My wife and I came here with her uncle to celebrate his birthday and to use some accumulated Open Table credit that we built up with reward points. Check out the verdict:
We had two steaks. The first was the Australian wagyu tomahawk from Broadleaf. This thing was impressive.
It had a great crust, it was cooked perfectly to medium rare from end to end, and it was so damn tender. 10/10.
The other steak we tried was the 20-day wet aged prime porterhouse.
This was pretty good too, but I felt that it needed a bit more crust and lacked a little bit in terms of tenderness and flavor. 7/10.
Choice of Cuts & Quality Available: 9
There is a massive selection of cuts here, with several different types of cuts within each category, and then some. Very impressive. The quality is all wet-aged prime or wagyu. I took a point because they have no dry-aged offerings.
Portion Size & Plating: 9
Portions here are good, and they do some really nice plating for the chilled seafood. Everything else is pretty standard for steakhouse fare.
We had $120 of credit to use but the bill was still hefty.
Overall I think there is a better value for the tomahawk at Del Frisco’s (same steak is $95 instead of $115 – and just as good), and better value elsewhere for the porterhouse. For $63, a mediocre 24oz cut is a bit of a stiff price to pay.
This joint has three bars; two upstairs and one downstairs. That splits up the crowd a bit, but each bar is still pretty nice.
I liked that they served my martini to me with the shaker, rather than taking it away. This allowed me to have that briny, watered down gin as a second serving when I finished the stiff drink. At $26 all in with tax and tip, that martini was pricey though.
Specials and Other Meats: 10
There were lots of specials read off to us, both in the meat and non-meat categories. As for other meats, they offer veal, lamb, chicken, and pork. They run the full gamut.
Apps, Sides & Desserts: 9
We tried the “steak bacon.” This was really good and thick. Loved it.
The chilled seafood was pricey but really delicious. We built our own tower with three jumbo shrimp, colossal crab meat and a dozen oysters.
For dessert we had butter cake and chocolate cake. The butter cake was awesome, and truly rivaled Del Friscos. It was bigger but lighter than theirs.
Seafood Selection: 10
There’s bass, tuna, swordfish, salmon, scallops, crab and lobster. Damn! I didn’t try them, but based on the quality of the seafood in the apps section, I have to bump this from my placeholder of 8/10 to a solid 10/10.
Let me start with the bread – amazing little basket here:
As for the wait staff – really top notch. They were very attentive, nice and non-intrusive. They gave us a freebie dessert since we were celebrating a birthday too. What really sent me over the top, though, was that they even called my wife the following day to ask how everything was, and to make sure that her uncle enjoyed his birthday celebration. That’s crazy!
This place can get loud and rowdy, a little bit clubby upstairs. But the downstairs is a little more intimate and chill. I like that split personality aspect. Hopefully, when you go, they seat you in the location that corresponds to your mood.
If you don’t already know about Delmonico’s, then you’re missing out. For over a decade, I’ve gotten pissed off every time I’ve seen TV shows or news articles about steakhouses (both in NYC and throughout the country) that discussed a whole bunch of mediocre places without Delmonico’s even so much as being mentioned. I’m happy to see that trend is finally changing, and people are waking up.
Not only is this joint serving up some of the best steaks in town, but they were first. Yeah. That’s right, Peter Luger fans. This place was the first fine dining restaurant in America, opening its doors in 1837. They invented the “Delmonico” Steak (a boneless rib eye) and Delmonico Potatoes, obviously. But they also invented Chicken a la King, Baked Alaska, Lobster Newberg, Egg’s Benedict and Manhattan Clam Chowder.
It’s one thing to be first or to have been around a long time, but it’s quite another to be consistently top notch. While I’ve only been getting down on steaks for this blog for about six or seven years, I can honestly tell you that they’ve always been a top choice favorite of mine, sitting comfortably in my top three to five steakhouses for the entire time. Right now they are first on the leader board, at 97/100 points. The 45-day dry aged rib eye is one of the best steaks I’ve ever eaten, and their bacon is hands down the best in the city. My full review base on several visits is HERE.
But anyway, on to the point of this article.
