“The only time to eat diet food is while you're waiting for the steak to cook.” - Julia Child
The Perfect Steak
What is Steak? A quick search shows steak is a high-quality beef taken from the hindquarters of the animal, typically cut into thick slices that are cooked by grilling or frying. What is it about a piece of rare meat that is barely cooked and barely seasoned so alluring? A decadent dish reserved often for the special occasion and able to stop a man's heart beat faster than the sight of his first love. Is it because it feeds man's primal needs or it's just years of exposure to the industry's glamour spotlight on all the most expensive Waygu and heritage breeds? Chances are if you are a man, the first dish you tried to cook yourself at home (to the dismay of your parents cause you smoked out the house) is probably a piece of steak (also because you couldn't afford a good steakhouse back then). Like many people, I love my steaks. The only time I ever ate something and went speechless and teared like a scene from an exaggerated Japanese cooking anime was from a rare piece of Txuleta of Rubia Gallega cow, cooked over wood fire from Casa Julian: small steakhouse in Tolosa, Basque Country. It was everything how I imagined a perfect steak to be. Perfectly tender, with a perfect crust and an explosion of neverending beefy umami in your mouth.
Grass fed vs Grain fed
To me, the perfect steak has to be beefy. I would sacrifice marbling in a heartbeat because beefiness is the damn reason why you crave a piece of steak which is why we serve only Grass Fed beef. With the popularity of Wagyu and the marbling cock measuring system, we are now buying beef for the sake of marbling and it shows in the butchery. I see more Grain Fed beef on sale than grass fed nowadays. Grain-fed cows tend to have better marbling but it sacrifices beefy flavour for it. Farmers cramp as much fat into their cows by feeding it with grains instead of letting it graze on grass free range which develops flavour. The saying "you are what you eat" is true for the cows. Grass Fed beef will always taste beefier than Grain Fed. Fat is flavour only if its good fat. Fat makes a steak tender and juicy because it melts at medium rare temperature. One can manipulate tenderness through aging but you cannot manufacture beef flavour.
In my pursuit to make the best steak possible at home, I turned to the art of aging. Dry aging is the holy grail of steaks. Given time (28 days and more), the natural enzymes in the meat begins to break down the muscle tissues (yes, that's decomposing..) rendering the meat tender. At the same time, moisture evaporates from the meat, increasing the intensity of the beef flavour. But building a dry aging chamber for controlled aging is a space endeavor that an apartment-dwelling Singaporean does not have.
Aging Steaks at home
Home Fridge Drying
That was when I came across an article on American Test Kitchen about home aging in the fridge. Left open in our home fridge for up to 4 days, it mimics a dry aging process to a limited degree. And it really does improves the texture and flavour! I have done a side by side comparison before and it really works! For years, this was the method of choice to serve our steaks.
Just last year, I came across another article which claims that using Koji, it could mimic a dry age steak of 28 days equivalent within 48 hours and I got all excited! Koji is a mold that Asian civilization have cultivated for thousands of years. It is responsible for many umami-rich foods that you are enjoying today, Soy sauce, Miso and even Sake. Koji enzyme breaks down protein into many other amino acids with Glutamic acid (umami......) being one of them.
Fish Sauce Aging
Most recently, a video on YouTube, claimed that using fish sauce, with all its microbial enzymes within it, helps tenderizes the steak if used to marinate a piece of beef.
And all of sudden, we were faced with 3 types of home aging techniques to bring our steak game to the next level and an experiment was needed! 3-way fight for the best home aging method!
Koji (with the rice grains)
Air Aging (cheese cloth)
Fish Sauce (ziplock)
We are judging against my idea of a perfect steak variables of tenderness, crust and beefy flavour
Air Aging (center)
- Tenderness: 6/10. More tender compared to untreated steak.
- Crust: 7/10. In between the other 2 to be honest. Good but not great.
- Beefy Flavour: 6/10. Not bad, better than not treated.
Fish sauce (right)
- Tenderness: 9/10. This was incredibly tender. It has a mild cured meat texture to it due to all the salt in the fish sauce.
- Crust: 4/10. Without the evaporation, it's much harder to achieve a crust.
- Beefy Flavour: 5/10. Surprisingly the fish sauce flavour is not noticeable. But the beef flavour was not enhanced despite all that umami in the fish sauce.
- Tenderness: 8/10. The koji enzymes help to break it down further.
- Crust: 9/10. All the sugars in the Koji give it an amazing crust.
- Beefy Flavour: 8/10 Enhanced with a bit of funk from the koji mimicking the dry age process.
There is a new king in the home aging method! Koji brings the steak much closer to my perfect steak compared to the other 2 methods. It is only slightly less tender than the fish sauce method but blows the other 2 out of the water in terms of flavour and crust.
What's next on the perfect steak journey? A DIY Dry aging Chamber perhaps? :)
Where was your best steak you ever had? Do share with us in the comments below. :)