Q&A: Lennox Hastie & Anthony Puharich

Dry aged for almost a year using an experimental technique developed by butcher Anthony Puharich, the one and only steak on the menu at Firedoor is a labour of love for he and head chef and owner Lennox Hastie.

By Alecia Wood

Can you explain a bit about the process of dry ageing?

Anthony Puharich: There are two different ways to age meat – wet ageing, or dry ageing. Wet ageing is a relatively new concept; the meat is sealed in a special bag and all the oxygen is pulled out of it.

There’s liquid or blood that’s been purged out of the meat, sitting in the bag. That’s actually really important; that’s the natural juices in meat where you get a lot of flavour from. [So] you’re losing all of the natural characteristics and flavour of that meat.

With dry aged meat, all those juices are absorbed into the fibres of the meat. It gets locked inside, so when you eat a piece of dry aged meat, the first thing that you notice is that it tastes a lot earthier and a lot beefier. When you hang a piece of meat in a temperature- and humidity-controlled cool room, there’s enzymes in the meat that help to break down the fibres and soften the meat. It’s a way of tenderizing and improving the eating quality of [meat].

I didn’t invent the process of dry ageing meat. It’s been around for hundreds of years, but my father and I were the first people in Australia to actually promote and sell dry aged meat.

Most people dry age meat for 30-35 days. You can definitely dry age meat longer than that, but for the added benefit compared to the loss in weight and yield, the cost isn’t worth it.

How do you age the steak served at Firedoor?

AP: We age it for between 250 and 300 days, which is unheard of – there is nobody dry ageing meat for that amount of time anywhere in the world.

Normally, eventually the meat will break down, mould will get into it, it shrivels down to nothing. So I developed this idea of rendering the fat from the animal and painting it onto the meat, putting this coat of animal fat around the meat, in order to pharmacy-no-rx.net protect it and preserve it for a longer period of time.

Lennox Hastie: Because of that ageing process, when you cut it it’s like it’s embalmed. It’s broken down within itself, so it’s very soft. The fat actually becomes one with the meat, it’s become one organic unit.

You source the steaks from two producers – Rangers Valley in Northern NSW and O’Connor Beef in Gippsland, Victoria.

LH: One reason for choosing those producers is that they’re extremely expert in their field, they understand a lot about the animals.

AP: Dry ageing helps meat and improves meat, but if you don’t start with good meat it’s not going to be a good steak. There’s a few criteria we look at – we choose the pieces of meat that are very heavily marbled, and the fat colour is important.

Between you two and the producers, there’s a fair few collaborators working on this project.

LH: Everyone including myself is heavily invested in it, in terms of time and money and the whole process. We continue to learn about what we do.

AP: It’s not one person that’s responsible for this, there’s a lot of people that have contributed to this product, whether it’s the producers, us as butchers, and then ultimately Lennox in terms of how he cooks that meat.

Why did the project begin?

LH: It was sort of based on spending 5 years in Spain. There, there’s a very different culture and breed of animal, the rubia gallega, it’s a retired dairy cow so they have a culture of putting them out onto rich pasture. They’re developed, very well looked after.

Having had those food experiences, to have that benchmark set on me and then to come to Australia which is renowned for its beef… I knew I had to have one amazing steak [at Firedoor], I just didn’t really know how the hell that was going to happen. I needed to find something that was going to give me that emotional response.

At Firedoor, every ingredient we use has a story. My choice is based on them primarily having flavour, but also understanding the environment where they’ve come from.

AP: It was a trial, it was a test. Lennox wanted something that nobody else had. That was the seed that was planted and we just went about creating something that was completely unique for him.

250 to 300 days – that’s a whole year. You don’t know what that product is going to be like for a whole year. It was a massive risk that we took, that Lennox took, but I just believed in what we were doing. We believed in the producers, we believed in the meat, we believed in our dry ageing capabilities.

How do you think the end product turned out?

AP: We never ever knew or expected the end result to be as good as what it is. This was a massive experiment. All the planets aligned, we were just super lucky it all came together and now we’ve got this amazing, amazing product that we only ever supply Lennox with. I never knew if it was going to work or not and the fact that it has, I’m ecstatic, I’m over the moon.

LH: I want to do the best I can for that ingredient. I think it deserves that respect, so we cut that meat to order, trim it, and grill it directly. I have a band saw in the kitchen, which is highly unusual. We serve it super simply. Because of the intensity of the flavour profile, it doesn’t need any further embellishment, other than the fact that it’s grilled over grape vines and served with fleur de sel. We serve a simple salad just to clean the palate, and that’s it, no more.

There’s a lot that goes into it that people don’t necessarily understand when they order the steak, but hopefully, like a lot of things, the proof is in the pudding.