This month Delmonico’s is celebrating its 180th year in operation. Starting on 9/14 they’re offering 180-day dry aged bone-in rib eye steaks to mark the occasion. They’re being served on keepsake plates that you get to take home, featuring the artwork of New Yorker cartoonist John Donohue.
The steak is about 28oz of bone-in rib eye, and it’s magnificent. I was invited in to try it with some other steak connoisseurs.
It has a deep nutty and earthy funk to it, while still remaining juicy and tender. Chef Billy Oliva really nails it. This cut is being offered at $380 and is easily shareable, since you also will need to try some of their signature apps, sides and desserts when you go.
But that’s not all. The restaurant has also invited a bunch of well known chefs to create dishes that celebrate Delmonico’s 180th. This special tribute menu is available from 9/14 through 10/14.
I was able to try a few of these items as well (I focused mostly on the beef-centric dishes, though I did try some others). My favorites were as follows:
Chili Rubbed Rib Eye with White Corn Pudding, by Michael Lomonaco, Porter House.
This steak is in the vein of those cajun rib eye steaks you might see at Greenwich Steakhouse or Smith & Wollensky. It is truly delicious, and I highly recommend it if you’re not springing for Chef Billy Oliva’s 180-day dry aged rib eye.
Tournedos Rossini, by Paul Liebrandt, two Michelin starred chef, author and consultant.
That’s a massive, tender and juicy filet mignon sitting on a potato pancake and sautéed spinach, all topped by some foie gras. This is 100% pure decadence. Awesome dish.
Lobster Shepherd’s Pie, by Danny Meyer, Union Square Cafe.
Nine Herb Ravioli, by Daniel Boulud, Daniel.
Beef Wellington, by Harry & Peter Poulakakos, Harry’s Steak & Cafe.
Paris Brest Profiteroles, by Dominique Ansel, Dominique Ansel Bakery.
I really suggest you get down here between 9/14 and 10/14. I know I’m going back at least two more times this month to try more shit. Get on it, people. This is a rare opportunity to try a wide variety of amazing dishes and steaks. Tell them Johnny Prime sent you.
The time has finally come for me to start slinging meat as opposed to just crushing it.
Over the last six years I’ve really fine-tuned my taste for high quality beef. I can almost pick out flavor notes like those freaks who test milk and wine, only I do it with beef. Blue cheese “funk” here, aroma of hazel nuts there, earthy mushrooms over yonder. You get the idea.
Writing restaurant reviews lead to writing recipes, and striving to replicate the steakhouse experience in my kitchen – even to the point of dry-aging beef at home.
My concern and respect for this amazing protein also fostered a desire to learn about the entire beef life cycle: from cow/calf operations to stockers and backgrounders; from corn farms to grazing ranches; from forage to feed; from fabrication floor to front of the case, and all the way back to the restaurant again. Start to finish. No stone left unturned. I’ve even addressed various nutritional and environmental concerns.
I’ve become an expert on steak. But photographing, eating and writing about beef was no longer satisfying me. It seemed that I hit a wall and was spinning my wheels. I wasn’t fulfilling the goals I had for this website. Or maybe my goals changed, because now I feel the need to offer these meaty experiences to you, rather than just tell you about them. I’m still going to review restaurants, highlight products and write informative articles about beef. But now there’s got to be more than just those things.
That’s why I’ve decided to open an online butcher shop. I’ve been working with an extremely high end “middle meats” company that has the resources and connections to buy out massive stocks of incredible prime, American Wagyu and even Japanese Kobe beef. They’ve got a multi-million dollar state of the art facility in the Bronx’s famous Hunt’s Point Cooperative Market with a crazy dry-aging room, a huge blast freezer and all the support they need from an incredibly skilled team of butchers.
All my steaks are cut to order, and can be fully customized. They’re individually vacuum sealed, wrapped in butcher paper and signed by a butcher before being shipped to you. Shipping, by the way, will be free and arrive at your door just 2-days after the order is cut.
I’m really excited about this. I’ve hand selected every cut that I’m offering, and I’ve even cooked up and tasted everything to verify that it’s something I’d want on my own plate. If you tend to agree with me on my steak review opinions, then you’re in good hands with anything you order from my butcher shop. You won’t be disappointed. Johnny Prime Meats will impress you.
My plan is to stock a few items that will always be available. For example, the best steak I’ve ever eaten is the American Wagyu strip.
