This week on Wild Table I am focusing on the edible art of DeBragga Meat. Located in the now uber-hip meat market area on the West side of Manhattan, this historic business sells the meat from your dreams, if your dreams surround food as mine do.
From the DeBragga Website:
At DeBragga, we believe that the finest expression of beef comes after it has been properly dry aged. No matter what grade or what breed, dry aging concentrates and develops the ultimate flavor of beef. When a Rib, or a strip, or a short loin, is dry aged, the meat is left on a shelf for a period of time in a room where the temperature is around 36 degrees Fahrenheit, and there is constant airflow surrounding each piece. We have found that the minimum amount of time to dry age beef and obtain good results is 28 days. With a higher fat content, we have aged beef for as many as up to 60 days with outstanding results. What occurs in dry aging is threefold. The humidity in the meat evaporates. Again, depending on the fat marbling (fat), we will lose between 10 -15% of the weight of the meat muscle while it is dry aging. The meat becomes tenderer due to the slow, temperature- controlled aging of the beef over at least four weeks time. Most importantly, the flavor develops as the beef ages, becoming more minerally, slightly nutty, and more concentrated beef flavor due to the actual transformation of the fat and muscle. The changes actually come from enzymatic reactions induced by this method of open- air-dry aging. This is very similar to what occurs when making great cheeses, or wines, or cigars.
Wet Aged vs. Dry Aged
All too often you will read a menu or an ad or a review saying “ the beef is aged 21 days” or “our beef is wet aged for 30 days” or even, “ their beef is dry aged up to 6 weeks”. And the impression in some cases is that it is all the same thing. Well, nothing could be further from the truth.
As you may have already read in our section on Dry Aged Beef, we lose upwards of 50% of the original weight of a muscle when we dry age it. The humidity loss after thirty days is 12-15% and after 45 days is 15-20%. The trim loss, (the dried ends, fat and bone) is another 30-35%. For this reason Dry Aged Beef is usually about 30-50% more expensive per steak than wet aged. So when you see the word “aged” followed by a given amount of time, and there is no reference to wet or dry, you can safely surmise that this is wet aged beef. If someone were dry aging and losing 50% and charging a whole lot more, they would definitely make sure to emphasize that aspect.
Now there is nothing wrong with wet aging. Wet aging is leaving the muscle to rest in a plastic bag in a refrigerated room. All beef needs at least 3 weeks to start to tenderize. Naturally Raised Beef needs more than 6 weeks because the animals are more mature when they are processed. In fact, the reason most supermarket beef is tough is because it is not sufficiently aged, period. It costs a lot of money to sit on inventories of beef for over a month when the suppliers want to be paid in less than 10 days. Most retail stores and supermarkets are not able or willing to do this.
At DeBragga.com, we take great pride and are renowned for the aging we do, Wet aging and Dry aging. Our reputation is based entirely on willingness to do the right things to make sure you get meats like you cannot get anywhere else.
The neighborhood around DeBragga has change considerably since Marc Sarrazin’s father started in the already well-established business in 1954. In 1954 this part of the city was teeming with meat cutters. Now only a few remain. The High Line is directly over the area where the steaks are aged. If you peer down from the old railway lines, you can almost get a feel for the old markets before fashion and food forced rents to the sky. Rest assured, DeBragga is still aging their steaks in these historic Meat Market buildings just as it has been done since, well, way before you were born.
Step inside and the first smell you sense is clean. There is always someone sweeping or disinfecting. This is a very serious science- cleanliness and flavor run hand in hand. I couldn’t tell you about what a meat packing plant has to do to stay on the right side of the codes, but what I can tell you, I had to sign in with my name and address. I was given a crisp, white butcher’s coat and a hairnet. They take everything pertaining to cleanliness as job one.
My explanation of what I think dry aged Prime beef should taste like is simple. Mineral to barnyard funk, the flavor of the fields to the deeper flavors of flesh, fat and blood. Cooking a steak correctly should contain several steps. First you should go to their easy to navigate and colorfully photographed website. It’s located at http://www.DeBragga.com. Then you should pick out the steaks of your choice. Bring them home; marvel at their size and heft. You should let them rest at room temperature to get the chill out of them. Prepare a grill; I use natural wood charcoal and so should you. Sure it takes more time, certainly more work- and who actually owns a real charcoal grill? Well, in my opinion- it’s worthwhile to cook over natural hard wood charcoal because the charcoal has real flavor. Gas grills cannot touch the intrinsic flavor of a steak cooked over natural wood charcoal flame. Flavor is everything to me. I know that it’s all about time in life, but if you take the time to build a fire, the process is remarkably simple. If you don’t have room for a full sized Weber grill then get a hibachi, or if that is impossible a cast iron grill pan from Le Creuset will work, scoring your steak with handsome grill marks. Don’t move the steak around. Every time you move it, the steak becomes tougher. And by all means never push down on the steak with your tongs or cut into it… This will make your custom cut meat bleed its entire flavor directly into the fire. Wasting your money is never fun, especially when cooking Prime Beef that costs more than your everyday steak.
