At Steak Locker, one of our most frequently asked questions is ‘what does dry aging do to a steak’ and although the process involves a number of elements, there are two key reasons to dry age a steak. The first is for tenderization and the second is to concentrate the flavor.
What does dry aging do to a steak's texture?
The dry aging process also promotes the growth of a fungal mold species on the surface of the meat, called Thamnidium. This gives the appearance of a pale gray color that will form patches, called whiskers, on the fatty parts of each cut of beef. This is an important bacteria known to produce collagenolytic enzymes that allows the meat to form an external crust or pellicle, which is then trimmed off prior to cooking.
As for the tenderization, this reaction is a result of the enzymes that are naturally present within the muscle will break down the tougher fibers and connective tissue then creating a very tender piece of meat. This process actually makes the steak significantly more tender than a fresh steak.
What does dry aging do to a steak's flavor?
As well as tenderisation, flavor plays a huge role in the reason why people dry age steak. The process of dry aging concentrates the flavor and develops distinct notes that are nuttier and beefier. The desired flavor can be achieved by the length of time the beef is aged. Aging beef from 21 – 35 days creates a light nutty flavor, from 35 – 55 days creates a more mushroom likeness then beyond 65 days the flavor moves into a more pungent blue cheese characteristic.
Up to a third of the volume of water is lost during this process through evaporation of the moisture within the outer layer of the meat that then concentrates its flavor. When beef reaches this concentrated flavor, it’s often referred to as Umami, which translates to the Japanese word for Delicious. Umami, or savoriness, is one of the five basic tastes along with salty, sweet, sour and bitter. Its taste is often described as the meaty, savory deliciousness that deepens flavor.
What does dry aging do to a steak historically?
Today, dry aging is a delicacy, a process used to enhance meat by naturally amplifying its flavors whilst improving its texture. However, dry aging was not always used as a way to improve a meat's taste. The process of dry aging is said to date back to medieval times and back then was used as a method of preservation.
Before refrigeration was invented, people had to use cellars and before that caves to preserve fresh produce like meat longer than a few days. Caves and cellars were used because they usually maintained a steady temperature and humidity level which is needed to dry age meat without it spoiling. You can read more about the importance of the environment of a dry age fridge in our previous article where we discuss our meat ager and how aging works.