I’ll be offering that all the time, along with a few prime dry-aged rib eye options and a prime dry-aged porterhouse.
But the bonus is that I’ll also be showcasing some rare and unique proteins that have limited supply and quantity. For example, I’ve got my hands on some really sweet dry-aged Duroc pork rib chops right now, as well as some dry-aged tenderloin tails for the grill. Maybe in a few weeks I’ll try to locate some dry-aged veal, American Wagyu hanger steaks, or lamb bacon.
And speaking of bacon, you’ll be able to add a pound of thick cut bacon to any order for just $10 at checkout. Because what steak meal at home is complete without that steakhouse style slab of thick cut bacon?
I hope you guys are interested. Check out the shop. Browse the offerings. And keep your eyes on my meat!
My wife picked up a nice Gilt City deal for this joint that gave us $200 to spend for something like $100. I had heard great things about the burger here, so I figured it was time to check it out now that there was a flash deal at play.
The cocktail menu is pricey at $18, but very nicely crafted.
We shared that burger (the “White Label Burger”) as an app. The patty is an aged beef blend; the cheese is fontina; and it’s topped with a tomato jam and dijonnaise.
They cook it nice and rare, so you don’t lose any of that aged funk to the heat. It’s a potent burger, and part of me still loves a classic roadside American burger better, but this is kinda like having a steak between a bun. Definitely nice.
And like any good French joint, it’s served with frites.
These were pretty good, but not quite on the level of Boucherie, which has now become my benchmark standard, to which all French fries must be compared.
We also tried the calamari stuffed with lobster and rice.
Unfortunately there wasn’t much lobster to this dish. In fact, I couldn’t really find any or taste any in the bites I had. In any case, the tomato sauce was nice, as was the cook on the squid.
My wife had some rabbit, truffle and cheese ravioli for her entree. This was a small portion size for $25, but they at least warned us ahead of time that it would be.
They were excellent. Each raviolo seemed to be partitioned, with one side having the rabbit, and the other side having the cheese.
Of course, I had steak.
This was served with some dressed watercress, but I quickly brushed that bullshit aside. I sliced it up so you could see the perfect cook temp on this prime NY strip steak.
This was actually a steak frites, so it came with more fries and a peppercorn au poivre on the side. Well, I asked for it on the side so I could get this intense shot of foodpourn.
Did you just bust? Because I did.
I ate every bite. It was a great little steak. I didn’t detect any aged flavor, and I assume they would have advertised that if it were the case. Not too bad at $44, but on par with the Jubilee rib eye steak frites that I had just the other day for $40. 8/10.
We shared a lemon tart with basil ice cream for dessert. This was really pretty, and tasted a bit like a key lime pie with the herbaceous basil ice cream on top. We liked this a lot.
Oh and I should mention that this place also brings out an amuse at the beginning, as well as petit fours at the end. I only snapped the amuse, which was a tiny popover style bread with a truffle cream filling. The dessert capper was a chocolate hazelnut bite.
I scored a limited run Groupon for Tavern on the Green that was just $89 (plus a coupon code discount on top of that) for a four course meal for two.
We started with salads. I had the iceberg wedge. While the blue cheese dressing was a little bit watery, the other components of the salad were great, especially the diced tomato and bacon.
My wife went with the caesar salad. I’m not sure if you can see it, but it was plated with some little anchovies as well. Pretty good salad.
She also had the sea bass with roasted leeks and mashed potatoes. The skin was crisp and the fish was cooked nicely on the whole, though I had a few bites that were slightly overcooked.
My wife went with haricot verts for her side item. These were crisp and buttery, lots of flavor.
I went with the sirloin steak, 12oz, dry-aged, with creamed spinach, roasted fingerlings and au poivre sauce.
I was suprised at how tasty this shit was. I was half expecting some throw-away cut of steak with tons of gristle, but it was really nice. 8/10.
Here’s the gravy getting poured on top:
I mistakenly chose the roasted baby vegetables as my side. These were terrible. Bland. I should have gone with the creamy whipped potato option instead, but I thought it would be an overload of potato items since they were already in both entrees.
The shared carrot cake for dessert was flavorful and moist, but it sort of had the texture of a fruit cake. I didn’t mind it because I love carrot cake, but my wife, who is a baker, wasn’t too impressed.
