So, what is dry-ageing meat all about?

The men behind The Beato Steakhouse: marketing manager Danny Choi (left) and Chef JK (right).
The men behind The Beato Steakhouse: marketing manager Danny Choi (left) and Chef JK (right).

KUALA LUMPUR, July 20 — Food is best served fresh, right? From the farm or the sea, the longer our meat, fish and produce take to reach our table the more likely these are to spoil or lose their natural flavours.

Danny Choi, the marketing manager of The Beato Steakhouse which specialises in dry-aged steaks, begs to differ. He says, “With dry-ageing, the beef is ‘marinated’ in its own blood and juices for a few weeks which causes the meat to be more flavourful.”

The happy steakhouse

The 33-year-old Korean had studied hotel management in Boston and it was in the States that he encountered not only American-style cooking but the dry-ageing process for steaks.

 “This dry-ageing process is a specialty of New York steakhouses, which are renowned for their juicy and sizeable steaks. New Yorkers are very discerning consumers of steaks and do not mind paying a good price for more flavour,” he says.

The American connection goes back further according to him, as Choi claims that Native Americans developed the dry-ageing method centuries ago.

Apparently they found they could keep their slaughtered meats fresh in caves where the temperature was cooler. They discovered that ageing also improved the taste of the meat.

Choi set up The Beato Steakhouse in Solaris Dutamas with his brother-in-law JK, another Korean native who attended culinary school in Boston and acts as the head chef, after a few years of working together in the States, Singapore, Thailand and South Korea.

The restaurant’s name comes from the word “beato” which means “happy” in Italian, and it’s the search for more happiness in life that has brought these two young entrepreneurs to Kuala Lumpur.

“We like the lifestyle in Malaysia,” the 28-year-old JK says, “and we observed the growth in the F&B industry in KL. That’s why we thought it’d be a good opportunity to set up the first steakhouse to offer dry-aged steak here.”

The crust characteristic of dry-aged beef.
The crust characteristic of dry-aged beef.
The secret of dry-ageing

In order to do this, they had to custom design and build a chiller for their restaurant. The chiller has to be kept at a specific temperature and level of humidity – exact figures are a trade secret, Chi insists with a wink – so that the meat does not spoil during the ageing process.

Antoine Rodriguez, the Executive Chef of Prime Steak Restaurant at Le Méridien Kuala Lumpur, sheds a bit more light on the subject: “Beef can be aged from a few days to as long as six weeks, with the average probably around 10-14 days in an effort to strike a balance between taste and storage costs. It’s carried out at low temperatures, generally between 34 and 38°F (or 1 to 3°C).”

“Twenty days is the standard dry-ageing time for most steakhouses,” JK shares. “During this period, the meat will shrink in size due to the loss of moisture and develop a dry crust on its surface.”

Choi adds, “No salt or chemicals are used. Once the aging period is complete, we carve away the crust leaving the aged meat which is now juicier and tastier as the blood has seeped into it.”

Chef JK shows how dry-aged beef is stored.
Chef JK shows how dry-aged beef is stored.
Dry-ageing vs. wet-ageing

Jaffery Othman, the Executive Chef of Grill 582 at Best Western Premier Dua Sentral, feels that the wet-ageing process can also produce a flavourful and tender piece of steak.

He shares, “With wet-ageing, the meat is vacuum-packed and aged for 20 days.

The meat thus ages in its own juices, as opposed to dry-ageing where it sits on a rack exposed to air. With this process I feel the meat has a more intense flavour.”

The other issue Chef Jaffery has with dry-ageing is the loss of volume: “You will lose more meat the longer it ages, since the enzymes which tenderise the meat acts more quickly on the exposed surfaces.

“You will have to trim more of the (unusable) meat with dry-ageing. With wet-ageing I get a higher yield of meat before cooking.”

Chef Rodriguez of Prime Steak Restaurant agrees in part, “Wet-ageing reduces the loss of meat due to evaporation and mould, resulting in more saleable meat. However, it generally doesn’t develop an agreeably strong taste to the degree that dry-ageing does.”

Choi explains the difference between dry and wet ageing.
Choi explains the difference between dry and wet ageing.
Super-size me!

Here at The Beato Steakhouse, steaks come in American-sized portions. JK explains, “As there is a lot of shrinkage after ageing, we make sure to cut a thicker slice, for example 300g rather than the 200g most steakhouses go for.”

The Beato Steakhouse also serves wet-aged steak. Choi says, “We offer wet-aged tenderloin as it’s the best part of the cow and thus does not need dry-ageing. For other cuts such as the T-bone, sirloin, porterhouse and ribeye, dry-ageing helps bring out the best in their flavour.”

In terms of customer preference, JK notes that the Japanese and Koreans prefer T-bone and porterhouse while Europeans prefer tenderloin. “We ran out of porterhouse cuts one evening after a table of 10 Japanese diners came in!”

Ultimately, the actual cooking of the steaks is important too, and not just the ageing of the meat. Perhaps the best way to judge whether dry-ageing makes a difference to your steak is to try some. Buon appetito!

The Beato Steakhouse
D2-G3-9, Solaris Dutamas, No. 1, Jalan Dutamas 1, 50480 Kuala Lumpur
Open daily from 11:30am – 03:00pm & 05:00pm – 10:00pm
Tel:  03 6206 2405

Prime Steak Restaurant
Level 5, Le Méridien Kuala Lumpur, No. 2 Jalan Stesen Sentral, KL Sentral, 50470 Kuala Lumpur
Open Mon-Fri 12:00pm to 2:30pm (lunch); Mon-Sun 6:30pm to 11:00pm (dinner)
Tel:  03 2263 7555

Grill 582
Best Western Premier Dua Sentral, 8 Jalan Tun Sambanthan  50450 Kuala Lumpur
Open daily 6:30pm – 10:30pm
Tel:  03 2272 8888

This story was first published in the print edition of The Malay Mail, July 19, 2013.