Fish Sauce-Aged Steak

Dry aging is a technique to improve the texture and flavor of meat, especially steak. It is costly because the outside needs to be trimmed and discarded, and moisture is removed from the meat so it loses weight. To improve just the texture, you can speed things up by warm aging using sous-vide. Modernist Cuisine at Home advocates the use of Asian fish sauce as a shortcut. Their advice is to brush 3% fish sauce by weight on the steak, then vacuum seal it, and refrigerate for three days. They say it will tenderize the meat and creates the deeper umami flavor that is characteristic of aged meat, but with less effort and waste. I put this to the test.

I started with a flank steak (bavette) and high quality fish sauce. Make sure that its only ingredients are fish (usually sardines or anchovies), salt, sugar, and water. No other junk.

I weighed the steak and measured out 3 grams of fish sauce for every 100 grams. As my steak was 350 grams, I used 10.5 grams of fish sauce.

I then vacuum sealed it and and refrigerated it for three days.

After those three days, the meat had changed color. You could now take it out of the bag and cook it in some conventional way.

But of course I opted to cook it sous-vide, for 24 hours at 55C/131F. Some people cook flank steak shorter than that, but I like it to be tender.

After cooking sous-vide, I took the flank steak out of the bag and patted it dry with paper towels.

I heated some oil in a carbon steel pan over high heat and browned the steak on that…

…on both sides.

Then I sliced it against the grain (which is lengthwise for flank steak). Slicing against the grain is not necessary for tenderness when flank steak has been cooked sous-vide for 24 hours, but it does make the meat look better.

The verdict? The meat had great flavor and Kees loved it too. There was not even a hint of “off” taste or fishy taste. I suppose I should have done a side by side experiment to really tell the difference. I think the quality of the meat is more important (especially the amount of intramuscular fat, also known as marbling), but adding fish sauce seems to work. It is definitely a lot cheaper than buying dry aged meat (and in these parts, easier to find, too).

18 thoughts on “Fish Sauce-Aged Steak

  1. OK. Stefan, you are following a satisfying career with commensurate compensation – but, would it ‘hurt’ so much to begin writing a book enclosing such brilliant ideas and actually ‘cashing in ‘ a tad instead of just being a nice ‘give-away’ guy . . . . . ?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Eha, to ‘cash in’ I would not only have to write the book, but also sell it. With the high number of books hitting the market, that is nigh impossible. The marketing campaign is more important than the quality of the book. I ‘cash in’ by hearing that others have learned something from my blog. It makes my day every time.

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  2. Stefan, did you notice that the salt in the fish sauce produced a “cured” texture in the meat after such a long time? You know, like made it feel like ham? I noticed that with salting beef and letting it cook for too long. It’s a texture i do not like for proteins like steak where I want to sous vide and serve medium rare. So, I typically avoid salting before hand for these items. In this case it is possible there is not enough salt in the quantity of fish sauce used to cause a problem.

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  3. Hi Stefan, did you ever try aging with Koji rice. The bacteria that are responsible for the fermentation of the rice will do their trick on the meat too, in a similar way than those in the soy sauce.

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  4. Hi Stefan,

    Out of curiosity, did you sous-vide the steak in the same bag with the fish sauce, or did you open it up and rebag it? I’ve always rebagged it prior to cooking due to the fear of developing off-flavours.

    Best,
    Raf

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  5. Stefan, I saw a similar recipe that calls for air drying the steak in the fridge for 3 days after marinating in the fish sauce. By now, the steak is at least 6 days old. Does the fish marinade extend the shelf life of the steak?

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    1. Beef steaks have a pretty long shelf life if kept sufficiently cool (1C/34F much longer than 5C/40F). The fish sauce may extend the shelf life a bit due to the salt and sugar content, but it is not enough for actual curing to occur. If you are going to cook the steak sous vide, I would recommend to do that before the air drying. The sous vide will extend the shelf life (assuming it is done to pasteurization) and air drying will help to get a good sear on the steak.

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