Good deal. If it ever comes up again, grab it.
TAVERN ON THE GREEN
Central Park West & 67th Street
New York, NY 10023
Occasionally you come across a meal that changes the way you view particular food items. I’m a steak man. Clearly, this is known. I’ve eaten hundreds of cuts in my endeavor to find the best that NYC has to offer. I thought I’d pretty much seen it all in the world of steak. What else could there be, aside from some aged wagyu, or something completely ridiculous and rare? But just when I was starting to get a little bored and comfortable with my favorite food, Petrossian Chef Richard Farnabe came through with a completely unique and utterly genius steak offering.
The cut itself is something with which we steak aficionados are familiar; a 28-day, dry-aged strip loin (NY Strip). This lean cut hails from Four Story Hill Farm in PA. But Chef Richard’s preparation is what sets it apart from the panoply of great meats in the city of this cut’s namesake; it’s cooked to a perfect medium rare all the way through, and topped with bone marrow and caviar.
Caviar? Why would someone do that, you ask? Well, having eaten it, I have a hypothesis: The natural brine and salt content in the caviar compliments the aged taste of the meat in a tremendous way. Aged beef has a certain flavor profile to it – earthy, funky, and highly concentrated. The caviar, being naturally salty and funky in its own right, is the perfect pairing with this kind of meat. It helps bring out those aged characteristics while also providing a juicy pop and briny burst to each bite.
And, as you might expect, the marrow adds some nice fat flavor and texture back into the lean cut of beef. It really is a brilliant conception. In my opinion this is probably one of the best strip steaks you can find in town. 10/10.
It’s accompanied by a semi-raw, ice cold asparagus salad. This adds some acidity and fresh green flavors to the meal, deftly balancing the punch you’re getting from the steak.
And that’s not the only beef I tried. On the appetizer menu, they offer A4 wagyu topped with grilled sturgeon.
This comes with a pickled quail egg and some caviar as well, along with a little crispy potato cube. When eaten together (beef and fish), you are experiencing that same beautiful pairing of earth and sea, one enhancing the other. The sturgeon had a flavor that was reminiscent of a good, Japanese style grilled eel. The slightly candied or caramelized, almost sweet top coating on the sturgeon pulled out a lot of those rich beef fat flavors from the steak. Another 10/10. For the record I believe this was sliced strip loin, but since it’s A4 wagyu, I will include it in my “other cuts” section for catalog purposes.
Now that I’ve gotten the most important things out of the way, let me briefly discuss the remainder of the meal. After all, the rest was just as impressive as the meats reviewed above. Even the table bread and drinks were nice.
Petrossian explores elements of both classic French cuisine and Russian/Eastern European cuisine, and there is a healthy presence of caviar and smoked fish in the dishes, aside from having a robust stand-alone caviar menu. The starting amuse, for example, features both French technique and Russian cuisine, along with both caviar and smoked fish.
What exactly are you looking at here? Three items.
(1) The lollipops are smoked salmon with cream cheese foam dipped in beet foam to make a shell;
(2) The cubes are savory caviar marshmallows;
(3) The spheres are chocolate foie gras truffles with gold leaf.
These concise, decadent and dynamic bites set the tone for the entire meal. Petrossian is truly one of the few great places to indulge and splurge with a high quality meal where it’s actually worth the money, and where there is no pretense, no elitism and no unnecessary vegetable worship.
The next item that came out was a terrine-like foie gras brulee with smoked sturgeon and a pomegranate Guinness drop. It came with a little bread puff but I really enjoyed this by itself.
The Guinness drop was spun sugar and candy-like in flavor and texture, and the foie brulee was rich, creamy and deeply flavorful.
My wife’s starter was the Petrossian sampler, which contained various smoked fish items and caviar. Everything I tasted on this plate was delicious in addition to being beautifully presented.
Her entree was a special: baby pig, which consisted of an assortment of meats from the animal, including kidney, ear, rib, and crispy skin. There was also a croquette and crispy hash made from the meat as well. I tasted a bit of everything, thankfully, because I definitely would have ordered this if the steak wasn’t on the menu.
