With Knife opening just a few weeks from now, it's almost expected that Dallasites should have beef on the brain. John Tesar claims his soon-to-open Temple of the T-bone will be the terra firma equivalent of his nationally acclaimed seafood restaurant Spoon, and if pulls it off protein lovers could have a new alternative to the high-rolling meat dens that loom over the local dining scene.
To stand out against so many steakhouses, Tesar recently announced he had a secret weapon. In addition to bacon tastings and his own version of CBD Provisions' pig's head, Tesar told the DMN he plans to offer something Dallas has never seen before: Niman Ranch rib-eye steaks that have been deliberately aged for 240 days, which is pretty intense if you think about it. When was the last time you consumed anything other than a squirt of ketchup that has sat in your refrigerator for two-thirds of a year?
Granted, Tesar is working in a much more controlled environment -- his steaks won't share real estate with Thursday night's fish sticks, and the customized box he's built won't be raided after midnight in a desperate attempt to abate the munchies. Instead its contents will be kept at 36 degrees and 40 percent humidity, give or take, fans will keep this climate controlled air circulating, and wire racks will expose every square inch of every rib roast to this exacting environment.
This is not unlike most dry-aging setups, from the custom walk-ins employed by large steakhouses, to the humble mini-fridge favored by civilian meat enthusiasts. Whatever box is used, dry-aging is a process used to amplify the flavor of the beef. Time in this carefully controlled environment breaks down connective tissue leading to more tender tissue while oxidization of fat and bacterial action offer the funky flavors attributed to well aged meat. But that funkiness can go too far.
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In a Serious Eats article about dry aging beef at home, Ed Levine, a New York-based food writer, is quoted saying that beef reached his personal threshold for funk at 45-60 days. Levine had participated in a tasting that evaluated steaks aged from 14-60 days and at the 45-day mark, only a handful of the other tasters enjoyed the richness of the highly aged meat. Some found it too much to handle more than a bite or two, which makes Tesars' 240-day milestone seem potentially overwhelming.
"It's an acquired taste," admits Tesar, who says you can't eat a lot of the stuff because you'll smell like death the next day. "It will be coming out of your pores."
To acquire his taste for dry-aged beef that pushes into the boundaries of decay, and learn how to make it, Tesar traveled to Vegas to dine at Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich's Carnevino. Tesar visited the restaurant the day after he's had a meal there and got a tour of their aging facility, gleaning enough to start his own. If his plan works Dallas will soon have and endless supply of steak that might go for $100 for every inch of thickness.
Of course, Tesar has only recently built his aging equipment, which means the first round of 240-day aged meat is far off. He's purchased two dry-aged roasts that will yield about 28 portions for his grand opening, just to give everyone a taste. The next batch, though, has a long way to go. "We're at 45 days now," he said, noting he has to establish a rotating system to always have the beef available. "Around the holidays I'll have it forever."