What is best, wet aged or dry aged meat?
We have long since known the virtues of dry aged meat after it has been slaughtered. During the aging process, meat (usually beef) carcasses, primal or sub primal cuts are placed in refrigerated enviroments and the meat is left to tenderize by naturally occuring enzymes helping to break down the connective tissure ensuring a more palatable tender product. Delve a little deeper into the process and you’ll discover that aging meat comes in two completely separate categories. What is best, wet aged or dry aged meat?
Would it surprise you to know that up to 99% of beef that is readied for retail sale is wet aged? Wet aging is a process where the beef cuts are vacuum sealed, usually at time of slaughter and processing, refrigerated and left to age for 7 to 10 days before being available for sale. This is the most cost-effective method for meat processors as the aging is usually all done whilst the meat is in transit to its final retail destination. There is no need for storing and the conditions that the beef require in order to age are considerably fewer than those required for dry aging. These are all huge bonuses for the processor but result in a peice of beef that is not as well aged and lacking that delicious burst of flavor as it that comes with dry aging.
On the other hand, dry aging is a traditional method of aging and results in a far superior product with optimum tenderness and flavor concentration. The dry aged process involves the meat being hung in a controlled environment for 21 to 28 days. Three main factors are taken into account when beef is dry aged – temperature, humidity and air velocity. All these conditions must be closely observed and aligned in order to achieve a premium dry aged product with many purveyors of this food/art form being dedicated to providing their consumer base with the best on offer.
Why Dry Aged Meat Is Better
I asked Anthony Puharich, CEO of Vics Meats, which is the largest meat wholesaler in Australia, if there was any comparison between wet and dry aged meat? His answer was “In terms of a flavor profile within the meat, there is no comparison between a steak that has been wet aged and one that has been dry aged”. Dry aged steak has a flavor spike due to the slow evaporation of the water within the meat as it hangs in this carefully controlled environment. The meat is allowed time to tenderize through the natural occuring enzymes and intensify in flavor thanks to the evaporating water.
Vics meats commitment to provide their customers with a superior product sees them as one of the only butcheries in Australia that commercially dry ages beef with Anthony’s father Vic Puharich being a pioneer in dry aging on a commercial scale. Anthony tells me that none of their beef is wet aged with Vic meats being dedicated to this age old process that guarantees high quality and customer satisfaction.
One look into Vics Meats retail shop in Woollaraha ~ Victor Churchill is all that you need to understand how far Anthony and his Dad, Vic, are prepared to go to ensure only the best product will do. Victor Churchill’s drying room is a testament to the aging process. Encased behind a floor to ceiling glass wall, primal cuts of aging beef merrily-go-round on a custom built rotary metal chain rack before your eyes. Russell Crowe’s own organic beef is amongst this parade of attractive fibres, looking all dark, glorious and crusty, a good sign of a well aged cut.
The back wall of the drying room is a feature not found in any other drying room around the world. Anthony has built the back wall out of bricks of Himalayan Pink salt, the purest form of salt known in the world.
Himalayan pink salt is hand harvested from the foothills of the Himalayan mountains from ancient sea beds believed to go back to the Jurassic period. This salt contains the highest concentrations of minerals and has medicinal as well as culinary uses. Anthony’s pink salt wall is used to help keep the air in the drying room pure and to enhance the flavor and preservation qualities of the dry aged meat as it hangs. Due to the air flow within the room, the only down fall Anthony says of having such a unique feature is that it naturally deteriorates and needs to be replaced every 18 months.
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