There are a lot of videos and web information on the internet about how to dry-age prime rib. There are even more warnings and silliness about precautionary measures, “special rubs” or secret methods from chefs that have done this process countless times at their restaurants or in expensive climate controlled environments. Well, I don’t have a restaurant and I don’t perform this process every day, week or every month. Hell, I’m lucky if the wife will let me buy a full 7-bone roast to experiment with once a year during the holidays. I say experiment because it seems as though every year is a question as to how it is going to turn out, especially if you want to try something even just a little different from one of your previous annual attempts. In this recapitulation I will try to explain some of my concerns and hopefully give you a quick rundown of the process. It was definitely worth the effort as it was really no effort at all.
I did a lot of reading and watching of videos before I attempted this process. I talked with my wife about the potential for ruining $100 worth of meat or the potential for someone getting sick from a poorly executed aging process. My wife had suggested I try the procedure with only half of the meat. I then told her that I would be wasting time (4 weeks) practicing and by that time it would already be Christmas and I would not be allowed the same time to complete the remaining part of the roast because It would take another 4 weeks. I decided not to concede to her “level-headed” thinking and went about my business with a back-up plan of just buying another roast the day before our celebration if necessary. The thought of creating something special for my guests to look forward to on Christmas day turned out to be priceless, as many of my guests were aware of my aging of the roast and knew of the dry-aged beef Christmas bonus this year. I mean dry-aged beef is something that usually costs a lot if purchasing from a Prime Steak house. I did it in my kitchen for literally no effort and relatively no additional cost. It was well worth it.
First of all I want to tell you that this was an extremely easy process and almost completely devoid of any opportunity for ruining your investment or getting anyone ill from your crappy cooking. If you read and/or watch videos on the internet, dry-aging of your prime rib doesn’t seem to translate into this simple process for such an acclaimed reward; and other than my attempt at yet another cooking process, this rib roast was delectable and tender as the aging process breaks down connective tissue and intensifies the beef flavor. The only drawback that I ran into is the juiciness of the meat upon service, since the dry-aging process removes excessive and virtually all moisture from within the roast; and I used a roasting method that was somewhat of a change for me that could have been responsible for additional evaporation of juices. In other words it was dry inside. Perhaps it should have been roasted and surrounded by vegetables in a beef stock or broth to add moisture back into the roast. Instead I used the ol’ “Johnny’s Chimichurri” to help out as a table-side condiment. Just another plug for my chimi to help build the demand folks.
Almost every internet sight says to purchase a Prime or Choice cut of beef from your local butcher. I buy most of my beef from Stater Brothers, a local super market that has given me satisfaction for many years. Their prices generally are less expensive than other markets and they have a good quality meat that was perfect for my experimenting on this project. I asked the butcher (yes they have a good butcher shop that will do almost anything for their customer) for a whole rib roast still in the cryovac bag. The cryovac bag is the first stage of the aging process but is considered “wet” aging. This process is somewhat similar to dry aging but does not remove moisture but rather retains moisture in the beef. This moisture results in more of a boiling effect on the beef. This is what we are trying to eliminate by the dry-aging process, so once the roast is removed from the bag we can begin to remove that moisture by completely drying the exterior of the beef with a few paper towels. Make sure to do a good job drying the exterior and DO NOT SEASON the roast at this time.
Prepare a space in your refrigerator that will accommodate the roast for a month. I happen to have a “beer fridge” in my laundry room that helped make this process even more simplified. Having more of a dedicated space for the aging process is essential for better guarding against foreign contaminants that could create a mold or fungus on your beef during the first two weeks of the aging process; and it minimizes the chance of cross contamination or transfer of flavors from any other perishables to the meat, or the odor of off-gassing back to the perishables. After the first two weeks the beef has developed a nice firm outer layer that basically prevents contaminants from coming into contact with what will become the remainder of the roast once that outer layer is cut away just before cooking.
