By Marcy Harris
For those of us who consider ourselves “meat and potatoes” people, there is nothing quite like a good, juicy steak. For me, it’s never been about the quantity, but about the flavor and texture; so when I see dry-aged steak on a menu, I know what I’m having for dinner.
Hooked on flavor.
Dry-aging is a practice that’s been around for a while. When we see a vintage black and white picture of a butcher shop with beef hanging on hooks, technically we are looking at dry-aging. Butchers would hang whole carcasses and large cuts of meat to develop flavor and to soften the beef. The key to this practice is a temperature and humidity-controlled environment with a decent amount of air flow. Typically, a temperature range of 32-39 degrees is ideal, with humidity falling in the 80-85 percent range.
What happens then? The beef’s natural enzymes take over break down the collagen, softening them over time. The surface of the meat dries due to oxidization and water loss, much like jerky. Due to the water loss and the trimming of the dried surface meat, there is a 40-50% loss in the yield of beef that will end up on a restaurant’s menu. But the quality of what is yielded is worth what is lost.
According to Ari Weinzweig, “…the natural moisture in the meat slowly and naturally evaporates, concentrating the flavors in the meat itself.”
The recommended amount of time for dry-aging a steak to achieve tenderness is 14-28 days, and after that the steak will only mature in character. At Zingerman’s Roadhouse, we dry-age our steaks for a total of four weeks. By doing so, we achieve a complexity of flavor that is hard to find anywhere else.
Breaking it down, pasture to plate.
Because there is so much loss of raw weight, it is preferable to start the dry-age process before cutting down to individual steaks. The Roadhouse dry-ages the whole cow for two weeks, then butchers down to primal cuts of beef. These larger butcher cuts are then dry-aged for another two weeks, after which they are trimmed down to the steaks we expect to see on our plates. How else are we going to get you that 16-ounce ribeye?
Once the dry surface meat is trimmed away, the remaining cut offers impressions of what steak should really taste like. Overall, the meat alters considerably, resulting in nutty, beefy flavors and falling off the bone tenderness. The process of dry-aging concentrates the flavors like a fine bouillon, and the remaining fat contributes to the overall experience.
While there are some folks that eschew any kind of fat, there are those of us who love to literally chew the fat. Whether you savor it or pass it on to your beloved pooch, fat is integral to how divine beef will taste. The term “marbling’ refers to the amount of intramuscular fat layered throughout a cut of beef, and the amount of marbling is indicative of the quality of any steak. So, when you dry-age beef, the meat shrinks, but the amount of that internal fat stays the same. What you get is more marbling per square-inch in a cut of dry-aged steak than you would in a normal steak, and thus more deliciousness in every bite.
Good things come in threes.
Whether it’s a New York, a ribeye, or a tenderloin, we offer all our steaks with a choice of three sides. “Meat n’ Three” is a Southern tradition with its roots in Tennessee, and the Roadhouse has brought it to Ann Arbor. According to Jane and Michael Stern, authors of 500 Things to Eat Before It’s Too Late, Meat n’ Three offers “glorious vittles served with utmost informality”. What could be more glorious than a sizzlin’ sirloin served up with Anson Mills’ stone ground grits, local bacon-braised collard greens, and buttery roasted vegetables coming in from the Roadhouse Farm? So tuck in your napkin, and tuck into the most sumptuous steak you’ll taste around town.
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