There was once a time when low quality burgers and cocktail sausages were the everyday standard for meat. However, times have changed, and the bar is growing ever higher when it comes to top quality carnivorous fare.
The steak afficionados used to wax lyrical about 28-day aged beef. More recently, higher-end restaurants experimented with up to 42 days of dry-aged beef; delicious with a bowl of home-made fries and a beautiful bearnaise sauce.
Pushing the boundaries
However, the nature of cuisine is that chefs are always seeking ways to improve and push forward new standards. They began to ask what might happen if beef was aged for two or even three months- would it be even more incredible? Momentum began to grow and boundaries were increasingly challenged – with a Texas Chop House actually serving a 459 aged prime steak in 2014. The stunt was a one off, but other restaurants are catching on, with New York’s 11 Madison Park selling a 140-day aged version on its legendary tasting menu.
Britain is catching up; at Soho’s Mash, Danish beef aged for 70 days features on the menu and Hawksmoor offers 55 day aged, grass fed beef. The Goodman Steakhouse in London’s Canary Wharf is really pushing the boat for UK beef experiments, trialling ‘extreme aged’ rib eye steaks of up to 180 days.
The science of dry-ageing
So what actually makes dry aged steak so delicious? The process allows enzymes that are naturally present in the meat to break down and create a range of delicious flavours. These are intensified by the fact that the steak becomes slightly dryer, through natural water evaporation. When the steak is cooked, the intense flavours mingle to create a gastronome’s dream. When raw, chefs say that dry-aged beef has an aroma akin to roast beef. Other flavours are described as blue cheese and truffle, as well as the mysterious ‘umami’ flavour element. The external fat often blooms with a mould too, which apparently adds to the character!
Not quite ready for such extremes? There is plenty of excellent meat to enjoy in today’s buyers market. A growing interest in welfare standards and organic products means that grass-fed and free range meat is very much the craze. Exotic meats are also growing in popularity, including ostrich, game and boar. There is also an increase in services such as hog roasts and meat-based catering for special events
Not only does meat taste delicious, but it is also a first-rate choice of protein, iron and vital enzymes, making it the favoured food of choice for athletes, body builders and other people keen to enjoy good health. Experts suggest that cutting back on meat is beneficial, but these recommendations are typically centred around poor quality, processed meats – rather than small portions of high-quality free range meat in its natural form. You can also get iron from supplements like those sold at Blue Iron.
So enjoy in moderation, and look forward to health benefits alongside the delicious dining experience – whether your meat is a 1 week old sausage, or a 6 month old piece of steak!