31 October 2010

The Centurion


Much has been written, discussed and Tweeted on the subject of just how long steak should be aged in order to make it taste even better. I've never participated because, if it's a decent piece of meat, I'm just going to enjoy it because it's a decent piece of meat: whether or how it's reached beefy puberty isn't a major concern.

The thing is, if you were to eat a 28 day aged steak today, can you really remember every detail of its texture and taste in, say, a week's time when you're tucking into something aged for an extra week? If you can - and I'm sure some of you probably can - good on you. Unfortunately,
my memory and palate don't really work that way which is why I keep schtum.

It is a subject that interested me though and, as proven by an enjoyable morning at Gaucho a couple of years ago, in order for me to do the comparison thing, I need all the options lined up before me. That removes some of the variables (as well as that extra week, two different restaurants are likely to use different suppliers) and also explains why I can now rank my chosen cuts of beef: ribeye first, sirloin and rump roughly equal second, fillet a surprisingly bland fourth. I needed an opportunity to do the same on aged meats - and thanks to Simon Majumdar and the good folk at Goodman, that's exactly what happened.

In a manner of speaking. With Simon carving out a career as a US TV presenter (and a US based happily married man), we'd arranged a spot of lunch for when he was back in the UK. Thrashing some options around via e mail, Simon made the sort of comment that makes any such conversation redundant: "John at Goodman did mention he had a 100 day old piece of beef with my name on it."



Which is why Simon and I found ourselves recently at Goodman in Mayfair, sipping a glass of red and a beer respectively, and ogling strange blackened lumps of beef like these. If anything was going to teach me what happens during the ageing process, it was a three-and-a-bit month old hunk of cow. "It was slaughtered on May 5," advised John of one of the pieces. Eek.

I was expecting something ripe and gamey and yes, there was a hint of cheese-like aroma to the raw meat. But it wasn't the overpowering scent I expected, more a hint of its age. John disappeared for a few minutes and returned with a plate of cuts and a comprehensive lesson in aging. A slab of belted Galloway, aged 35 days. A piece of something else - lack of notes due to over excitement - aged 45 days. And there, the fat melting softly at room temperature, strips of different 100 day steaks from Chile and Australia. There was a knowing grin from John, a few giggles of delight from yours truly, followed by a glass of splendid Rioja as we sat awaiting the results of John's expertise at meat sourcing, storage and Josper grilling.

What reappeared was delicious and educational. The 35 day was excellent and richly flavoured. The 45 day wowed with the iron-heavy, gaminess I was expecting from the 100 day. And the 100 day aged?

Unbelievably good, without a hint of the expected flavours. Instead of ripeness, there was a sweetness to the crust, partly one assumes the caramelisation, but that sweetness carried through to the flesh beneath. Soft but with some density, it was surprisingly subtle but very addictive. I try not to get into that whole "best" thing - a meal is frequently so much more than just the food - but if pushed I'd have to admit this would be in my protein top three of all time. If I was sad enough to keep that sort of mental list. Which, admittedly, I probably am.

Remarkably - or depressingly, depending on your medical position - we demolished pretty much everything on the plate, leaving only a small piece or two for a doggy bag (sorry Mrs L), and then decided that yes, actually, we felt better than we deserved (good protein, see, can't beat it) and that yes, actually, we did have room for a pudding and a glass of something sticky. This served as final proof that there are multiple stomachs within the human body (the main one, the pudding one and, my latest discovery, the hotel breakfast one) and a good reminder that while Goodman is among the very best of steak places in London, they're pretty damned adept at the other courses too.

I'm still not going to be drawn on what cut / ageing period / ageing process is the "best" but it was a hell of an educational experience. Hearty pats on the back then to Simon, John and David for the experience.

And one of these days - having now done Goodman for the In n Out tribute burger, a lunch in the kitchen and this elderly steak experiment - I'll go there for a normal meal...

3 comments:

Jenny Eatwell said...

I wonder how the oldest piece had been kept? Presumably in a refrigerator, but was there any attempt to preserve it beyond just keeping it cold? Common-sense would say that a piece of meat that old would be beyond redemption, but obviously not. Interesting! :)

Kavey said...

It is interesting this current obsession with ageing isn't it?

Your experience certainly backs up the advantages of ageing, when done well.

But, when I was in Falklands recently, we ate some beef from an animal slaughtered 2 days before. Yes, really. And it was absolutely fantastic. Part of a very small herd kept mainly for the owners' own needs, it lived a good life on a privately owned island that once supported many thousands of sheep.

It was superb, flavour and texture both.

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