Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Packing it in and out: Food Arts

Once upon a time, the notion that the underpass around the South Street Seaport in Manhattan would smell less like seaport and more like South Street sounded as unlikely as...um..."fish for brains." But here we are, 2009, and the fins, bellies, and scales have all but completely vanished. And yet, 'round the island and up a bit, the Meat Packing District--fashionable, habitable, and tourable--is still the cities meat locker. Smells like it, looks like it, and acts like it. For now.

A while back, Food Arts sent us deep into the frozen corridors of DeBragga and Spitler to shoot an industry story on aged beef. Here's a bit of the journey and some of the story. (block text by Katy Keiffer) I'm still temped to find my way to one of the better steak restaurants in town and hunt for what's supposed to be a magical and palette-specific experience of eating some of the finest aged beef in the world. Although Jessie, a pesce-tarian for years, spent just as much time in the locker as me (see last image post), she won't be joining me.
With menus boasting steaks up to 75 days [aged] in some cases, this is not necessarily meat to everyone's taste. Nor does it fit every pocketbook. Highly aged beef is a very personal and individual choice. In the words of Craftsteak's [Tom] Colicchio, dry aged beef of over 45 days, can become, "finky, musty, very gamey." [....] The loss of volume through dry aging can be breathtaking. Marc Sarrazin of DeBragga and Spitler, a New York City supplier, says dry aged beef can lose as much as 15 percent of its weight, and up to 50 percent of its yield thanks to combined weight loss and the heavy trimming necessary to remove the most dessicated parts of the aged meat[....]
In the end, a steakhouse will survive on good meat and fail with bad. There is no hiding in this format, no matter how great the sauces and sides. According to Colicchio, the steakhouse trend will continue to thrive. "Why would it stop? Meat has always been, and always will be, a staple of the American diet." He ended the conversation with a tag line that the beef industry should pay him for: "When times are bad, people are going to splurge, and beef feels good."

Quite nearly the Gilbert and George of the Meat Packing District, Marc and George of DeBragga and Spitler are among the kings of the aging meat market in New York City. They supply among others Craftsteak and Soho House with meats aging anywhere from under a week to 42 days.

After hours in the cold and after photographing the engaging and likable meat-men under the tracks (the high line runs right above the entrance to DeBragga and Spitler), we got the final maceration-in-progress low down. Below, from left to right, are short loins aged 42 days, 14 days and 1 day.
Now, if only we could have packed a grill, smuggled in some charcoal, and turned off that huge drying fan swirling near-freezing temperatures at my partner.

Get thee to a steakhouse.

In the meantime, more from the Food Arts article can be found here: http://www.foodarts.com/Foodarts/FA_Feature/0,4041,385,00.html

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