Welcome back to our new column, Dealers Choice, where food expert Ian Purkayastha clues us in on what top chefs across America are serving on freshly ironed white linen tablecloths at upscale restaurants. Food dealer to over 300 restaurants nationwide, including a clientele of chefs like Sean Brock and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Ian’s smooth talking sales pitch and top shelf product list has everybody hooked on the goods he’s slinging.
There’s nothing worse for me than sitting in a restaurant dining room as I overhear a nearby diner proclaim, “I love Wagyu,” in the midst of a waiter’s spiel. If that person is you, I’ve feel for you. Even though you sound like you’re dropping knowledge at a Mensa meeting, all you’re really stating is, "I love beef of Japan!" Cool, dude, I do too. And if you followed that phrase with the charming tale of how those special cows got a special massage and only fed on nothing but Sapporo beer before they ended up on your plate, consider this sentence your wake up call. You’ve been duped.
What is true is the fact that Wagyu is a fatty, perfectly marbled beef that hails from Japan. It’s an item that’s considered to be as coveted as fresh truffles or fancy caviar. Most American restaurants that sell Wagyu have one of two options on their menus, either true Japanese Wagyu, or the knockoff version, the crossbred love children of Black Angus and Kuroge Washu cows that are raised in Australia and the United States. It’s like buying a pair of real Air Jordan’s versus a counterfeit set you purchased on the streets.
Wagyu was allowed as a fresh import into the US market until 2010, when a terrible foot and mouth disease outbreak was unleashed in Japan. The USDA slapped a ban on the product, making it unavailable until 2012. During the restriction, American and Australian farmers took full advantage, breeding Black Angus cows with Kuroge Washu Wagyu as a knockoff option on the US market.
Let me get a little Rain Man for a minute, because this next bit is fairly important. There are 47 prefectures, a.k.a states, in Japan. If you’ve ever seen Kobe beef on a menu, Kobe just refers to Wagyu from the Hyogo prefecture. Hyogo has built the strongest Wagyu brand recognition on an international scale, but it’s not the most prized Wagyu in Japan. Every four years, a Japanese Wagyu competition takes place like a wet t-shirt contest, where a panel of judges votes on the best piece of meat. Miyazaki has won the past two competitions. It’s time to step off, Kobe. Step off.
Useless, or Useful information
True Wagyu cows are like Puritans. There are only three species out there in the universe, so don’t let anyone tell you differently: the Kuroge Washu, Akaushi and Akage Washu. The Kuroge Washu breed was the first brought to mainstream popularity when Japanese farmers realized that they could plow rice patties for longer, more effective periods of labor than any other cow or mule. Their endurance is a result of their incredibly fat, structurally complex muscles.
The Japanese grading system is based on a five-point scale from A1-A5, A5 being the most prized piece of meat. The grading system is based on the intramuscular fat content, fat color, meat color, oxidation levels and firmness. There’s something that industry insiders like to refer to as the, “the snowball effect,” the phenomenon that occurs when you place a piece of Wagyu in your hand to watch it melt. Trippy, man.
Get that regular 16-ounce portion steak dinner fantasy out of your head, bro. Wagyu is almost pure fat, or in technical terms, “marbled.” A single six-ounce serving is pushing it before you physically start to feel like you’re eating Crisco straight from the tub.
It gives off a faint aroma of dry-aged beef, which smells a lot like stinky bleu cheese.
What to Do with a Batch of It
A5 Japanese Wagyu is like pure butter, baby. It’s most commonly served thin, shabu-shabu style, or seared in one-inch thick pieces. Because of it’s insanely high fat content, it cooks very quickly. Place it in a smoking hot pan over high heat with salt and pepper, and a generous pat of butter for a minute on each side.
Wagyu are raised on extremely small farms, where there are only two or three cattle per farmer. Just like the British royal family, Wagyu have a fiercely protected family tree on record as proof of the cow’s lineage, which includes a nose stamp print of each animal.
The Deal Breaker
If you find yourself at a restaurant that has dry-aged Wagyu on the menu, they’re lying to you like a good old-fashioned sociopath. The high fat content of the meat will turn rancid if it’s not consumed within a 60-day period. If you try to dry-age this stuff, you will undoubtedly get botulism and lose lots of money in your efforts. You’re better off placing a fat wad of cash in the middle of a room and lighting it on fire.