How to dry age beef.
This technique of dry aging is good for top sirloin, prime rib or any cut of beef which can be cooked in dry heat (as opposed to wet heat - pot roasts for example).
A key requirement is decent marbling, and for this you need USDA Choice or (if you are fabulously wealthy) USDA Prime.
The fine fat marbling is what keeps the steak juicy and delicious, and without it the end result will be dry. USDA Select (the type generally available in stores) just isn't good enough.
Dry aging imparts a wonderful intense beef flavor and also tenderizes the meat for an excellent eating experience.
To be the dove that delivers the ambrosia pictured above, first, catch your beef.
(Dry aged, slow roasted top sirloin with a drizzle of mushroom ketchup. Accompanied by homemade horseradish sauce, rosemary roast potatoes, blue-cheese infused butter sauted partially dehydrated mushrooms, and good old yorkshire pudding, recipes to come.)
Albertson's was having a special on USDA Choice Top Sirloin - only $4 per pound!
So I researched this cut of beef looking for information on a top sirloin butt roast.
Here is a very colorful executive summary of dry aging beef.
Before you cook a dry aged cut, you need to trim off the outside layer of dried out, shriveled (and sometimes even moldy!) meat. If you try and dry age a one pound steak strip(why?), you will pretty much have to discard the whole thing, so bigger is definitely better. Get a joint of meat as large as your budget allows, and as big as your refrigerator and oven will hold.
I figured a whole top sirloin would be in 10-12lb range, and at less than 50 bucks, that was cool for my budget.
I was sure to ask the cheerful butcher to get the whole cut, including the fat cap, which is important to reduce wastage of the good meat, and also helpful in adding juiciness when cooked (with the cap on top, where a cap should be!)
I also asked him to tie it up for roasting, although I later found this isn't really necessary for top sirloin, since it holds itself together pretty well. Tying a prime rib roast however, is important.
To dry age beef for any length of time requires some special attention. It must be kept below 40F for sure, and ideally between 35F and 38F. If you let it get down to 32F, organic activity comes to a halt, and the frozen beef will just sit there doing nothing.
It is best to have a refrigerated space dedicated to dry aging meat only - if it shares space with other foodstuffs, you run the risk of the aromas from other food interfering.
The refrigerator must also be scrupulously clean, I used a weak bleach solution with a spray bottle and then left the fridge propped open for a day or two (before purchasing the steak) to air out any bleach odors.
If you have a spare fridge you are all good to go, I happened to have a kegerator (of which I am very proud!) not being used. I like it a lot for dry aging beef because it is a commercial quality fridge, and is able to hold its temperature very well.
Here is my setup:
The Summit Full Keg Beer Dispenser (5 lbs. CO2 Tank Included)has a tap, and the top of the cap pops off, providing a means of piping in a power cord and a thermometer cord. I stuffed the hole with a cloth.
This is convenient because it saves jamming the cords between the door and frame, and the cold heavy air stays in the box.
Inside, I placed a small table to hold the top sirloin, and underneath that is a small fan for air circulation, and a bed of silica gel. The fan ensures that a slight breeze is passing over the beef at all times, this helps the drying process, and also controls bacteria. I don't think they make the model shown in the picture anymore, but this one should do the job:
"The idea is to create moisture loss. What you’re doing is concentrating the flavor of the meat.” says Bryan Voltaggio, executive chef at Charlie Palmer Steak.
The silica gel keeps the air nice and dry, enhancing the dry aging process. You might think silica gel is expensive or hard to find. In fact it's not, you can get it at every supermarket in boxes in the cat litter section - look for the fanciest one and check the label. It should say silica sand, gel or crystals (regardless, silica always comes in the form of small rocks). And of course, get the Fragrance Free variety.
Some people suggest that you place paper towels over the aging beef, and changing every few days. However this is suspicious to me, I've not seen this done in restaurants that dry age. Using silica and a fan to keep down the humidity seems more hygienic.
Once you have everything set up, buy your meat, pat it dry it with paper towels, and place it into the fridge.
At the time my meat went into the fridge, the top sirloin steak weighed 11 lb 8oz.
Carefully monitor the temperature , making sure the thermometer showed between 35F and 38F all the time. After a few days, you should notice a slightly musty, blue-cheese aroma. This is good. The meat will begin to darken significantly in color.
I have done this procedure several times, the first time I carefully retrieved the meat and weighed it every few days. Weight loss continued through 14 days, after that there was not much difference.
I have heard of commercial dry aging (restaurants mostly) that continue the dry aging process for months. I believe this is mostly to let the flavor develop even further, and for the enzymes to continue their tenderizing action.
One of these enzymes is Glucuronidase. Another is cathepsin. There are approximately a dozen cathepsins, which are distinguished by their structure and which proteins they cleave. The Troponin protein tri-complex and the Actin, Myosin, kinase, Titin (largest), Dynein, Calcineurin and tropomyosin proteins are some of the muscle proteins that are broken down.
After two weeks it was time to retrieve my sacred pabulum!
At this time it weighed in at 10 lb 4oz. It had lost approximately 20oz of water or about 11% by weight. Decimated! Or I should say: Desiccated!
Now comes the sad part: trimming the meat. All that dried out jerky-like stuff has got to be cut away. Discard. (DON'T eat the trimmings, it's not at all like real jerky and DON'T be tempted to grind it up and add it to ground beef, just don't ok?)
Anyway, here we go:
The cleaned meat now looks nearly the same as the meat in stores, however it is a little darker and less brilliantly red. This also, is good.
After trimming the dry aged beef weighed 8lb 5oz. That is 3lb 3oz of weight loss from the starting weight.
20oz of water we didn't want, and nearly 35oz of what was once good meat wasted. Truly, this is the sad part. But the bonus is so much extra flavor and tenderness!
Wastage can be as high as 40%, however if you trim carefully you can minimize this.
I like to use an electric knife, my favorite model is this one: Leaving the fat cap on means that a lot of the trimming is fat, which you wouldn't eat anyway (would you?)
Anyway the dry aged beef is now ready for the next step: cooking.
I will show you another really, really long way of cooking the meat, because as you know, I like to take the longest possible time to cook anything.