I start my steaks on the fire, then quickly move them off the direct flame, cover the top of the charcoal grill and let them cook. Leave the top on as long as possible, at least until the blood rises. Check the internal temperature if you have a meat thermometer. Sure you can get a fancy one, but I prefer the palm of my hand to tell the temperature. By my pinky finger is well done, by my thumb is very rare. Try it, don’t be afraid to touch the meat, it connects you with your dinner! Then turn your steaks over and cook them ½ as long for medium. That’s it! Grilling is an art, not a contact sport. Also, it is important to season the meat well before grilling. Sea Salt and freshly cracked pepper turn me on immediately. No, I don’t use butter after cooking, nor do I rub herbs into the meat. Occasionally I’ll cut a garlic clove in half, drive a fork through it, and rub the halved garlic over the charred meat to release the perfume. Then, as a final step, the steak should rest. Rest? How? Resting a steak is maybe the most important step. The meat will pull all the juice back up inside- rendering the steak juicy and tender. Send it out to the table hot off the grill and you will only taste part of the joy of cooking steak on the grill over natural wood charcoal.
By the way, please open one of those Bordeaux wines you’ve been saving for a rainy day. It’s time to drink those special bottles from the 1980’s. You deserve it and whoever is sharing that steak with you will never forget your generosity and good taste for the best things in life.
The Five Questions with George Faison, Stephanie Faison and Marc Sarrazin of DeBragga Meats
1. Why Natural Meat? How did you decide on doing meat in the first place? Was it a dream in the night? Family history? Lust for beef?
George: Marc’s father was a great butcher. He worked in hotels like the Castle Harbour in Bermuda as a meat cutter. He was from the Charollais region of France, long known for their excellent and flavorful grass fed cattle. Marc’s father was trained to be a meat cutter in the family restaurant business. I had a slightly different career path. My path started in Texas where beef is king. I fell in love with Spain and the methods of cooking that just says Europe. After business school, I found meat and making things from meat immensely pleasurable.
Marc: My dad always had chefs around. Anyone and everyone in the New York City restaurant scene in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s bought their meat from my father. We believe the future is in naturally raised meats. Clean meats are from clean pastures. Meats should be raised without antibiotics. Meats that are grass fed, are not filled with growth hormones to fatten them up. We should get antibiotics out of the food chain. Also the poultry manufacturers should be brought to task about truth in advertising. There is no such thing as hormone free poultry. Hormones are not used in poultry production anyway!
2. Who taught you how to cook? Mother, father, grandparents?
George: Mom didn’t cook well. But we had calf’s liver at least once per week. It was delicious and it’s something that I still enjoy today.
Marc: I had restaurants in my blood from generations of my family who were chefs in France. I suppose there is no escape for me from the food business. My mom and dad were both accomplished chefs.
George: I have a lust for great food.
Marc: I have a lust for beef and life!
3. Is there anything that brings a tear to your eye when you cook it?
Marc: My mom’s goulash. (Not a daube, but a true goulash) I also love the taste of Poulet a la Crème with Morel Mushrooms. Not just a handful but piles of these potent earth driven wonders of nature. Of course there would be loafs of freshly baked bread and farmer’s butter. Dessert would be a Tarte au Pommes. I taste this today and think of my father and mother in my family’s café in France. My dad was born on the kitchen table in France. Really! Another personal memory was the taste of fresh sardines grilled with oil and garlic on a sandwich, that brings a tear to my eye because I enjoyed them with my father.
George: My mom’s Christmas cookies. My mom would do dozens of different cookies every year at Christmas. She had an incredible variety of them. One of these cookies that sticks in my mind is called a Texas Ranger Cookie. It’s kind of a pecan sandy. Whenever I taste one, it brings a tear to my eye.
4. What is the difference between Wet aging and Dry aging?
George and Marc: Wet aging has no shrinkage, Dry aging involves time and temperature. Fat is what gives flavor. It is Umami intensified!
5. Social Media brought us together. (Thank you) What is your strategy? Do you track your metrics? How do you determine success in the use of the new medium?
Stephanie: We have an iPhone App., that is available on the iTunes website. Our website is consumer driven. 65 % of our sales is repeat business. We can track this on our website. We are unique in the marketplace because our meat is fresh, never frozen. We use Facebook extensively as well as Twitter. We track our key words and firmly believe in SEO to drive our business forward. We also have a site on the Tumblr blog. Social networking is essential for the forward thinking of our business. We are committed to creating a seamless delivery of our mantra of selling humanely raised, natural meats to our customers with the absolute best customer service in the business.
Thank you for sitting for the Five Questions! wb
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Wild River Review/Wild Table editor, Warren Bobrow grew up on a farm in Morristown, NJ. A graduate of Emerson College in Boston- with a degree in Film, he spent his senior year of college as a research assistant in visual thinking. (CAVS @ MIT)
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The Esquire Magazine/DeBragga Meats- Eat Like A Man Kit
To celebrate the publication of Esquire Magazine’s, “Eat Like A Man” cookbook, DeBragga is proud to offer a kit for any person, man or woman, who seeks to follow this diet. The kit is all about high quality, naturally raised meats on the bone, and includes 4 Cowboy Rib Steaks 20 oz each, 4 naturally raised bone-in pork chops, 4 loin lamb chops from our Rocky Mountain lamb, marrow bones, burger and sea salt for the perfect finish. We believe that meat is best left on the bone. It cooks to a juicier turn, and the meat closest to the bone is the sweetest. Anyone can Eat Like A Man. Don’t hesitate to try this kit or give it to a friend. They’ll thank you for it.
Grade: Certified Angus Beef, free-range
Weight: 17 lbs
Pack Size: 32 pieces