Enzyme action continues in muscle tissue even after meat is no longer green.This tenderizes the flesh even more and develops more flavor. Holding meats in coolers under controlled conditions to provide time for this natural tenderizing is called aging.
Beef and lamb can be aged because high-quality carcasses have enough fat cover to protect them from bacteria and from drying.Veal has no fat cover, so it is not aged. Pork does not require aging.
Aging does not mean just storing meat in the refrigerator. There is a difference between aged meat and old meat. Conditions must be carefully controlled so the meat becomes naturally tender without spoiling.There are two primary methods used for aging.
I M PS/NAM P CLASSIFICATIONS
The IMPS/NAMP system assigns a series of numbers to each major category of meat, as detailed in Table 10.2. Beef, for example, is the 100 series. This means that all large beef cuts, from whole carcass to primals and prepared roasts, are assigned a three-digit number from 100 to 199. Portion-size and smaller cuts of beef, such as steaks and stew meat, are assigned a four-digit number, also beginning with 1. For example, a whole beef rib, roast-ready, has the number 109; a beef rib steak, bone in, is 1103.
Note that variety meats and processed meat products, such as cured and smoked meats and sausages, are also categorized (see Table 10.2).
Today, most wholesale meat carcasses are broken down into smaller cuts and enclosed in plastic vacuum packs.These packs are usually known by the trade name Cryovac®.The air- and moisture-proof packaging protects the meat from bacteria and mold, and it prevents weight loss due to drying. (However, Cryovac-aged meats often lose more weight in cooking than do dry-aged meats.) Vacuum-pack meats must be refrigerated.
Dry aging is the process of storing meats, usually large cuts, under carefully controlled conditions.The meat is not packaged or wrapped, and it is exposed to air on all sides.Temperature, humidity, and air circulation are precisely controlled to prevent spoilage. Ultraviolet lights are sometimes used in aging coolers to kill bacteria.
Dry-aged meat can lose up to 20 percent of its weight through moisture loss, depending on the size of the cut and how long it is aged. Consequently, dry aging is a more expensive process than wet aging. Dry-aged meats are usually available from specialty purveyors only and at a higher price than wet-aged meats. Many customers are willing to pay a premium for fine dry-aged steaks because they are considered the best for flavor and texture.
Aging increases tenderness and flavor. An off taste is not characteristic of aged meat. If a meat smells or tastes spoiled, it probably is. Sometimes meats in vacuum packs have a musty aroma when first opened, but this disappears quickly.
Aging costs money. Storage costs, weight losses due to drying, and heavier trimming due to dried and discolored surfaces all add to the price of aged meat (although wet aging costs less than dry aging). As a meat purchaser, you will have to decide how much quality is worth how much cost for your particular establishment.
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