For a long time, I’ve maintained a healthy curiosity for the dry-aged phenomenon. The idea that food, especially raw meat, could be kept out of the refrigerator for days on end, grow mould, lose its moisture like a raisin, and somehow taste incredible seemed both repulsive and intriguing to me. In any case, it also sounded like a technique that required tremendous care and attention, therefore placing it perceptibly beyond what I could afford.
But to go out for a meal that included aged meat is to do so justifiably. While you do have the odd video circulating the internet about people who undertake the process in their home refrigerators, it is much safer and more worth your time and money to go to a place that has the right set up for it. The fact remains that real dry-aged meat requires specific conditions and careful monitoring to get right, and once that is accounted for, you are probably in for one of the best carnivorous gastronomic experiences in your life. Dry-aged meat, as I had heard, possessed depth of flavour that only weeks of controlled enzyme decomposition could bring.
When at Sisters for our chlebíčky, we noticed an outrageously long line that led towards what looked like a butcher’s shop. We thought it was interesting, perhaps the only butchers in the area, or some sort of meat sale, but thinking nothing more of it than to acknowledge the fact that Czech people liked their meat. Not that we were looking, but beyond fried cheese and potatoes, a vegetarian would find it rather inconvenient to find a good veggie meal in this town.
Not particularly looking for a purely carnivorous meal either, Naše maso came onto our radar when going through places that came highly recommended in the area. They apparently served the best burgers in Prague, with dry-aged options that would blow our minds at prices that would not. The whole idea did not sound too appealing to Maddy at all, seeing as she is generally pescatarian and only made the transition to new dishes and make the meals cheaper. So, it was up to me to bring the enthusiasm for the both of us, using my phone to lead us to our dinner destination.
It did not take us long before I had to stop in confusion to consider where we were going. At first, I thought we were mistakenly headed towards Sisters again, that my Google Maps were playing tricks on me, but when I checked, and we were not, I thought that maybe the place had closed down and the butchers had opened up instead.
It took us some asking around to realise that Naše maso was a butcher shop that was ALSO a restaurant.
If Maddy was not keen to start, then she was definitely reluctant now. The idea sounded revolting to her, to have a meal in a place surrounded by raw meat, a vegan nightmare. But because she recognised my eagerness, my pleading helped in this regard, I was able to convince her to try a burger to see what she thought. At the very least she could add to her vegetarian post-meat testimonial that she tried most of what paleo had to offer, and chose vegetarianism anyway. The clincher, however, was my suggestion that if she absolutely could not stomach anything on the menu that she could then have some chlebíčky to herself, which seemed like an attractive enough idea.
The line was not as long as it was before, but the place was filled to bursting with a few people eating outside with their elbows on ledge-tables. Entering Naše maso one immediately notices the restaurant/butcher’s shop dichotomy, with a quarter of the place with wood panelled walls, standing tables, rustic looking wine and food stands, and lights that provided that warm restaurant feel very much like bistros that are popping up these days. There were ledges against the large windows that allowed for some people to sit, but the majority of the people either stood around tables or on the few high stools provided on the tables inside and outside. The rest of the customers, were standing in line to have their order taken.
The Naše maso counter, which marked the transition into the sanitary white butcher’s section, was one that was immediately identifiable: arched glass show-cabinets with an array of sausages, steaks, chops and other cuts on display, behind which tiled walls and clean prep tables were organised. Three or four of the staff manned the counter taking orders while a few others were in the open kitchen – the ageing rooms situated further beyond. Even the menu boards looked like the kind you’d find at your local butcher’s, with replaceable panels written on with marker to convey what was fresh in stock. To say the very least, the experience was positively unorthodox.
The first thing I did was look for were evidences of cross contamination at Naše maso. My brief stint as a cook at KFC during my first year at university, not one of my proudest moments, did make me slightly obsessively compulsive about such things. I checked whether tables were being reused without being cleaned, gloves being not being changed, who was handling what, whether hands were being washed, how the kitchen was organised, etc. It was an easy way to pass the time waiting and I thought it would make Maddy feel better about trying something at the place. I was happy that I could confidently reassure her.
Despite the chaos of the busy kitchen coupled with the specific requirements of people seeking to avail of Naše maso as a butchery, I felt that everything was controlled and well-maintained. One could tell that everyone worked hard to uphold high health and safety procedures. Having a few people at the counter also helped with delegating responsibility between those who dealt with raw and cooked products.
Just so that we could tell the difference, I bought two burgers for us to try: one regular and the other dry-aged. They were sized about average with no sauce – just bread, patty, onions and pickle.
The burger patties were just under an inch thick, seared to perfection and glistening with beautifully rendered fat. One could immediately tell the difference between the regular and the dry-aged because you could smell a subtle blue-cheesy funk about one of them. Not to be ignored, the burger buns demonstrated just the right size, texture and starch content to be able to absorb the flavourful juices and still avoid any sogginess.
The dry-age burger at Naše maso was so bloody good. The flavour of the dry-aged in comparison to the regular was stark, significantly more concentrated and powerful to the point where the latter seemed almost bland. It had a dull bitterness that was juxtaposed nicely by the sweetness and savouriness of well-cooked meat. I think for some people, Maddy included, the flavour can be quite overwhelming, but to me it was perfect. When she asked whether I would like to finish ‘the funk burger’ I gladly accepted without hesitation. It was absolutely out of this world.
Besides how good the food was, the best part was that we didn’t have to pay much for the burgers at all: 155czk and 199czk, for the regular and dry-aged burgers respectively. Naše maso represented, for humble budgeted foodies such as ourselves, a prime example of everything that was great about the Czech food scene: delicious and hearty meals at extremely affordable prices.