In particular, I really liked the kidney, which was skewered on a sprig of rosemary. That little touch of presentation/technique added a great roasted herb flavor to the meat. Absolutely outstanding. It almost reminded us of Japanese yakitori.
Our sides were sumac pomme souffle, which were like little puffed potato chips, and a bowl of sauteed wild mushrooms with herbs.
These items went perfectly with our meat courses.
Dessert was a lot of fun as well. We had beignets with a multitude of injectable sauce bulbs, and a smoked wood ice cream chocolate ball, which was covered in chocolate sauce at table side.
The beignets were very light and crisp, and my favorite sauce was the pistachio. The chocolate ball was rich, creamy and decadent. Really smooth and tasty.
And then these little guys came out with the check: chocolate truffles and marshmallow cubes, both plated on a bed of dark chocolate morsels.
With Chef Richard at the helm, Petrossian has skyrocketed back into NYC’s short list of high end restaurants that discerning diners simply must experience at least once. I was extremely impressed.
My wife picked up a Gilt City deal for Le Rivage, with which we shared a 62-day dry aged, bone-in Creekstone Farms/Pat LaFrieda New York strip steak, two sides, a bottle of wine and a dessert for about $100. Pretty great deal, especially if you can use a discount when buying the flash deal.
Anyway, Le Rivage is a cozy French joint in the theater district on 46th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues.
They gave us some nice table bread with whipped butter to start:
And the wine was an 80% Merlot 20% Cabernet blend that was actually pretty good.
The long, 62-day dry aging process imparted a bit of nuttiness and funk to the flavor of the beef. This baby was masterfully prepared. It definitely can hang tough with some of the best steakhouse cuts in the city. Get your ass over here and try it, if it is still available on special. I give it a 9/10. Why not the full 10? I felt like it needed just a hint more salt, maybe just some finishing salt even, but not much.
The steak came with two sauces, so dipping into these added some of that saltiness that I was looking for from the seasoning. The sauces were a wine reduction and a peppercorn:
Our sides were actually very abundant. We ordered broccolini and fries, but they brought out two dishes of fries, one dish of broccolini and one dish of carrots. We had lots to bring home.
I’m a big fan of broccolini, and I cook a mean broccolini at home quite often. I was impressed with it here. It was simply treated with seasoning, garlic and oil. The carrots were buttered and slightly sweet-glazed, and the fries were nice and crisp.
For dessert, we went with the chef’s recommendation, which was a Jacques Torres chocolate chip cookie and a sweetened, spiked milk.
So simple, yet so tasty. After chatting with the chef for a bit, we learned that he is best friends with Pat LaFrieda, and that Jaques Torres is his godfather! That’s a serious pedigree, and it shows in Chef Paul’s abilities. He did a great job on the steak, especially.
I definitely recommend giving this place a shot, especially if you like to take advantage of Gilt City deals (not sure if this one is still available), or even just their regular three course price fix specials, which are offered daily for between $25 and $40. Very reasonable.
UPDATE – 6/30/16
I went back to Le Rivage to try Chef Denamiel’s award winning French Onion Soup Burger today. Holy fuck, people. This thing is absolutely amazing. It’s not a surprise that he won the “Judge’s Choice” award in New York City Wine & Food Festival’s 2013 “Burger Bash” with this baby, beating out the likes of burger master Chef Capon in the process.
His patty grind is usually between 60/40 and 70/30 lean/fat, and the beef also comes from Pat LaFrieda, just like the steak I reviewed up above. He seasons the patty with salt, pepper, drawn butter and brown sugar before it hits the grill. After the first flip, he puts on a slice of a Swiss gruyere type cheese called Emmenthal, which melts around the patty to seal in the medium rare juices. This then gets placed onto a butter-toasted sandwich-sized English muffin, and then topped with cognac-reduced confit onions, and then a bechamel cheese sauce for good measure. The top bun is placed on top, and then the French flag toothpick with roasted cocktail onion and gherkin gets popped on. Viola – perfection.
This is definitely one of my new favorite burgers; it really is unique. I walked out with a full belly, but I was still craving another one. Pretty sure I will be back again very soon, especially because the place is close to both work and home.
Burger still on point:
Even my maniac food photographer homies agree:
Croque Madame is stellar!
Quiche is the best I’ve ever had in my life:
You can even buy it frozen, to go, to fire up at home!
