Imagine a firm, greenish Tomato. You really need one for your salad. They are all hard as a rock, firm, with a tinge of green. You slice through the hard surface and find little if any juice. The firm, dry slices are placed in your salad or on your tacos and you notice the rich, juicy tomato taste you love is almost completely absent.
Now, imagine a vine ripe tomato that is bright red, soft and juicy when you slice it. The knife glides through as the juice trickles out onto your cutting board. You grab a slice and pop it in your mouth. The tenderness and full flavor of tomato hits your palette. What a difference!
With beef it is much the same. Fresh red beef comes with an enzyme called cowpain. Like proteolytic enzymes in papaya, pineapple and other tropical fruits, this enzyme digests protein. Have you ever eaten a ton of pineapple and you noticed that the corner of your mouth started to burn? That is because the bromelain in pineapple is actually digesting parts of the protein in your mouth causing it to burn and actually hurt.
In beef there is an enzyme that will slowly break down the proteins in the beef making it more tender and flavorful as it ages. This is why aged beef in gourmet restaurants is so popular and so sought after. The best beef in the world is NOT bright red. So The redder the better is a myth.
Top restaurants around the world age their beef for the ultimate dining experience. The standard process is to WET age the beef in cryovac bags, which are thick plastic bags that are vacuum sealed around the beef portion letting no air inside. The standard wet aging process is to wait about 3 weeks before opening the bag. For me, in a gourmet meat market, this is a perfect time to cut steaks and roasts for my counter. The meat is now still nice and red, but the beef enzyme has had time to break down the protein in the meat to make it much more tender and flavorful. Since the beef is already aged for weeks, the beef will start to turn color sooner than fresh cut, non-aged beef. This is not bad at all. In fact, beef that is darker, brown around the edges and maybe with a bit of a green color is really the best!
What a surprise this is to most people. The interesting thing is that these steaks are usually marked down for quick sale. In fine restaurants these same steaks are marked up! Wow, what is that about? Great Chefs know that the aged steaks are better in every way, except the COLOR. In fact, great restaurants go a step further beyond the wet aging process and do another 15 days of dry aging. If you have ever been to certain gourmet restaurants, they may have their prime ribs on display on a tray in a display window. Gallagher’s Prime Rib Restaurant in the famous New York New York Casino, in Vegas has scores of aging prime rib slabs waiting for the perfect time to cook them. This is about two weeks after the wet aging process, making these roasts about 5 weeks older than when they were first cut.
To the untrained eye they look a little scary. They are dried out, shrunk up a little, and are more brown than red. Now guess what, these ugly prime ribs will go for almost $100 a plate.
The lesson here is that just like a greenish tomato has no flavor, is tough and chewy, so is really fresh, really red, super fresh beef with no aging. Take a lesson, buy the darker, mark down steaks and you will be shocked and surprised to find these sometimes ugly steaks are more flavorful, tender, juicy and usually way cheaper.
Another thing that people need to know is that beef ages very well, and in fact does not really spoil. Think about it! How can you keep beef jerky for months. What happens is that meat is contaminated with bacteria that grows into colonies that deposit waste products onto the meat destroying the quality making it slimy, smelly and nasty tasting. Everyone has experienced this at least once. This is why the dry aging process involves using ultra-violet lighting to keep the bacteria from contaminating the aging beef.
Beef stored in meat departments does not have this luxury of ultra-violet lighting, so eventually contamination will occur. The trick is to get your aged beef during the period that it is aged, slightly discolored, but not yet contaminated with bacterial colonies.
I tell my clients that your senses should tell you if beef is bad. Slimy, is never good. A slight odor is common, but strong nasty smells could be sign that aging has gone too far. Lastly, if the taste is strange and unfamiliar, it is too late for that piece of meat. I will tell you in my vast experience that steaks that are literally brownish green have been some of the best steaks I have ever eaten.
In most reputable meat markets, you will hardly ever find an ugly steak that is actually bad. Good meat sales people will almost always pull bad meat before you ever see it. So if you see a dark, discolored, marked down steak; go for it! I know at Lakeview Supermarket and Deli you will never get a bad piece of beef.
Another couple of comments regarding color need to be made. There are times when beef is discolored simply by touching another piece of meat or even simply folding it over. This is why in a full service meat counter we must put paper between every slice of meat. Just putting one steak on top of the other will literally turn both steaks color. Another source of color change comes from touching the bottom of the steak pans and slightly freezing. It is common to get a beautiful steak with the bottom dark from being really cold or slightly frozen. Also, the simple act of freezing meat will turn it a very dark color. None of these color changes are a concern. Trust me, I have been doing this for over 51 years.
What about that steak or roast that you forgot about for a week? Be cool, open the package, let the meat air out for a moment before you assess the situation. In many cases that dark, ugly brownish green meat is still good. Just look for any slime or overpowering smell. Chances are that meat just might be better. Or not…
Now that you have been educated about aging beef, know this. Pork does not age well at all. A little tinge of green is fine, but beyond that, pork goes bad rather quickly, and tastes funky. Try to use pork and pork sausage in a timely fashion.
One last thing, boneless chicken lasts a very long time. Bone in chicken keeps pretty well, but always be aware of slippery, smelly chicken. Sometimes chicken only needs a little rinse. Processing chicken involves cooling in huge tanks of water that sometimes contain small amounts of bacteria that are just in the water or barely on the surface of chicken. Often this just requires a quick rinse.
So, from here on out, don’t be afraid to give that dark, ugly, not so red steak a try. You might just be pleasantly surprised that it is better than the redder ones… and usually marked down for quick sale.
Kenny Parlet Lakeview Supermarket and Deli 2018 Outstanding Independent Meat Retailer in the Nation