Updated: Jun 5, 2019
So, this is a joint of sirloin on the bone. From this, you can cut some juicy sirloin steaks. I couldn't believe the flavour that you get from one of these steaks compared to one you get from the supermarket - I just fried it with salt and pepper - not only was it as tender as fillet steak, the flavour was amazing!
I asked Paul, one of the farm butchers, why this might be and he not only told me but showed me how they hang their meat. Basically, they hang their beef for 28 days in a cold store on the bone. It's the traditional way to hang beef. The flavour from the bone gets into the meat and it also slowly gets more tender.
So why doesn't a supermarket steak taste like this? I asked Paul and he said that supermarkets cut the steaks from the carcass on Day 1 and then just wrap it in plastic for however long. They miss out on that whole age-old tradition of hanging the beef on the carcass. When I've bought a steak from the supermarket, I've noticed that it would say something like '21 day aged'. The '21 days aged' is part of my buying decision - I thought that I'd pay a bit extra and get a tastier steak. It really got me thinking, 'Are supermarkets just wrapping their steaks in plastic for 21 days and then selling it to us?'. I for one assumed that they hang their beef in the traditional way so the flavour develops BUT could it mean that they have just stored it for 21 days? Surely not! but they wouldn't be lying because the beef would have been 21 days older but that's not what I thought I was buying!
I decided to see if I could find out more about it. Welcome to the world of hanging. It sounds a bit macabre but here's how it works.
There are 2 ways to do it - dry hanging and wet hanging - although I'm not sure why they call it wet hanging at all! You'll see why.
Wet hanging is really wet ageing.
The carcass is cut up into individual boneless cuts and then vacuum packed. It's put in a refrigerator for however long is required. Nearly all supermarket meat in the UK is wet aged like this. Why you might ask? Well, as it's cut up immediately, all the water in the meat is kept in the meat making the meat heavier - I've heard up to 30% water content. It also keeps the beef much redder. How do you pay for meat in the supermarket? By weight of course. You see the attraction of the process. More water content also means less flavour and a lot more shrinkage when you cook it.
Dry hanging is the traditional way for helping beef develop it's flavour
The carcass is hung in a cold store from between 21 to 28 days. In that time, the enzymes in the meat gradually break down muscle fibres and moisture, ie. weight is lost from the meat. Therefore, it gets more tender and the taste becomes more concentrated because their is less water in it. It obviously costs a lot more to do this because it's hanging there for quite a long time and all that moisture is leaving the meat on something that you pay per kg.
There's always a cost isn't there. Meat that doesn't cost a great deal is too good to be true in my opinion - something always suffers. You could argue that we pay for this because we don't know about it - we don't know that it's not dry hung and we don't know that we'll get less of it because it's full of water but we're busy, we're in a supermarket, we need to make the dinner, so we buy it and we get used to it. Does it have to be like that?