And the escargot is executed with perfection:
Garlic bacon frisee salad: amazing. Tangy and delicious.
I recently received an email from the gent who co-created The SteakAger. He offered to send me a unit to review here on the site. I had no idea what the product was until I clicked over to their website to check it out. It’s an in-fridge box for dry-aging steaks at home!!! Check out their video:
Okay so just what is aged beef and dry-aging? I have a nice article about all that HERE, but the quick and dirty summary is that aging is a way to concentrate and intensify beef flavor and create a more tender steak.
I have had some limited experience dry-aging steaks with dry aging bags in the past, and the results were, surprisingly, very good! Since then, I have been secretly trying to figure out a way to fit a dedicated dry-aging fridge in our small NYC apartment. Needless to say, I was not excited about using more cubic footage for food stuff. In addition to our fridge, we have a drop-freezer, a baking work bench, and extra shelving for all of our cooking dedications. So The SteakAger was perfect for us; it goes right into the fridge! Most days the fridge is pretty empty anyway. We eat out a lot, as you can imagine, since NYC is pretty abundant with awesome restaurants. I do, however, like to cook steaks at home on occasion, to save a little dough here and there.
Anyway, my package arrived and I rushed home to get it before the package room in our building closed for the night. Here are some unboxing photos:
AC power and extension cable, along with other materials:
Keys are in there so you can get an idea of the sizing:
Charcoal pad slips into air passage:
Salt goes into the burlap bag and then gets placed at the bottom of the SteakAger, inside the box:
Sizing in my fridge:
It also fits if I turn it sideways, and it even has a viewing window on the side as well. Awesome! This orientation leaves me with a bit more space in the fridge.
So the way this works, is you connect an extension wire to the back of The SteakAger, which you can see above on the upper left portion of the unit. You then snake that through the door hinge of the fridge and plug it into a socket behind the fridge. I was apprehensive at first, wondering whether the wire coming out of the fridge would mess with my fridge’s efficiency, but it does not. The seal is still tight, and everything in the fridge is still nice and cold.
So after monitoring my local grocery stores and butchers, I found a good sale on beef. I picked up about 7lbs of top sirloin and popped it into The Steak Ager.
I adjusted my fridge setting down a bit to keep the temperature slightly colder than usual, at about 37 degrees. Then came the hard part: waiting… I started this baby on April 11th, 2016. Here’s a peek at it after 34 days in the box:
As you can see, a nice dark bark formed around the outside. I carved that off and portioned the meat into two top sirloin cap filets (aka Culotte), and two top sirloin steaks.
Here’s a time-lapse video of me doing that:
Right away, I cooked up a culotte. I seasoned it with salt, pepper and garlic powder, and seared it in a cast iron skillet with some butter.
I’m really happy with this product. It costs less than $250 with shipping. That’s a great deal for the ability to access dry-aged beef any time you want from your own fridge. I highly recommend this product to all beef aficionados.
Lots of people ask me about aged beef, and whether an aged steak is worth the upcharge at a restaurant or butcher shop. The simple answer is yes. But if you’re like me, you also want to know why it’s worth the money, and how beef aging happens. I’ve got you covered here. This page should serve as your guide to convincing yourself to seek out and eat aged beef more often.
Let’s first start with the fact that there are two major, most common types of aging techniques employed by most meat people: Dry Aging and Wet Aging.
After the animal is slaughtered and cleaned, large format cuts with high, evenly distributed fat content are placed in temperature- and humidity-controlled coolers. The reason I say “large format cuts” is to separate out in your minds the idea that you can just toss a grocery store cut of steak into an aging box and let it go. That would be wasteful, as your steak will shrink during the aging process. So instead, meat purveyors will use something big, like a full standing rib roast, or even an entire side of beef when they dry-age meat.
Dry-aging processes tend to cause the meat to desiccate to the point where you can lose almost a third of the original weight. So if you’re starting with many pounds of meat, typically untrimmed of any fat and still having the bones in, then it doesn’t hurt so much when your beef loses some weight and eventually gets trimmed. The reason I say “high fat content” is because fat equals flavor, and dry-aging increases and concentrates flavor. During the process, that fat content also becomes very tender, and acts like butter when it gets rendered out during cooking.
