Friday, May 27, 2011

Chicago beef

Due to the decline of the meatpacking industry, Chicago no longer qualifies as what poet Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) called "Hog butcher to the world." Still, the meat must get to the market, which is how a trailer-full of cattle landed in the weird news - and on the highway. On Sunday, the trailer transporting the animals to slaughter tipped over on a Chicago-area overpass and broke apart, causing them to spill out and rain down on the cars below. Kevin Willis, whose car was hit by falling cows, describes his reaction (video here), "I'm like, 'Oh, my God!' and I'm trying to get over, trying to get over and the more I got over, the more the cows came down....The trailer itself was tipping over and dropping these cows out, and the trailer itself was still moving, so it was dropping 'em off from left to right off the freeway so they covered the whole freeway." A loose and angry bull was shot by a police officer, 15 other cows died in the accident, and the remainder were rounded up and taken to a nearby farm.

Even though there is not as much beef being moved through Chicago, you can still get a great steak there. My Mom and I wondered how meat is aged, and why that improves the flavor. Here is the answer, compliments of the century-old Allen Brothers in Bridgeport, Chicago:
  • Wet aging The beef is sealed airtight in plastic for about a week,which ages the beef from the inside-out, breaking down the tissues of the meat with its own enzymes and resulting in a sweet taste and tender texture.
  • Dry-aging This method is costlier and more time-consuming. The beef rests in conditions of controlled temperature and humidity for an average of 28 days (or as long as 75 days), aging from the outside in. As it loses moisture, it shrinks and forms a crust which has to be cut away. Dry aging intensifies the flavor of the steak, leaving it very pungent, sometimes tangy."
Dry age is almost like a fine wine," remarks Chef Hans Aeschbacher of Smith & Wollensky.

1st image: Carcasses hanging in a Chicago slaughterhouse, awaiting the "disassembly line." 2nd image: Cuts of beef in the dry aging room at David Burke's Primehouse in Chicago.

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