BLONDE, WORTH ITS WEIGHT IN GOLD

BLONDE, WORTH ITS WEIGHT IN GOLD

OK – so this one’s not really for vegetarians, or those strongly opposed to the meat industry and some of its lesser practices: the priciest steak in the world has been found! This was newsworthy enough for both CNN and The Telegraph to report on earlier this week. I’m always in for a good steak, so this piece of news sounded pretty exciting to me. If steak – or meat in general – is not your favourite thing, please take this week’s article with a pinch of salt (sea salt preferably, and freshly ground black pepper: my favourite seasoning combo to let the steak speak for itself). In any case, I learnt a couple of things researching this week’s article, and if you’ll bear with me I’d like to share some of what those things are.

 

On to the star of this week’s piece: the world’s most expensive steaks cost up to US$3,200! And they’re sold by French butcher Alexandre Polmard from a brand of cattle called Blonde d’Aquitaine which the Polmard family rears in northeastern France.

 

Polmard told CNN, “My family wouldn’t dream of raising animals in sheds where they have no space or room to roam. Here they are in the open air, living in forest and on parkland. There are shelters they can choose to visit in case it rains or snows. It’s really five-star accommodation.” Polmard also said that he talks to the cows everyday to make their lives as comfortable and stress-free as possible. To keep stress levels down, only four cows are slaughtered each week in his abattoir: “All the love and attention we give our animals comes through the plate when you taste it. They really are unique.”

 

What’s pretty unique is the “hibernation” aging method, created by grandpa and papa Polmard, that he uses: the temperature is kept at minus-45 degrees Fahrenheit (about minus-43 degrees celsius), and air is blown over the meat at about 75 miles per hour (around 120kmh). This method makes the meat go into “hibernation” which Polmard then leaves to age for up to 15 years. This contributes to making Polmard’s steaks more expensive than the $2,800 Wagyu ribeye served at New York’s Craftsteak restaurant, and probably also the Aizakura H178 which in March this year, at $450/kg, became the most expensive Wagyu beef steak ever sold in Australia (the 423kg carcass was worth $190,000).

 

Typically, beef is aged to enhance its flavour and to make it more tender. Fresh carcasses contain fat that has not solidified, and the meat is not as tender or flavourful. The two methods of aging beef are wet-aging and dry-aging.

 

Wet-aged beef, which is most of the beef that’s sold in supermarkets nowadays, is beef that’s been vacuum sealed in plastic bags. Then natural enzymes start to break down the muscle fibres in the meat, making it more tender. While it sits in its bag for about two weeks, wet-aged beef doesn’t lose its moisture and so retains its weight.

 

On the other hand, dry-aged beef is stored uncovered for normally an average of 28 days (compared to Polmard’s “hibernated” 15-year-old beef!). The same enzymes as in wet-aging work in the meat to tenderise it. The difference is that in dry-aging water is forced out of the meat, making it desiccate over time. Dry-aging requires a cold environment of just above freezing – ie. zero degrees celcius or 32 degrees Fahrenheit – with not less than 70 per cent humidity and a strong air-flow, which is why a dry-aging room is similar to a wind-tunnel.

 

The result is that dry-aged beef is more juicy, tender and flavourful than wet-aged beef. Dry-aged beef is also more expensive because it’s a more costly process and a lot of weight is lost during the aging – about 25 per cent loss of weight compared to fresh beef.

 

The best steaks usually come from steers, ie. the male beef cattle, and carcasses can weigh up to 1,000lbs (about 450kgs) each. But what is the best cut of steak? I suppose this is like asking what someone’s favourite wine is: you’ll probably end up with the full range of answers from “whatever tastes good when I drink it”, to studied and sophisticated thesis presentations involving geography, history, nose, bouquets, spit pails and so on.

 

But a popular cut is from the short-loin which is full of sedatory tissue, and the finer muscle fibres in that part make for more tender steaks. From the short-loin, a much-loved steak is the Potterhouse, which is both tender and full of flavour because in a single Potterhouse steak you’ll get the tenderloin/fillet mignon (tender) combined with the striploin/New York strip steak (flavour). For this reason, many steak-eaters consider the Potterhouse their favourite steak – and even an extremely good Potterhouse steak won’t cost anywhere close to $3,200 surely!

 

The rockstar of steak has almost invariably been Wagyu – rib eye, sirloin, tenderloin, strip variants – and it makes a world of difference whether it’s Wagyu from Japan or not, and then whether it’s Kobe. For instance, Japanese A5 Wagyu, which is the highest grade achievable, is only ever accorded to the finest Japanese beef with a perfect score of 11 from a system of quality measurement taken between the 10th and 11th rib which includes marbling, meat and fat colour. Australian stock typically can only achieve a high score in the nine’s. So the Australian Aizakura H178 which was mentioned earlier was extremely rare for scoring an 11, making it comparable to Japanese A5 Wagyu.

 

In all of this technicality, how does Polmard’s most expensive steak in the world compare? It holds its own very well, judging from the months-in-advance reservations Polmard receives for his meat. Not only that, Polmard is extremely exclusive in entrusting (read: supplying) his beef to only a select handful of chefs worldwide. He’ll first pay them a personal visit to make sure these Chosen Ones understand the nuances and subtleties involved in his beef: that’s one kind of love, I suppose.

