ASK MAUREEN: Don’t Mistake Oxygen for Air; or UMAi Dry® for a Vacuum Bag

Everyday we receive emails and phone calls from customers asking for information, advice, reassurance.  Our front line “BagLady” Maureen provides knowledgeable answers in an ever-patient manner.  Her many years as a teacher are a tremendous asset.

In her honor, we introduce “ASK MAUREEN.”  This column will share Maureen’s answers to “life’s persistent questions.”

Today, a very, very common question:

  • I’m confused….does air get in or only out of the umai dry bags? what is “oxygen exchange”? J

Hello, J.

What you need to understand is that “air” is not the same as “oxygen.”  There are two reasons we emphasize that UMAi Dry® is oxygen-permeable:

1)  Oxygen helps produce good dry aged results.

2)  Oxygen prevents the scary anaerobic bacteria that can form within vacuum packaged food.

If you  are vacuum packaging food, you absolutely MUST remove all air or risk spoilage of the food or dangerous conditions within the bag.  UMAi Dry® does not pose that risk.

UMAi Dry® is applied with a vacuum sealer only to pull the bag into best contact with the moist surface of the meat—not to form a vacuum.  It is the bond that forms between that meat surface and UMAi Dry®  that is the key.  You only need 75-80% of the surface to bond with UMAi Dry® for consistent, reliable results.

Initially, UMAi Dry® will appear to hold a vacuum, meaning it keeps “air” out.  However, it allows oxygen molecules to pass through the material, just as it allows moisture to release.   It is like a membrane—protecting the meat, but not “suffocating” it. The enzymes in the meat get the oxygen they need to tenderize and improve the flavor during dry aging.

While you can breathe both oxygen and air, it is the oxygen that will keep you alive.  Similarly, while you can seal a piece of meat into both UMAi Dry® and a vacuum bag, it is the UMAi Dry® that allows the meat to transform like fine wine.

Hope this helps!

Maureen

Sous Vide Cooking Guarantees a Perfect Steak Every Time

Congratulations! Dry aging done! Your ribeye, striploin or sirloin is ready. Now it’s time to trim the “bark” off, cut it into steaks, and get ready to enjoy, share or preserve to savor over time.

Steak lover beware: Dry aged steak cooks faster than “wet-aged” steak. With the lower water content, there is none of the weep and shrivel to indicate doneness. Time has provided tenderness that you don’t want to unintentionally turn to shoe leather.

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The ultimate way to cook a steak is sous vide, under vacuum in a controlled temperature water bath. Once the meat has reached the desired temperature of the bath, the meat is cooked perfectly edge to edge. Polish the steak off with a quick sear on a grill or frying pan. This is the secret to a perfect steak.

Freezing dry aged steaks:
Dry aged steaks freeze very well with minimal impact on taste or texture. Because of the reduced moisture content, dry aged steaks are less susceptible than wet aged steaks to freeze damage that is a result of water crystal formation. Simply vacuum seal your dry aged steaks into vacuum/sous vide bags and place them in the freezer. For best results, thaw the steaks very slowly in the refrigerator and bring them to room temperature before grilling or cooking sous vide. You might want “hot tub” the steaks in lukewarm water for an hour or so before cooking so you know they are just right when you toss them on the grill.

Cooking dry aged steaks:
Dry aged steaks tend to cook faster than wet aged steaks because there is just less water in them to “bring to a boil.” The steak will reach doneness in much less time. So, keep an eye on those steaks, use a quick read thermometer, and pull them off before they reach temp to let the carry over do the trick.

Many chefs will quick sear the steak before vacuum packing with a pat of butter and some seasoning. When you sous vide this way, the flavors expand and penetrate the meat delectably. Sous vide cooking is your best guarantee of steak perfection—exact temperature, ideal texture, complete nutritional value and maximum flavor.

One great resource on the web, ChefSteps.com, offers a great visual guide to temperature and doneness. They also offer online video classes on how to cook perfect proteins and more sous vide.  Check out their Map of Sous Vide Cooking:

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When it Comes to Charcuterie, Weight is Everything

Charcuterie is a simple craft.  There are Three Fundamental Rules:

  • #1  3% salt to weight of meat
  • #2  0.25% slow acting curing salt (eg. Instacure #2) to weight of meat
  • #3  dry cure until meat has lost 35-40% of its original weight

Basically, all that is required is meat, salt and patience (and UMAi Dry®!)  Of course, you need the correct proportion of salt to meat.  To achieve this, you must choose the right salt and measure it by weight.

Since North Americans most often measure ingredients by volume (cups and teaspoons) rather than weight, obeying the Three Fundamental Rules can be impossible in a kitchen that lacks a basic kitchen scale.

So… first, you need a scale. If you don’t have one, check out the model that we offer:  Escali Primo Digital NSF-rated Scale.

Next… you need to know your salt. “Salt is salt is salt,” some say.  But this can be a risky oversimplification when it comes to choosing and measuring salt for home crafted charcuterie.  Not all salt is alike–even when labeled “Kosher.”

In Warning: Measure Your Salt by Edward Schneider, we learn that one cup of Morton’s kosher salt weighs 250 grams while one cup of Diamond Crystal kosher salt weighs 135 grams!  Because these two kosher types are manufactured very differently, one brand weighs almost twice as much as the other.

What’s more, if you use regular table salt (NOTE: Never use iodized salt for charcuterie projects), know that one cup of table salt weighs in at 300 grams–even saltier than the Morton’s kosher.

Imagine the flavor of the capicola made with one cup of Morton’s kosher salt or unionized table salt?!  Safe amount of salt, but possibly not very palatable results.

UMAi Dry® recipes provide both volume and weight measurements for the convenience of our customers.  Please note that our volume measurements are all based upon Diamond Crystal kosher salt (the lightest, aka “least salty”).  This way, we ensure that our recipes provide the minimum proportion-by-volume of salt for safety.

As Mr. Schneider warns, “… whenever recipe writers are rash enough to give a precise measurement for salt, they ought to specify what kind they’re talking about. Some do; but even then, some just say “kosher salt” — I’ve done this myself, but I’ve stopped, and I promise never to do it again.

We hope you will take his advice to heart.  Know your salt.  Use a scale.

Guarantee safe, flavorful home-crafted charcuterie–with UMAi Dry®!