Spend a few minutes at a table in an upscale steakhouse and you’ll likely be treated to a dissertation on the joys of dry-aged beef. It’s not just a waiter’s ploy to up your check: dry-aged beef tends to be more tender and richer in flavor. The gold standard is 28 days – anything beyond that will enhance the flavor more but not increase the tenderness of the meat. Since beef loses 15-20% of its mass during the 28-day aging process, the resulting steak is also more expensive.
Suddenly, dry-aged fish is becoming a trend. The practice has its roots in the Japanese culinary tradition and takes on its full meaning. A week or two can often pass before a fish is sold in the market, and dry aging is the perfect form of preservation. 28 days aren’t necessary either: a whole fish dry-aged for a week has a firmer texture, cleaner flavor and doesn’t have the telltale “fishy” smell; as the amino acids break down, the fish acquires a more pronounced umami taste. Dry-aged fish is renowned for making the best sashimi, but the cooked version will also be superior to its unaged counterpart. Contrary to popular belief, most fish served in sushi bars is not “fresh”, but has been preserved in one way or another for a period of time.
Dry-aged fish is gradually entering the mainstream thanks to the efforts of fishmongers such as Liwei Liao of The Joint in Sherman Oaks, California. Liao offers a range of aged fish, including salmon, mackerel, snapper, bluefin tuna, hamachi, amberjack, branzino, turbot, bass and barramundi, as well as shellfish and caviar. “Fresh is boring,” proclaims Liao, who has helped chefs across the country adopt the technique and who sells fish to Michelin-starred restaurants in the Los Angeles area. His business exploded during the pandemic, when he began retailing premium cans of aged, sushi-grade raw fish chirashi ranging from $200 to $700.
Can you dry fish at home? Absolutely, but it takes a lot of care in the preparation. For starters, avoid high-fat fish like mackerel, salmon, red mullet, catfish, and most varieties of trout. If the humidity in your area is low enough, you can age the fish in the refrigerator, aided by salt and baking soda. if not, start the oven on the lowest possible setting for several hours before turning it off. Most importantly, gut and clean the fish thoroughly, removing all traces of blood. Leave the fish whole until you intend to eat it and check regularly for signs of spoilage. The whole process should take between two and four days.
Mark Spivak specializes in wine, spirits, food, catering and culinary travel. He is the author of several books on distilled spirits and cocktail culture, as well as three novels. His first novel, devil’s friend, has been re-released on Amazon in print, e-book, and audiobook formats. Did America’s Greatest Leader Make a Deal With Satan for Fame and Fortune?