Have You Ever Met Really Aged Beef and Do You Even Want To?
The late, great James Beard, among others, touted the flavor of aged beef. To James, a truly aged cut of beef had a coating of green mold on it which had to be scraped off before cooking. Lost you already, have I?
You can actually find aged beef on the menu of some of the top-of-the-line steakhouses as well as in the catalogs of upscale food purveyors. An overwhelming number of people who are interested in aged beef stop dead in their tracks when they see the price. I remember paying thirty dollars a pound and that was years ago. Why age it in the first place? Really good aged beef produces an extremely “beefy” flavor and a tenderness seldom found in other beef.
One of my favorite food magazines, Cook’s Illustrated, did some research a few years ago and came up with the best way to age beef at home and I tried it. What they suggested was to simply put a cut of beef on a rack in your refrigerator for exactly four days. The rack is required because you want the air to circulate around all of the beef. Increasing the number of days does not improve the process. After the fourth day you trim the dried, crusty edges off the beef and cook it.
I decided to try to age my own beef but wasn’t about to risk anything as expensive as a tenderloin or a New York Strip so I started with a very nicely marbled chuck roast. I “stopped” the chuck roast in the middle of the preferred cooking time and cut off several slices to see just how tender the aging might make it. After sautéing the pieces to medium rare I tasted them and found that, even with an interrupted aging time, they were quite tender, more so than you might expect from a braising cut. I then decided to risk two strip steaks and aged them the full four days.
When I cooked the strip steaks to medium rare I found they didn’t improve in tenderness as much as the roast but they were very tender. I tested them against one that had not been aged and the difference was noticeable. The entire process gave me a lot of insight as to why aged beef is so expensive. By the time I trimmed the dehydrated, leathery parts off the meat at least 20% of the steaks were trimmed off. That did not take into consideration the shrinkage the steaks experienced by the drying process. My guess is that added another 10%. If you are going to try to age your own beef you should count on losing 30% of whatever you buy.
I must say the flavor was much more intense, maybe a little like venison, but I never felt inclined to repeat the experiment. However, it’s kind of a fund project and I suspect dedicated cooks are going to be curious enough to give it a try. Incidentally, this earth-shattering information is only one of the many cooking tidbits you can find in my award-winning cookbook and cooking guide, Help-I Gotta Cook!.