How does 21 day hung steak keep fresh?
August 2, 2012 3:42 AM   Subscribe

My local supermarket's best steaks are hung for 21 days apparently, and are red and fresh. However, when I used some the other day, and put some uncooked leftover back in the fridge, it went brown and started rotting within a couple of days. How does the butcher manage to hang the meat for 21 days without the same thing happening?
posted by derbs to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm far from expert about this, but the brown color is oxidation, not rot. The steaks aren't cut until after the meat has been hung, so their surfaces are not exposed to air during that long wait.
posted by jon1270 at 3:48 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

My local butcher sprays his meat with a dilute solution of lemon juice, so that it will stay red in the refrigerator case.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:50 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ah of course. I feel like a right doofus now, thinking that the individual steaks were hung up!
posted by derbs at 3:55 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What your butcher is doing sounds a lot like Dry-Aging, and if so, you are lucky to have an awesome butcher.

The Science of Taste Or: Why Dry-Aged Meat Is So Damned Delicious -By Harold McGee
"Dry-aging beef means that once the animal is slaughtered and butchered, portions of the carcass are allowed to rest in very carefully controlled conditions (cool temperatures, with relatively high humidity) for a period of time—often several weeks, and sometimes up to a couple of months.

When we create such conditions, we allow enzymes to do their work. And we end up with a complexity of flavor—savoriness, sweetness, some bitterness-that just wasn't there before. There's no cooking method that can generate the depth of flavor of a dry-aged piece of meat.

What happens is that enzymes in the meat's muscle cells begin to break down the meat's proteins, fats, and glycogen—a carbohydrate—into amino acids, fatty acids, and sugars. One amino acid generated by dry-aging—the most important and flavorful one, in fact—is glutamate, which is part of MSG. other amino acids have flavors somewhat similar to MSG; others still are sweet.

Dry-aging beef also causes it to lose some of its moisture. Meat begins at about 75 percent water; after dry-aging, it may go down to somewhere around 70 percent. It doesn't sound like much of a change, but what it means is that the flavors become more concentrated, and the tissue itself becomes more concentrated, too. Dry-aged meat is still juicy when you cook it, but the juices are even more delicious than usual.

In short, it's wonderful, delicious stuff. It's also really hard to get your hands on, and when you can find it, it's often very expensive—you really have to pay through the nose for it, because it's very expensive to produce. The meat has to be kept in a controlled environment for a long time, and that eats up money. And then you lose a fair amount of the meat's weight, too: you're evaporating moisture, and the surface of the meat begins to spoil, as well. It dries out, it develops unpleasant flavors, and sometimes it develops a bit of mold. It's not harmful, but it needs to be trimmed off before the meat can be sold.

So if dry-aged meat is so hard to find, you might wonder if you can just buy a regular steak and dry-age it in your refrigerator. You can...but it's probably not going to come out very well.

Depending on what else you've got in the fridge, you're going to end up with a piece of meat that may have picked up some other smells and flavors. Opening and closing the refrigerator door is going to mean that the temperature isn't controlled, so you're much more likely to develop mold growth on the surface. And finally, you'll end up having to trim a fair amount of the steak away before you can eat it. Dry-aging is very difficult to do well at home.

But if you want to try it, then what I would recommend is getting a primal cut, a large piece of meat from which you can cut steaks later on . Then the trimming won't be so difficult . Put the meat in a second refrigera- tor that doesn't get used often (if you're lucky enough to have one) . suspend it in a twine harness, or on a rack, so that the entire surface is exposed to the air .

Finally, if you're going to do it, how long should you keep it in there? If you bought the meat from a normal retail store, then it's already about a week old. Hang on to it and experiment—cut a steak off every once in a while and see if you like it. You can take it too far. Once it gets past about six to eight weeks—in my experience, anyway-the flavor becomes so transformed by the action of the enzymes that it begins to taste like blue cheese. It's a very interesting transformation, but for most people, steak that tastes like cheese is not a desirable thing.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:02 AM on August 2, 2012 [27 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for that Blasdelb - very interesting. The steak was from Waitrose (a premium supermarket in the UK), and is a special treat! It sat in the fridge for about 5 days, and was smelly pretty bad before I threw it out though. Didn't want to risk eating it.
posted by derbs at 4:09 AM on August 2, 2012

You did the right thing. Five days in an ordinary fridge after it's already been caressed and cuddled by your Waitrose butcher is likely to have been too long. Surface oxidization as jon1270 describes shouldn't involve smelliness.
posted by Namlit at 4:26 AM on August 2, 2012 [8 favorites]

Dry aging does end up growing stuff like mould on the meat! But it is on the exterior of the piece and is cut off before it is cut into steaks. But it's part of the process. We are talking about a controlled process of decomposition which involves all sorts of little organisms pitching in.

I find it so funny how people are creeped out or think this sort of thing wouldn't be the case. Humans have been eating rotten things for thousands of years if not more. Youghurt, beer, cider, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, kim chee, pickles, vinegar are all products that are made with fermented live cultures.

No I don't have a ponytail.
posted by Napierzaza at 5:01 AM on August 2, 2012 [6 favorites]

Here is Alton Brown's dry age recipe and technique. It only calls for 96 hours of activity. If you can get ahold of the video of the show he will mention that longer times are possible but you will have to trim some of the nastiness off of the steaks has other above have mentioned.
posted by mmascolino at 5:53 AM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've done the Alton Brown dry age in my fridge with a bone in Rib Roast. So freaking yummy!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:06 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you don't have 96 hours to dry age your steak, just salt the hell out of it a couple three hours before sear time.

I rest mine in a bowl on a crumpled wad of aluminum foil, which keeps the meat out of the liquid the salt's pulling out. The longer you let it rest, the better it'll taste.
posted by notyou at 6:48 AM on August 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

America's Test Kitchen also has a video demonstration of dry aging your own steaks, and they also recommend 3 days as optimal.
posted by I am the Walrus at 10:56 AM on August 2, 2012

Walrus, I think you mistyped -- that video you linked from America's Test Kitchen actually says four days, not three, is optimal in "a home fridge."
posted by Joey Bagels at 1:30 PM on August 2, 2012

Don't bother trying to dry age steak at home, it's not really possible (even if Alton Brown claims it sorta-kinda is):

This is a great guide to making restaurant-quality steaks at home (I've got a 20 oz rib eye salting on my counter right now :D ), but under section #5 in the last paragraph he describes why it's 'nearly impossible:'

"And despite what some folks may tell you, it is pretty much impossible to dry age properly at home. To age a steak, you require an intact, untrimmed portion of beef (the outer layers become inedible and must be trimmed off). You can leave a steak in the fridge for a few days and some amount of tenderization will occur, but this is hardly the same thing."
posted by imagineerit at 2:49 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

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