You’ll also notice I have my roast sitting just above a 1/2 sheet pan of salt. During my research for this project I noticed one individual had done the same thing claiming that it assisted the aging process by helping to remove any additional moisture from the refrigerator air. Made perfect sense to me. I happen to have a water softener in my home so I already had extra salt and after I was done with this project, the salt would just end up in the water softening tank anyway. No harm, no foul. You can read more about the refrigeration process of dry-aging on the internet so I’ll minimize some of the technical issues with creating the perfect aging environment. All I know is that I removed any perishables and open containers from the “beer fridge” and the ice-making freezer above prior to placing the roast in there. Other than opening the refrigerator or freezer 2-3 times a day to retrieve a beer, grab a bowl of ice cream and inspect my meat, the air circulation and temperature were consistent with the aging process. My fridge keeps my beer very cold at about 34-36 degrees and the fan runs automatically. Also note: I continued to use the ice from the icemaker for my daily water intake as it should/would indicate any foulness in odor of the aging meat.
Another quick note to tell you that the very moderate odor of off-gassing was only sometimes apparent up to two weeks, after that it pretty much disappeared. You can read more about the off-gassing on the internet as well.
So now my beef has been thoroughly patted dry and placed on a rack just above the layer of salt. I have now placed the experimental subject into my beer refrigerator and inspected (looking at it is just like watching grass grow) it daily for anything that appears to resemble mold or fungus; but other than the salty looking appearance after just a couple of days, it just kind of sat there and got dried out with not much of an appearance change other than a bit of shrinkage and color difference. After the first two weeks the roast really did not take on that much of an appearance change from that point (at least grass continues to grow). After two weeks I put on a nitrile kitchen glove and prodded the exterior with my finger tip to discover a firm 1/8″ layer had formed around the complete exterior and a softer flesh underneath. This thin layer is what I was going to be cutting off just before cooking. After the full four weeks of aging, the texture of the roast had taken on more of a prosciutto feel and was easily handled and manipulated throughout any refrigerator space after I had removed it from the salt tray about 3 days before Christmas. This turned out to be very convenient since all refrigerator space was now being consumed with holiday party food and favors. The next time we would have a worry about the roast is when we trim it and season it for cooking.
You’ll also have to pardon my lack of pictures I have to display here. When I am cooking, I am not thinking about taking pictures so you’ll have to take my word on some of these processes and search the internet to find the foodie porn shots.
Another thing I want to ensure I pass along is that this project is not about explaining the dry-aging process or confusing you with dry-aging times, calculating the actual age of the beef and other stupid stuff. This project was to see if I could do it at home in my refrigerator and if it was as easy as I thought it was going to be, safe and worth the effort. There are internet stories and models of doing it for only a few days, wrapping it in cheese cloth and rubbing it with other B.S.; but the 4-5 week aging time of beef is considered the perfect time investment for cost, equipment utilization and improvement in texture and flavor. I opened this roast from the cryovac bag and began the dry-aging on Thanksgiving morning when I first placed it in the beer fridge. I prepared it Christmas morning for service that day. A total of 30 days.
Now is the time to prepare your seasonings to be used for cooking. The roast has this nice prosciutto texture now and is ready to carve, season and truss. I had never before had the experience of carving off the 1/8 inch of dry jerky crust. When I did it revealed a beautifully colored and aroma free roast underneath. I seasoned mine with plenty of garlic, fresh rosemary from the yard (out here, rosemary grows everywhere) and plenty of salt and pepper. I then trussed it and placed into the roasting pan per my secretive cooking time and temperature. Again, I said it turned out dry but cooked perfectly. I removed the ribs and hid them from my guests quickly as the on-lookers were already starting to pick at them eager to taste the dream.
I’m happy to say this was a success. I don’t know that I will try this full 4-week process again to be cooked as a roast; but I will definitely be using the same technique to make some damn good steaks out of the whole roast. I just need to get the wife to agree to $100 worth of steaks for some special guests some night.
By the way the ribs were definitely the best f’in beef ribs I have ever had. Wow, what an intense flavor and tenderness.