Drying the rib over salt
I cut two ribs of beef apart and froze both in separate vacuum bags. A couple weeks’ later, a few days before Natalie was due to visit us, I defrosted one and put it on a rack, above a layer of salt (Himalayan pink salt, no less) and put it uncovered in the fridge. I turned it every other day for 8 days. By Saturday night it had noticeably shrunk and darkened. I had defrosted the second rib overnight and I cooked each in separate roasting trays with just a large knob of butter on top of each on the same shelf of the same oven at 180 degrees, intending to get them both to 55-58 degrees C, medium rare. I expected to have to take the dried rib out of the oven first, as I expected it would cook more quickly. Unfortunately, after all my efforts, I overcooked them by 10 mins or so because I was distracted setting up the garden brazier but I took them both out together when the dried, now cooked rib was showing 58 and the fresh rib around 68, both were still juicy but on the well side of medium, unfortunately. Hardly a disaster but nevertheless frustrating after all my preparation. 😟
We let the ribs rest on separate warm plates whilst we carried everything down to the garden, probably 20 mins. I cut both ribs off and took the top slice ‘crusts’ off both sides of the aged beef and gave the bits to the dogs who were waiting patiently for their taste test. They had no comment. Then I cut straight-through the eye and sliced a few thin slices off the middle of each for us to taste each rib side by side. I thought this a good test of the benefits, or otherwise, of ageing, same animal, same piece of meat, no marinade, rub or seasoning, identical cooking, resting, treatment, tasters. Both ribs left a similar pool of juices on their warming plates. Maybe we should have turned each rib during the rest time.
The taste test showed a very definite, marked difference for all three of us. The dry-aged rib was firmer, certainly tastier, more meaty. The un-aged piece was as we expected, still juicy, quite nice but otherwise unremarkable. We all preferred the dried beef but after taking the photographs, we now had to sit down to eat it and here was the rub. Dinner was intended to be a beef sandwich and a glass or two of wine selected from the case just delivered from our new wine club. A fresh, crusty loaf had been warmed in the cooling oven but, by the time we had added tzatziki, horseradish, chopped iceberg, salt and what-have-you, and Natalie even added roast tomato and gravy to her sandwich, none of us could really tell the difference between the two cuts, of course!
So, would I do it again? Well, the beef was bought as a large three-rib from our local supermarket with no promises of ageing so it was likely very fresh and therefore not unreasonable that the ‘fresh’ rib tasted unremarkable. If we had bought the meat from a butcher who had properly aged the beef uncut then I certainly wouldn’t dry it further myself. For a too-fresh supermarket cut it proved worthwhile although it took a lot of pre-planning and fridge time/room. The weight of each rib was a modest 1.3kg or so, probably a minimum weight that allowed the beef to dry and not just go off. Certainly I wouldn’t subject a supermarket-bought steak to this process. I think 8 days over salt was probably a day or two too long and I’d dry it for about six days if I did it again, although I’d probably just go to a good butcher and buy a properly-aged piece next time!