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Ageing gracefully
Sands Style / Gourmet & Wellbeing

Ageing gracefully

Sands Macao’s Copa Steakhouse serves up aged steaks that pack enough flavour to satisfy the most demanding palate, writes Elizabeth Choi

Other than vegetarians, it’s safe to say many of us crave a juicy, tender steak from time to time. And when that craving hits, Copa Steakhouse has been one of the finest options in the region.

With discerning cuts from the US, South America, Australia and Japan, Copa Steakhouse’s variety of steaks and chops have attracted customers from around the globe, with many international patrons making it a highlight of their Macao visit.

Of course, selecting the best steak is not all that Copa Steakhouse is known for. Under the skilful watch of Chef Brad Coleman, each cut is served cooked to perfection, and paired with an array of signature starters and side dishes.

Though Copa Steakhouse appears to be a classic American steakhouse, Chef Brad helps the restaurant juggle that fine balance between tradition and innovation. “We want to – and have to – continually offer something new for our guests,” he says.

One of the latest speciality products recently introduced to Copa Steakhouse’s menu is the dry-aged steak. Chef Brad, who has a decade of culinary experience in mainland China, explains that the various ways in which meat can be aged is still a novel concept in the region.

“We’ve all had that thin, tenderised steak smothered in black pepper sauce,” Chef Brad says of the more common steak one might find at a local cafe. Today, his patrons have a discriminating palate and a major appetite for true steak.

“While there’s always been a desire for Copa Steakhouse’s classic steak offerings, we certainly have a lot of return customers who, when they see we are offering something new, will jump on that,” Chef Brad says.

In the world of beef ageing, many factors contribute to the process, including temperature, ageing time, exposure to humidity and air quality. Chef Brad explains that after the slaughter, the enzymes in the meat will break down the muscle tissue, slowly tenderising the meat. That chemistry also deepens the flavour. Then comes the ageing.

Wet-aged beef is a modern ageing process where the beef is vacuum-sealed in a plastic bag so that the meat’s enzyme breakdown occurs in its natural juices. Because the beef can age while in transit, it has become a popular technique for ageing, packing and transporting beef. In fact, most beef in a steakhouse is typically wet-aged.

Efficient in both cost and production time, wet-ageing also produces a naturally juicy and tender cut. “It’s great for anyone who wants that very beefy, chewy, juicy steak,” says Chef Brad. Wetaged steak is usually aged for anywhere from four to 21 days, and the result is a vibrant, fresh flavour.

In contrast, dry-aged beef refers to the centuries-old technique of openly storing beef in a humidity and temperature-controlled environment to control the decomposition of the enzymes within the meat.

“When you think about dry ageing or salt curing or dehydrating things, it’s been around for millennia,” Chef Brad explains. “We’re in Macao. Bacalhau, the salt cured cod, or the Iberico ham, or blue cheese, they stick it into a cave for five years and then pull it out and eat it. And it’s got this magic taste. It’s all essentially the same process: you’re taking moisture out, letting it sit there and gather ‘experience’ from what’s around it.”

The duration of dry-ageing beef varies greatly depending on preference, from as little as two weeks to as long as eight or more. Freely exposed to the atmospheric elements in the dry-age chamber, the beef will develop an almost indescribable steak flavour and texture, one that often is described as nutty, buttery or even similar to the taste of popcorn.

“I don’t know that many other places [in Macao] offering dryaged beef,” Chef Brad says of his decision to introduce it at Copa Steakhouse. “But if you are seeking something interesting – and a more natural process for your steak – dry-aged beef is a very good option.”

So last year, Chef Brad put 28 Days Dry-Aged Prime Rib-Eye Steak on the Copa Steakhouse menu. “We did not know how well it would do,” he recalls. Owing to the water loss in dry-aged beef, and the amount of care needed to produce a cut, it is a premium speciality product that has a significantly higher price point than classic wet-aged beef of the same size.

But within the first week, the dry-aged rib-eye had sold out. Demand was so great, Chef Brad says, there was a period where customers had to wait for the beef to be restocked. “The dry-aged steak we offer is 28 days-aged, and [the supplier] does not start ageing our beef until we order it. So we have to order the steak 28 days in advance, then it’s another one to two weeks for shipping and customs,” he explains.

For guests seriously interested in the dry-aged beef experience, Chef Brad encourages those who visit in a group or with a partner to take the opportunity to try one aged and one regular steak alongside each other. “It’s definitely worth trying at least once, because of its unique flavour.”

Beef isn’t the only thing Copa Steakhouse is also known for, however: their signature side dishes have themselves become bestsellers. Chef Brad suggests matching the strong flavour of dry-aged steak with the bright and crunchy texture of a fresh vegetable side dish, such as the Maple Glazed Baby Carrots, Sautéed Haricots Vert with Shallots or Fresh Green Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce.

“Dry-aged steak does not generally need a sauce or accompaniment as it has its own special flavour,” he says, “but if you do want a sauce, something that cuts through that flavour without overpowering it, such as a our mustard service, would be ideal. It has that sharp, tangy taste that can cut through that special flavour and accent it a little bit. That is really all you need.”