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:
3737 South Halsted Street
Chicago, Illinois 60609
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
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
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.
Heat the oils together in a small saucepan until very hot but not smoking. Pour an equal amount of hot oil over the meat slices on each plate to lightly sear. Serve immediately with chopsticks.
Pan-Cooked Wagyu Strip Steaks
Grilling is not the best idea for Wagyu steaks. First of all, Kobe-style meat seems to stick to the grill, which can tear your steaks apart. And second, you aren't trying to get rid of the fat, you're trying to retain it. Try this pan-cooking method instead. Don't overcook it. Kobe-style steak is eaten rare, like sushi.
1 Wagyu strip steak
1 clove garlic, minced
Freshly ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Heat a skillet over high heat on the range. Rub the steak with the garlic and fresh-ground pepper. Put the steak in the skillet for a few minutes until the meat is seared. Turn the steak and put it in the oven. Allow to cook for another five to eight minutes or until the meat is slightly cooked on the outside and red in the center. Slice and season with salt to taste.
Barbecued Wagyu Brisket
Be sure you are using an untrimmed brisket with the deckle and fat cap still attached if you are going to make barbecued brisket. The Kobe Beef America brisket sold by Arrowhead Game Meats is perfect for this purpose.
8- to 11-pound untrimmed Wagyu brisket
2 tablespoons sea salt
2 tablespoons fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon ground chile powder or paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Barbecue sauce of your choice (optional)
Thirty-six hours before you intend to eat, rinse the brisket and pat dry. Combine the spices. Sprinkle all surfaces of the meat with the dry rub and work it in. Cover the meat with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Twelve hours before you intend to eat, light some charcoal in a starter chimney. Pour the hot coals into your fire box and add wood. Put the brisket in the smoker, fat side up and thick end toward the fire. Control the intensity of the fire to maintain a temperature between 250 and 300 degrees F. Add charcoal and/or wood every hour or so to keep the fire burning evenly. After five or six hours, the brisket should register an internal temperature of around 150 degrees F.
Wrap the brisket in heavy-duty aluminum foil and allow to cook on the smoker wrapped in the foil for two more hours. (Or move to a 300-degree oven.) The meat is done when a thermometer reads 185 degrees F at the thick end or when a probe goes through with little resistance. Slice the meat at the last possible moment and do not remove the fat cap until you are ready to slice and serve the meat.
May be eaten with or without barbecue sauce.
Texas Wagyu Chili
You can cut a chunk off a brisket or use Wagyu hamburger patties to make this deluxe Texas chili, but either way you will be in chili heaven.
2 dried ancho chiles, seeded and stemmed
1 dried guajillo, pasilla or red chile, seeded and stemmed
One and a half pounds Wagyu brisket or hamburger meat
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
Salt to taste
2 cups beef broth
2 tablespoons flour
In a saucepan, bring three cups of water to a boil. Turn off the heat. Put the chiles in the hot water. Place a plate on top of the chilems to submerge them, and allow them to soak for one hour. Discard the soaking liquid. Remove the chiles and place them in a blender with one cup of fresh water and process on high for a few minutes. Pour the puree through a strainer into a mixing bowl or large measuring cup, using a spatula or a wooden spoon to push it through. Extract as much puree as possible and discard the skin left in the strainer. Reserve the puree.
If you're using unground meat, cut the beef into quarter-inch dice or put it through a meat grinder with a half-inch chili plate. In a Dutch oven on medium-high flame, heat the vegetable oil. Sauté the onions until soft, about three minutes, then add the meat. Brown the meat for five minutes or until no longer pink and add the garlic and spices, cook another minute and season with salt to taste.
Add the reserved chile puree and one cup of beef broth. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat. Simmer for two hours or until the meat is extremely tender, adding beef broth to maintain a soupy consistency.
When the meat is tender, combine the flour with water in a cup, mixing to form a slurry with no lumps. Pour the flour mixture into the chili, stirring vigorously to mix throughout. Simmer a few more minutes to thicken. Serve immediately. Excellent over tamales, with beans or in Wagyu Frito Pie avec Chèvre (see recipe below).
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Wagyu Frito Pie avec Chèvre
You will wake up in the middle of the night craving one more bite of this ultimate Frito pie.
3 cups Fritos corn chips
Texas Wagyu Chili (see recipe above)
4 ounces fresh chèvre (goat cheese)
1/2 onion, chopped
Pickled jalapeño slices (optional)
Put the Fritos in the bottom of a baking pan; spread Texas Wagyu Chili over the chips. Break up the goat cheese and cover the top of the chili with evenly spaced globs. Bake at 350 degrees F for five minutes or until cheese is melted. Use a spatula to transfer servings to a plate or bowl. Put the onions and jalapeños in bowls on the table so diners can decorate as desired.