The coolers or “aging boxes” can vary greatly. They can be large aging rooms or just a mini-fridge sized unit that has been modified to stay at near-freezing temperatures with good air circulation and lowered humidity.
The beef must be stored at near-freezing temperatures, and with a somewhat lowered humidity. Right off the bat, these steps eliminate the prospect of having to combat certain harmful bacteria that can only survive above a certain temperature with certain levels of humidity. Air circulation, air ventilation and even UV lighting are also key in these cold-boxes, as they further help to prevent certain types of harmful bacteria from forming while promoting other, more helpful bacteria and fungi.
“Bacteria? Fungus? Eww!”
Nope. Don’t be an asshole. Here’s how it works: Dry-aging promotes growth of certain fungal mold species on the external surface of the meat. This doesn’t cause spoilage, but actually forms an external “crust” on the meat’s surface, which is trimmed off later, when the meat is prepared for cooking. These fungal species complement the natural enzymes in the beef by helping to tenderize the meat, and enhancing and increasing the flavor of the meat. The natural enzymes in the beef break down the proteins, making everything more soft and tender.
Once the aging is completed, the dark, thick and hardened bark on the outside is trimmed away from the underlying softened meat. This bark will form on any outer portions of the meat that are in contact with the air.
Bark is good. Dry-agers WANT that bark all around the meat. For that reason, meat within the cooling box will almost always be placed on a metal rack – which allows for air flow underneath – rather than a solid, flat surface. This also prevents bad bacteria from forming underneath the meat where it rests on the surface.
“So why even do all of this? I’m still kinda grossed out about the bacteria and fungus.”
Then you should eat a dick instead of a steak. But seriously: The beef’s natural enzymes will break down the fat and connective tissue within the muscle, which increases the meat’s tenderness. And since moisture is evaporated from the muscle as well, you get a greater concentration of beef flavor and taste in the end-product.
“But why would I want a dry steak? Isn’t a great steak supposed to be very juicy?”
Finally a good question. The steak doesn’t get THAT dry, and the majority of the real dryness is on that outside bark that you trim away. The meat still retains about 2/3 of its moisture, and that translates directly to “juiciness” while minimizing bleed-out after cooking. Once you start to cook the steak, tons of juices will begin to flow – trust me. So why do all of this? To sum up: the dry-aging process changes and improves beef in two ways: (1) it increases tenderness, and (2) it concentrates and enhances flavor.
Length of Dry-Aging
Dry-aging is commonly done for 15–28 days, but it is sometimes purposely done for longer periods of time. More time results in more shrinking, but also more flavor. Sometimes aged beef can take on a nutty flavor quality, intense earthiness, or the funk smell of blue cheese. A good number that I frequently see in restaurants is 35-days. At that point you are getting some of those interesting flavors without it being too overwhelming to the average consumer. Then again I have had 62-day steak that had a much more funky flavor quality than other 85-day, 105-day and 120-day steaks that I’ve tried. So I guess it depends on cooking technique too.
One seldom sees dry-aged beef outside of steakhouses, restaurants and upscale butcher shops. It is rare to see it in grocery stores due to the significant loss of weight in the aging process. Grocery stores sell meat by the pound and most average folks won’t understand the appeal of a funky, crusty and rotten looking piece of reddish-brown meat at such a marked-up price point. Most people just want to grab their pre-packaged steaks for the grill, and that’s fine. Only a few of us would be looking for top notch stuff like this. Whole Foods does offer aged beef, and they even age it on-site at their butcher counters. But dry-aged steaks are almost as expensive raw at a supermarket as they are fully cooked by experts in a steakhouse. So for this kind of stuff it makes sense to just go to the restaurant, or man-up and do it at home yourself.
An Important Tip
Home cooks beware: Dry-aged beef cooks very fast because it is more dry than a regular steak. I like to re-hydrate mine with olive oil. I let it soak for a while in an olive oil and garlic bath at room temperature before I cook it. Another option is to sous vide it in a butter-filled vacuum pack to about 120 degrees first, and then finish it off with a hard sear in an iron skillet for a nice crust on the outside.
