is supported by a correspondingly high fat content during the maturing process. The flavour is lent additional intensity thanks to unsaturated fatty acids and the meat’s full-bodied character increases significantly.
How does flavour develop during meat maturation?
Dry ageing is all about the right timing – depending on the meat’s desired intensity, the degree of maturity should, therefore, be monitored closely.
- Day 1-14 – Raw, inherent flavour that is not too strong
- Day 14-21 – Formation of first nutty, umami notes
- Day 21-30 – Intense umami flavour and slightly earthy sweetness
- Day 30-40 – Increase in salty nuances and distinct fermentation odours
- Day 40-60 – Breakdown of the umami notes and the development of a slightly bitter taste
From the sixth week, the “kokumi effect” reaches its peak, after which the umami notes continue to reduce and the meat increasingly resembles a strongly matured raw sausage.
How to prepare dry-aged beef
The preparation of dry-aged beef is not fundamentally different from that of “wet-aged” beef. What you should bear in mind is that the water content in dry-aged beef is lower than in wet-aged beef due to evaporation. When cooking, you should make sure that you do not select a cooking level higher than medium, as steak meat can otherwise become dry and firm even more quickly.
Gentle smoking is a technique that works especially well in combination with dry-aged beef, as the smoke can penetrate the meat fibres – which have been broken down by enzymes – quite effectively. Furthermore, gentle smoking creates a more tender meat structure, which can provide the ultimate crispness, especially for sensitive dry-aged beef. Smokers do not necessarily have to be powered by coal. In addition to classic smokers such as Oklahoma Joe’s, Char-Broil also offers an electric smoker (Digital Smoker); and The Big Easy, which is a gas-powered all-in-one smoker and roaster.