Gilding the Lilly
Having successfully aged two prior batches of American beef I decided to try something a little more exotic in my DRYAGER UX 500. I procured an A5 chuck roll from Wagyuman, an importer of Japanese Wagyu beef. As I am sure you are aware true Japanese Wagyu beef is prized the world over amongst meat eaters for its intense marbling, supreme tenderness, and unique flavor. It is generally not dry aged, in fact almost all of it is brought to market, even to wholesale clients, in boneless form. In numerous visits to Japan I have only ever eaten one bone in dry aged steak and it was a special order item at the opening of a friends restaurant. There is just not an established tradition of dry aging in Japan.
The Chuck Roll is roughly analogues to the chuck in the USDA butchering chart, so it is essentially a ribeye with a different name if you source from the loin end, which of course I did. The cut weighed 10.1 lbs and went into my DRYAGER UX 500 with temperature set to 34°F / 1.1°C and humidity at 82%. Given my past experience with the muscles of a hanging rib separating a little as it aged I opted to both place the Wagyu directly on a shelf and also wrap it in spider netting to insure that the various muscles of the chuck roll remained intact. Muscle tightness and conformity leads to a better and more consistent dry aged product, conversely when the muscles separate it leads to undue loss of yield.
As it turned out the chuck roll tightened up beautifully, and in retrospect the netting was probably not necessary. I left the beef on the shelf through out the aging process, although I have to say that philosophically I like the idea of hanging the beef as it exposes more of its surface area. I am sure the gains are marginal, and its not always possible depending on how full one’s DRYAGER is, but I hang beef whenever possible. Also, it just looks freaking cool.
Over the course of the first week the chuck roll oxidized appreciably going from a light pink to hues of brown and maroon as it became oxygen deprived. The transformation was in line time-wise with my prior experience, but because Wagyu is so fatty it is generally lighter in color to begin with — pink rather than red or crimson — than other breeds, which made the change more pronounced.
Structurally the beef shrunk noticeably in the first two weeks, the fat puckering out as the lean became desiccated. Aside from some initial shedding of liquid during the first few days there was not any visible build up in the collection pan. Now granted the DRYAGER UX 500 was under a quarter full, but I was surprised at how little liquid emanated from the beef. But perhaps I shouldn’t be, since the muscle contains more water content than the fat, and this was A5 Wagyu with a Beef Marbling Score (BMS) of 11.
Over the course of the next month the Wagyu continued to darken but structurally things slowed down. While the beef was still desiccating, the fat cover never really lost its creamy white color. I decided to keep the experiment going as the beef was developing a dense crust and was holding together nicely. Aside from rotating on the shelf on a weekly basis I pretty much left it alone and forgot about it.
I ended up going a total of 82 days! At this point the exterior had darkened noticeably and the exposed intramuscular fat had become uniformly maroon. The fat cover however remained distinctly white, which I hoped portended to a well protected interior. In terms of weight the chuck roll lost exactly 2.1 lbs, weighing in at 8 lbs. This is 20% loss, not bad considering the length of aging. Tune in next time to see how the interior looked, and most importantly how it tasted!
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