Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Designer bags? No, designer BEEF!

Designer what? Designer beef, of course. You've heard of it- Wagyu and Kobe beef. Wagyu literally means "Japanese cow" and includes several breeds of cow. Named for the region they are raised in, and they way they are "finished", these types of beef are prized by gourmets all over the globe. An ancient breed of cattle, they have been in Japan since the second century, often used as work animals in rice cultivation, this beef is known for the intense marbling and exceptional flavor. Now Wagyu and Kobe cattle enjoy a much more pampered lifestyle.

Wagyu cow, photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Since the cattle are raised in areas of very hilly, treacherous terrain and don't have large pastures to roam on, and exercise their muscle tissue, they are massaged with sake. Crazy, right? Sounds like a trendy spa treatment. Wagyu beef is also finished by feeding beer, which helps to increase their appetite. Many farmers treat their herd to a serenade of classical music as well, to help them relax. Because of the location they are raised in, the herds are small, making the meat even more limited. There are four types of Wagyu cattle, Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Polled and Japanese Shorthorn. In the U.S., these Japanese cattle have been bred with Angus cattle and fed a diet similar to their Japanese relatives. some are finished with red wine as well. 

Unlike Wagyu, Kobe beef comes from the Tajima strain of Wagyu cattle and are raised only in the Hyogo Prefecture in Japan. Kobe cattle does not graze, they are fed rice straw, corn, soybeans, wheat bran, but never pasture grass. If this particular cow is raised anywhere else, it cannot be called Kobe beef, pretty much along the same lines of champagne vs. sparkling wines. It's virtually impossible to experience real Kobe beef outside of Japan, although there are different kinds of beef sold as "Kobe style." To get the real thing, you better start saving your pennies!

So what is so special about Wagyu and Kobe beef? Why would anyone want to pay $200 or more for a steak? That really depends on who's buying! Who wouldn't want to try one just once? I sure would. These beef varieties are famous for their marbling and higher levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. It is exceptionally tender and flavorful compared to standard commodity cattle.

How do you cook it? Personally, I would want it prepared as simply as possible. A nice NY Strip cut, simply seasoned with salt and pepper and seared or grilled to medium rare. I would want to enjoy every bite of that steak, completely unadorned with steak sauce or meat rub. In fact, this type of beef really should NOT be cooked beyond medium rare, as the higher amount of marbling makes the meat melt. Overcooking would destroy the texture, and the experience.

I spent some time visiting with my friend Chef Todd Leech, from McCormick and Schmick's in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, and he talked about using American Kobe Style beef in a tartare preparation, and his restaurant is currently serving a Kobe style burger. Todd recommended not cooking beyond rare to preserve the best texture. Todd's advice was echoed by Adam Holland, writer of The Unorthodox Epicure. He STRONGLY recommended NO SEASONING other than salt and pepper, cooked at high heat quickly so you don't overcook it. Adam has had experience with the "American Style" beef that is the only thing you're going to find in the U.S. and said he thought it was better than any Prime cuts of regular beef, and "if you have never grilled or broiled a steak, don't let these be your experiments." At several hundred dollars a pop, I agree!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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