Wagyu Beef

Where to get it, how to cook it

This story is a sidebar to this week's feature, "A Cut Above"

The best guide to Wagyu beef on the Internet may be the June issue of The Rosengarten Report, a food lover's newsletter. Editor David Rosengarten taste-tested American Kobe-style beef from butcher shops and mail-order sources all over the country.

The highest scores went to Allen Brothers and a butcher in Florida. "It's great stuff," says Rosengarten. But he still doesn't recommend American-style Kobe steaks to average consumers: "At $125 a pound, I don't think it's really worth it."

On the other hand, Rosengarten thinks less expensive Wagyu cuts are an excellent deal. In the article, his pick for the best bargain is a Wagyu brisket that sold for $2.95 a pound. The briskets come untrimmed, which is the way Texas barbecue aficionados like them. Lacking barbecue opportunities, Rosengarten cut off all the fat and cooked his in the oven, Jewish grandmother-style.

After speaking with him, I promised to report back on how the brisket tasted barbecued. And the answer is: stupendous.

Following Rosengarten's recommendations, I bought samples of Wagyu beef from several mail-order sources and held a taste test at my house. We started off with "white steak," which is what the Japanese call Kobe beef that's so intensely marbled it looks like vanilla ice cream with streaks of strawberry.

The white steak was from Allen Brothers, which sells intensely marbled American "Kobe-style" strip steaks on the Web for $125 a pound. I passed one of their plastic-wrapped steaks around the table for inspection. It looked like it was half meat and half fat -- not as marbled as the Japanese variety, but pretty damn impressive.

For an appetizer, I'd frozen one steak and shaved off paper-thin squares with my electric slicer. Then I arranged the steak slices on dinner plates and sprinkled them with slivers of garlic, ginger and scallion, along with a drizzle of Key lime juice and soy sauce. When my guests were seated, I poured a boiling-hot blend of olive and sesame oils over the meat to flash-cook it.

My hard-to-impress dinner guests were blown away. The flavor of the Wagyu steak was somewhat disguised by the soy and garlic, but it was an ideal showcase for the buttery texture. "It's astonishing. I just pressed the meat against the roof of my mouth and it dissolved," a visiting food writer said. "I've never had beef that you could eat without chewing before."

A French guest preferred the barbecued Wagyu brisket over all the other cuts. After ten hours of smoking, the flat end of the brisket was still extremely moist. But the meat cut from the fatty end was literally barbecue that melted in your mouth. I also served a decadent Frito pie made with Wagyu brisket chili and goat cheese.

But most of the shock and awe was reserved for the grand finale: a whole strip steak. After heating a skillet on top of the stove, I rubbed the New York strip with garlic and freshly ground black pepper and threw it in the hot pan. I turned it once, then put it in the oven until it was just a little past rare and cut it into thick chunks. We had the steak slices with an outstanding California Cabernet.

The flavor was beefy and buttery, and the fat content made the texture meltingly soft. "The taste is somewhere between beef and foie gras," said the food writer.

The fat is the key to Wagyu's flavor. "The fat is different. It seems to coat your mouth -- the flavor is more intense," a chef told once me. That's why Wagyu hamburger meat, which is blended to the same 80-20 meat-to-fat ratio as regular ground beef, tastes much richer.

As the taste test confirmed, when you get the real thing, American Wagyu is a beef eater's dream.

American Kobe Mail-Order Sources

Ordering Wagyu beef directly from the producers might get you cheaper meat. But it might not get you meat that has been properly aged. These two sources are your best bet:

Allen Brothers
3737 South Halsted Street
Chicago, Illinois 60609
800-957-0111
www.allenbrothers.com

Recommended: The well-aged white steaks are the best in the country, but they aren't cheap.

Arrowhead Game Meats
P.O. Box 439
Kearney, Missouri 64060
816-370-6328
www.gamemeat.com

Recommended: Extremely reasonable prices on wet-aged Wagyu briskets, short ribs, flatiron steaks and tri-tips from Kobe Beef America, an Oregon producer.

For information on The Rosengarten Report, visit www.rosengartenreport.com

Recipes

Texas Kobe Tataki

After paying $16 an ounce for this dish at Nobu in Dallas, we figured out that a 12-ounce steak from Allen Brothers at $82.50 isn't such a bad deal. Homemade tataki comes out to half of what you pay at Nobu.

4 cups cooked jasmine rice
12-ounce Wagyu strip steak, frozen
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons ginger slivers
1/4 cup green onion slivers
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1/4 cup Key lime juice
1/4 cup light soy sauce
3/4 cup best-quality olive oil
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sesame oil

Pack a ramekin with rice and unmold onto the middle of a dinner plate to form a symmetrical mound. Repeat on each plate. Using an electric meat slicer or a sharp knife, slice the steak across the grain into paper-thin slices. (Trim away any ligament, if necessary.) Spread the slices in a circle around the mound of rice on each plate. Sprinkle the garlic, ginger, green onion and sesame seeds on the meat slices. Drizzle with lime juice and soy sauce.

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