Meat lovers are all too familiar with the benefits of dry-ageing a great piece of beef.
The enzymes in the decaying process break down the connective tissue in the muscle to tenderise the meat, with the bonus of adding incredible depth of flavour at the same time.
One of the most glorious dry-aged pieces of beef I ever had was a 42 day-aged rib of Lincoln Red from the Hampstead Butcher & Providore in north London. Here’s a link so we can see for yourself.
Now I’ve come across another process that takes dry-ageing to another level: Himalayan Salt-Aged Beef. I came across this while browsing through the Top 50 Winners of Great Taste 2014.
This is a mouth-watering list of the best food producers have to offer. Right up there are several cuts of beef that have been aged in Europe’s only Himalayan Rock Salt Chamber, housed at Hannan Meats in Northern Ireland. Great Taste judges raved about the extraordinary flavour the process imparted in the meat.
On Hannan’s website, the method is described thus: “Hannan Meats is using a 12ft high solid wall of Himalayan rock salt bricks to offer foodservice clients dry–aged beef with an exceptional flavour.
“The translucent blocks which vary in colour from white to orange and a myriad of shades of pink were imported by Hannan Meats from mines in the foothills of the Himalayas in Pakistan’s Punjab region, which date back over 250 million years. Each of the 1,000 salt blocks was individually hand cut.
“The health and therapeutic benefits of Himalayan salt have been known for centuries, but its benefits in the dry–ageing of meat are only a recent phenomenon.
“Through a process called ionisation, the negative ions from the salt counteract the positive ions of meat, and result in a totally unique sweet and flavoursome end product.
“It is not the salt alone, but a combination of temperature, humidity, and UV light combined, that deliver supreme dry–aged meat.”
Peter Hannan, managing director of Hannan Meats, says: “We’re really excited by the stunning flavour of the beef that we are now able to offer our chefs. The Himalayan salt is exceptional in terms of purity and its flavour enhancing qualities.
“The wall of salt enhances the overall ageing process over a period of 28–45 days. We’re using the new ageing room to dry–age premium beef sourced from local suppliers which ensures provenance. All of our Glenarm Shorthorn, and European Angus beef loins and ribs will now be aged in the Salt Chamber.
“The salt wall creates the perfect environment over the ageing period, and concentrates the flavour of the meat. It purifies the air in the room, producing a clean and fresh atmosphere.
“Working in the Chamber is like going for a walk on the beach”.
Sounds incredible, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, this beef isn’t the easiest or the cheapest to get hold of, and the only supplier I could find in the UK was the rich people’s supermarket, Fortnum & Mason, but at £28 for a 900g Fiorentina steak (that’s a massive T-bone steak to me and you) – easily enough to feed two people – I figured it was well worth the investment.
And it was. The flavour WAS extraordinary – a hint of salt, almost like a very mild cure; the texture was dense with a good bite, but without being chewy.
There was hardly any blood, which was surprising, but despite this, it was still very juicy. I still added salt – (sea salt, which I’d brought home from Ile de Re in France ) because meat loves salt – but that’s just a personal thing.
You could easily get away without. Cooking it was simplicity itself: heat a cast iron pan until white hot, oil the steak, and cook for 3-4 minutes each side.
You can salt the steak before or after cooking (or not at all). I know there is a debate about this – some people say salting before cooking draws moisture out of the meat – but to me it makes no difference, and I think cooking the steak with salt on adds an extra texture of crunch.
Have a look at these step-by-step photos. As you can see, the steak came with a thick knot and rind of fat, which I trimmed and then rendered down to make the most amazing dripping to frying chips. The extra meaty bits also made fantastic beef crackling!