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Wet and Dry Aging

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

Posted by johngl

About three weeks ago, another aging experiment was hatched.  I left a whole, unpeeled tenderloin in its cryovac packaging for two weeks.  Then I made the steaks found in the Grilled Beef Tournedos post. Those steaks were center cut and came out pretty darned good.

Two week wet-aged beef

I should have just stopped there, but I wanted to find out what would happen if I dry-aged the remaining pieces — a tail end, a head end, and the petites.

Since I was going to be in Seattle all week anyway, it seemed like a good solution.  When I got back, they looked like this:

after a week of dry aging

So, they have the right look to them and no funky smell and I thought all was well.  The problem here is, I didn’t realize how thick the crust had gotten.  Normally, after about a week of dry-aging, the pellicle isn’t all that substantial.  Sometimes I trim bits of it off, and sometimes I don’t.  So, I went on my merry way and prepared the marinade like I normally do.  I grabbed some herbs:

rosemary, marjoram, oregano, sage, and thyme

I chopped the marjoram, oregano, sage, rosemary, and thyme into tiny bits:

finely chopped herbs

I took the herbs and mixed them with about two ounces of Cognac, salt, pepper, and a touch of piquin powder, then whisked that with some grape seed oil into a thick emulsion.  I then brushed that emulsion on the meat.  Normally, the fluids (cognac) rehydrate the pellicle, and pull in the volatile oils from the herbs along with it.  Well, when I actually give it time to do its work.  I tried to rush this one and rather than the normal 12 hours of marinade time, I gave it about 3.

This, my friends, is a recipe for less-than-stellar results.

third space photo - brisketI packed up the aged tenderloin and hauled it over to my friend Erik’s house for a late afternoon grilling session — he was having a get-together with some other folks.  He’d smoked a whole beef brisket (left, courtesy of third space photo), grilled four large (brined) pork tenderloins, grilled some corn on the cob, made up a large batch of baked beans, baked a couple of dozen potatoes, and had all sorts of munchies: fruit plate, a killer guacamole, chips & salsa, and crudités.

He also exposed us all to his collection of fine liquor:

Wall of booze

This wall-o-booze is nothing short of spectacular.  I tried a 17 year old Scotch (Balvenie) aged in rum barrels.  Wonderful.

So, back to the food.

I grilled these (what should have been tasty)  bits of beef as I normally would and set them aside to rest.  Helping Erik with some prep, I seared off the pork tenderloins and kept an eye on the corn on the cob.

With everything ready, we started cutting up the pork loins and the aged tenderloin I brought over.

I didn’t realize how chewy the pellicle had become until I had my own plate piled high with food:

plate o' food

That is the tenderloin between the corn and the beans.  The pork loin is up front.  The brisket is under the corn, but it looked (and tasted marvelous).

thirdspacephoto brisket
Photo courtesy of third space photo

I didn’t even put any BBQ sauce on mine.

Anyway, as I said, I sampled the tenderloin and it was anything but tender.  It was as though I had done a three-week dry age and the pellicle was about an eighth of an inch thick.  We might as well have been chewing some jerky.  Further, it had formed a barrier so none of the flavoring had really penetrated the meat.

Things I learned:

– Don’t subject friends to experiments in aged meat
– Always trim the pellicle (or at least test its thickness)
– Always follow your own marinading rules
– Small pieces of meat dry-age faster than large ones

I’m just very glad that Erik had all that really great food available.  Hopefully, the other folks will forgive my errors in judgment and execution.  Apologies to all.

I won’t be doing a combination (wet and dry) aging thing again any time soon.

Note:  This has also resulted in the creation of a new category under techniques:  Failures.  I hope that category doesn’t grow too quickly.

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5 Responses to “Wet and Dry Aging”

  1. Judy says:

    You are amazing, John, with your flair for experimentation. Pretty gutsy to sacrifice such a nice cut of beef in pursuit of the ultimate. I like the idea of sitting the cryovac pack in the fridge for 2 weeks. Especially since everyone says you can’t age tenderloin on your own. I might give that a try and then dry-age the remainder for a few days. thanks for paving the way.

  2. Biz says:

    Sorry your meat didn’t turn out! That’s such a bummer when that happens – it looks good though! :D

  3. Erik says:

    While the thick crust WAS a bit chewy, I thought the center had the most incredible beefy flavor. I eagerly ate as much of it as I could. If you’d like to fail that way again, I’ll be happy to dispose of the results for you.

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