 

Well, it’s a good thing for us here in Singapore then that Hong Kong’s not too far away. Because it’s at two-Michelin-star Caprice in Hong Kong’s Four Seasons Hotel – headed by fellow Frenchman Fabrice Vulin – that you can get a taste of Polmard’s Rare Millesime Cote de Boeuf, Vintage 2000, in a $700/head set lunch menu (excluding wine). According to chef Vulin, Polmard’s beef is special in its gentle acidity and texture that sets its taste apart from all other beef, and diners barely even need a knife to cut it… “Wow-ow-ow-ow!” (that’s me fantasising-drooling aloud).

 

I’ll have to admit that you won’t find this quality of beef at Sofresh. In fact it seems a pretty determined effort, and an especially good amount of cash, is required to find it at all! In any case, our clients have so far not requested a “Polmard” or Japanese Wagyu from us – yet! What kind of beef does Sofresh supply then? Frozen Beef, hotel and catering grade, from Australia, New Zealand, South America, the US and Europe: high quality, solid, dependable, good-tasting stuff. That’s what our clients require, that’s what we supply.

 

But as they say: never say “never”. Who knows, someday that Japanese A5 Wagyu, or Polmard steak you’ll savour onboard a luxury cruise may have had my most careful and delicate finger prints on its perfectly sealed storage box… and as that slice of sublime steak self-dissolves on your tongue, and you close your eyes to lock-in the experience of that moment forever, that’ll be Thank You enough for me. Till then!

 

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5 Comments

  1. Ben,

    Polmard or Japanese Wagyu,I have yet to savor. My nearest is the Margaret River Wagyu from Western Australia. I don’t suppose my favourite beef satay store in China Town is adventurous enough to have Wagyu satay slowly roasting over a charcoal fire. Just imagine the publicity or the price of a stick of Wagyu beef satay by the road side in China Town.

    There I go being frivolous again.

    Your piece is very informative. Well written Ben. Keep Up the good work.

    Uncle Eddie

    Reply
    • Hi Uncle Eddie, thanks for your kind and supportive comments. I actually think there may be a demand for your idea in Singapore – Wagyu satay – as Singaporeans and visitors to Singapore are now not only more exposed to new experiences and possibilities and thus more adventurous in reinventing old favourites with new twists, but have generally also become more able and willing to pay for premium eating experiences. So, to imagine freshly grilled melt-in-your-mouth Wagyu satay… not so far-fetched, good chance of becoming a reality soon (if not already) – and if so, it won’t be frivolous but in fact serious stuff indeed!

      Reply
  2. Hi Ben,

    Two things I don’t get: the temp -43 degrees, with air blown over at 120kmh: with dry ageing the meat is kept above freezing: with Polmard’s technique I would assume the meat is actually frozen completely? Or does the air blown over it keep it from freezing? In which case the air must be warm and the true environment of the meat wouldn’t be -43 degrees would it? Just struggling with the thermodynamics here :) Maybe it’s kept at high pressure to prevent freezing?

    Secondly: given dry-ageing reduces water, how is the steak more juicy than wet aged?

    Reply
    • Hi Simon, thank you for leaving your comments, and two very good questions.

      According to the article by CNN and The Telegraph, Polmard said that in his technique he kept the temperature just above freezing, which I then described as -43 degrees-F. Very sorry if that was misleading, I’d meant to state the freezing point to give a reference to O degrees-C, Celsius being the measurement we’re more familiar with in Singapore, and not the actual temperature that Polmard maintains for his dry-aging process. Polmard also said that once his beef was “hibernated”, it could be kept indefinitely but it seems that he’s chosen 15-years as his quality trademark. I understood it as once “hibernation” was achieved, Polmard would then put his beef into storage, and not that it continued in the dry-aging process. The article didn’t describe what the storage facility and conditions were like though. It also didn’t explain what the blown-air did for Polmard’s technique, unfortunately. But it’s an interesting (and accurate, I think) term you used – thermodynamics – because there’s as much science as there is art that really goes into food, isn’t there?

      Your second question really sent me off on a research journey, haha… Unfortunately I can’t find the original piece where I’d read that dry-aged beef is more juicy than wet-aged (sorry!), but I did find out more in my (new) research: wet-aged beef sits vacuum-sealed in its own juices and blood, and so tastes metallic and not as delicious as dry-aged beef, and paradoxically wet-aged beef will be drier and have less flavour than dry-aged beef when cooked (but no explanations why so!). Another article mentions that with more loosely packed (or broken-down, from aging?) muscle fibres, there’ll be less contraction during cooking and thus less juice is expelled, resulting in more juicy and tender meat – so it looks like the juiciness-issue has to do with cooking. Other articles write that dry-aged meat is still juicy when cooked, but the juices are even more delicious, the reason being that (as you have rightly said) a lot of water in the beef evaporates (in dry-aging) yet the remaining meat still has all of its original flavour, which is now even more concentrated in each bite. Well, what seems to be universally agreed upon is that dry-aged beef is more tender, more delicious, and also much more expensive than wet-aged beef.

      Thanks again for taking the time to leave your comments, and both your questions which I appreciated very much – it was fun and interesting researching more on this topic (and now I’m craving a good steak!). Cheers!

      Reply
      • Thanks Ben! Would love to give this a try myself some time :)

        Reply

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