Wet-aged beef is beef that has typically been aged in a vacuum-sealed bag to retain its moisture. This is the dominant mode of aging beef in the United States today, and you’ve most likely eaten wet-aged beef without even being aware. Wet-aging is popular because it takes less time (typically only a few days to a couple of weeks) and none of the weight is lost in the process (because there is no desiccation). For that reason, one can age individual cuts of steak rather than large format chunks of beef.
With the advent of plastics and vacuum sealing technology, meats can be broken down at the slaughterhouse, packed up, vacuum sealed and shipped out to grocery stores, butcher shops or restaurants. Since the meats are vacuum sealed rather than hung up in a cold dry locker during transport, the wet-aging will happen during the length of time it takes for a truck to deliver the product.
In the wet-aging process, natural enzymes do all the work to break down and tenderize the beef; there is no mold, bacteria or fungal growth aiding in the process or altering flavors.
I’ve only eaten wet-aged beef a few times at steakhouses in all of my steaking days. I don’t notice that much of an improvement, and I generally tend to enjoy dry-aged steaks more because of the concentrated and funky flavors. However, like the choice between a porterhouse and a rib eye, this is largely a matter of personal preference. Some people don’t like the texture or flavors associated with dry-aged beef, so they will stick to the wet-aged stuff.
Alternative Aging Techniques
So that covers the two major methods for aging beef. But there are other ways to achieve the same if not similar flavor characteristics.
Umai Dry and other companies offer special, large semi-vacuum seal-able bags that mimic the dry-aging process pretty closely. I’ve tried these out and really enjoyed the outcome. Simply put, you seal up the meat according to their instructions, and place on a metal rack in your fridge. Then you wait, and once the aging is complete, you carve off all the bark and portion everything out into individual steaks for cooking.
Koji Rice Method
I recently came across an article that lit up my brain synapses like wildfire. As you may know, the Japanese are masters at fermentation. They’ve been fermenting soy, miso and other delicious items for centuries with great success. In fact they’ve been credited for the 5th flavor sensation, “umami,” which I call earthiness or funk. Think aged hard cheese, dashi broth, soy sauce, mushrooms, truffles or fish sauce. These items have distinct and almost dank smells and flavors, but in a good way that invigorate your taste buds. Lots of the flavors in these items, specifically the soy and miso products, are created due to the presence of a live bacterial culture that breaks down proteins, similar to what happens during the beef aging process. The Japanese have harnessed this bacteria and introduced it into sacks of Koji rice grains for their fermentation purposes. This rice is available all over the place.
So basically a guy grabbed a cut of steak and dusted it with some powderized Koji rice, and in two or three days he had a steak with the flavor characteristics of dry-aged beef. Now, he did this on a pre-cut and pre-portioned steak, so he was limited with the time he could age it. If he went any longer, the steak would have started to desiccate too much and he wouldn’t have been left with much meat after having to carve off the outer bark. Rice will absorb moisture, after all, and leech out moisture. In fact, the end result might be more like a cured meat that was packed with salt (like prosciutto) rather than a dry-aged steak.
In any case, I will probably give this a whirl at some point soon, so keep your eyes peeled for updates.
Additional Useful Information
Because I am thorough and anticipating your thoughts and questions, here is some more shit:
Aging Other Types of Meats
Why, yes, you can age other kinds of meats like chicken, pork or lamb. However, since these are smaller animals, you tend to lose a lot of their weight during the dry-aging process. For that reason, anyone doing this with non-beef will likely age the meat for shorter amounts of time than beef counterparts. Furthermore, I would imagine you’d have to be even more careful and mindful of harmful bacteria, as chicken and pork could have a higher occurrence of bad bacteria in their flesh than beef (salmonella, trichinosis, etc) if certain conditions are not sanitary from the outset. As with beef, wet-aging is possible with vacuum sealing.
Difference Between Aging and Curing
Curing is the process of preserving meats with the addition of salt, sugars, nitrites or nitrates. These things are not added to beef in the aging process. The addition of these materials eventually creates a completely inhospitable environment for bacteria, and therefore the meat will not easily spoil, even at room temperatures. This is not the case with aging. Moisture is still retained, even with dry-aging. So if removed from an aging cooler a dry-aged steak will eventually spoil. Examples of cured products include various charcuterie meats that we all know and love, like salami, pepperoni and prosciutto.