New Jersey Monthly May 25, 2010
These short loins of beef are dry-aging at DeBragga & Spitler for the primo New York restaurant Picholine. A Texan turned Jerseyan, George Faison, is chief operating officer of DeBragga. Read on for a primer on dry-aging..
Location: The meat-packing district in Manhattan. Faison lives in Millington.
Note the fan in the background. A combination of briskly circulating air, re refrigerator temperatures and precise humidity allows the meat to age rather than spoil. Over the course of 21 to 45 days, moisture--water--in the beef slowly evaporates, concentrating the juices and flavors in the meat. During the aging process, the short loin loses 15 to 20 percent of its weight.
At the same time, enzymes in the meat slowly break down tough fibers, tenderizing them.
The result--for some an acquired taste--is an intensely flavored steak with a signature tang of minerality or, to use a less delicate term, funk, for the connoisseur, an exquisite funk.
Dry-aged steaks are way more expensive than un-aged beef or wet-aged beef.
What is wet aged? The fresh meat is vacuum packed in plastic and aged in a cold room. Since there is no evaporation, there is no weight loss. The flavor is less intense but the meat is most likely juicier.
Wet-aged steaks are rarely aged for as many days as dry-aged steaks are aged. That makes them less expensive. Moreover, in the dry-aging process, the surface of the short loin grows crusty and develops a mold, which has to be trimmed away before the steak is cooked. The net loss of weight between evaporation and trimming is almost 50 percent.
When a meat packer like DeBragga dry ages beef for a restaurant, it factors everything into the price, including shrinkage, the cost of refrigeration and electricity and holding the product for 21 to 45 days.
Is a dry-aged steak superior to one that has been wet-aged? Even a dry-aging enthusiast like George Faison of DeBragga says that it's a matter of personal preference.
I myself have tasted dry-aged and wet-aged steaks side by side and, frankly, the difference has been subtle. One of the most satisfying steaks I've ever had was a wet-aged New York strip at Morton's in Atlantic City.
The amount of funk, or minerality, and tenderness in a dry-aged steak may vary depending on where in the short loin the individual steak you're served was located.
If it was in the center of the loin the aging effects are going to be subtler than if the steak was at or near one of the two ends. But even the most obsessive purveyors and chefs draw the line at singling out end steaks and charging even more for them. It's the luck of the draw.
In a restaurant, if a steak is dry-aged the menu will probably say so, and the number of days it was aged will most likely be given--if only to justify the price. If it simply says "aged," a good guess is that it was wet-aged.
A good place to try a genuine 35-day, dry-aged steak in New Jersey is Doc's in Sparta, run by a true beef lover, Don Luisi. Another, usually serving 28-day dry-aged beef, is the Park Steakhouse in Park Ridge. Copeland in Morristown often has 35-day dry-aged beef.
Other Jersey restaurants that often or sometimes feature dry-aged beef are Nisi in Englewood, the Pluckemin Inn in Bedminster, Ninety Acres in Peapack-Gladstone, the Manor in West Orange.
The preceding are all DeBragga customers. But top quality dry-aged steaks are sold by other purveyors to other restaurants and leading steakhouses. Call ahead to see what's on the menu.