Friday, October 3, 2014

Dry Aged Beef,..... yep, that's it for the title

So most everyone I talk to says that life is pretty good.  The food they eat is good, great in fact, and they love it.  Yeah, it's true, they all think I'm nuts.  Everyone I know it would seem doesn't see anything wrong with the food available to us.  And that's the part that is so hard for me to understand.  When I bake bread, everyone loves it, they can't get enough of it.  They all say it's fantastic.  And it has no artificial additives.  When I make home made ice cream, everyone loves it, they all tell me that it is incredible and the best they ever had, and it has no artificial additives.  Two examples of my chosen lifestyle methodology of cooking that basically states that what we, as humans, did to our foods in the past, are what make good food for us today.   Aged beef is another one of those things.  Everyone likes the beef that is out there for sale, they even might at times say it's great, but when given prime dry aged grass fed beef, the difference is spectacular.

And that's the way it used to be, made without artificial additives.

So what makes aged beef so much better?  Well, let's look at it from a scientific point of view.  Food here on Earth is for the most part made of proteins, carbohydrates and fats.  Those are the basic building blocks of life and are all necessary for growth, fuel and maintenance.  We eat them.  For the most part, by themselves fats and proteins are pretty bland.   If you think about it steak tartare tastes like onions and black pepper, the actual beef is a very minor flavor component.  And fat, well, by itself, not much there.  But then when we add the element of heat, we get a whole different reaction.  That cooking in fact sets off a whole host of changes in your beef to enhance the flavor of the bland.  They are called Maillard Reaction and is what happens when the heat breaks down the amino acids and begins to caramelize the carbohydrate and sugars present in the flesh. Ahhhhhh, instant flavor.  A grilled steak is a wonder indeed.  When the proteins break down, one of the byproducts just happens to be glutamates.  Glutamates are nature's natural flavor enhancer.  We humans have taste sensitivity for salt, sweet, bitter, sour and the newest is the one called umami.  Which generally tastes the presence of glutamates.  Natural glutamates are not at all bad for us, but of course the processed and refined version, MSG is not so good.  But that's another story. (The MSG Story)  It bears repeating, so here it goes, glutamates, naturally occurring ones, are like arsenic in apples.  In their natural form, they won't hurt you.  Refined and concentrated, they will.

So, we have a way to increase the flavor components of meat, before cooking them.  Aaaaahhhh, now your interest is peaked, what on earth could that possibly be?  Well, it is in fact a method of preparing meat that has been around since human type beings left the forest trees and began to eat the scraps of predator kills to supplement their diet of starchy plants, seeds and tubers.  Aging.  Believe it or not, what first got early hominids to eat meat was because it was left to the scavengers and in fact aged a bit and the flavor enhanced enough for Paleo Joe to want to eat it.  Some of the things that happen to meat as it ages is that the naturally occurring enzymes within the tissues start to breakdown the connective collagens and the meat becomes less tough and stringy.  Naturally occurring yeasts and other microbes within the flesh begin to ferment the meat at a cellular level and what happens is that we get an increase (a dramatic increase) in the glutamates as well as the starches within the flesh are broken down into simpler sugars.  All of these things actually have more TASTE to them then what is available in plain fresh meat. And, here's the big one, this aging process in fact makes the flesh of animals more readily digested and releases more of the basic nutrients within the meat to be readily absorbed by humans.  So, old meat is better than fresh meat.  Not necessarily at the local watering hole where the fresh meat hasn't met you and might be more willing to let you buy them a drink, but meat that you consume.  I won't say eat for obvious reasons.

The big difference of course is that you can't go to the store and buy aged beef.  In today's money based food system it costs money to let meat sit on a shelf somewhere for the 8 to 12 weeks needed to allow all of these processes to come to fruition.  It won't happen at your local supermarket for several reasons.  The first is that time thing and the second is because the meat that comes from modern meat factories is not of high
enough quality to even begin the aging process.  The bacterial contamination of modern meat is a well documented fact and if stores were to attempt aging that stuff it would in fact become a cesspool of fecal contamination and NOT the wondrous product you desire.  And thirdly, the amounts of antibiotics fed to animals is enormous and the residual antibiotic content interferes with the actions of good bacteria that do all the work of aging. And no, the antibiotics don't stop the fecal bacteria from having a field day on your meat because for the most part, all those bacteria are now antibiotic resistant, which is another story altogether.  (Fecal Field Day)  Anyway, this all goes back to what our ancestors learned a long long time ago.  If you killed an animal, you hung it up in a cave and let it hang there for a while to age before you ate it.  This is a practice that goes on even today with most hunters.  If you shoot a duck, you hang it up by its feet for a couple days before you cook it.  A deer, hang it, let it age.  The longer the better.  And steers, well there are places around that will sell you aged beef.  It ain't cheap, but the finer things in life never are.

So, some people out there are thinking that they can just go out and buy a couple steaks in package and let them sit in the fridge for a month and they will be better.  Some people also have very poor comprehension of the written word.  You can't do that.  For a lot of reasons.  First, all of the above.  Modern meat is just plain nasty stuff.  Second, aging of meat is done with large base cuts as the aging process drys out and makes an inedible crust on the outside.  And the big one, if you were to put a big piece of beef in your home fridge, it would begin to taste like whatever was in there before.  Fish, pie, cake, sourkraut, whatever.  However, nothing is impossible.  You can age your own beef if you want.  If you have a separate fridge, it is possible.  Clean it well, get an hygrometer and put it in there.  Buy your grass fed beef in large full cuts from a reputable supplier specializing in beef that is NOT grown or finished in a CAFO. Get the biggest you can afford and that will fit in there.  Then do it.  hand it or put it on a rack so air can surround the entire chunk of meat.  Keep the humidity at 70% and keep the door closed as much as possible and 8 weeks after you stick it in there, take it our and shave off the outer crust and cut yourself the best steak you ever had.  Even I would eat it.

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