Mr. Toyoaki Yoneda is a distributor of the highly prized Japanese Wagyu beef. I raved about it in my previous post on the Japanese Food Exhibition, and today Mr. Toyoaki gives us more of an insight into why Japanese Wagyu is so sought-after, and how it is cooked traditionally.
How does Japanese Wagyu beef differ from Australian Wagyu?
Japanese Wagyu beef has a characteristic taste, and a smooth melt-in-the-mouth texture owing to the ripples of marbled fat within the meat.
Marbling on beef is synonymous with premium cuts. However, this does not mean Japanese Wagyu is overpoweringly rich. Quite contrarily, it shows that the cuts come from a well-pastured breed of cattle raised in lush wilderness, exposed to the freshest of food, water and clean air.
Japanese Wagyu beef is also far richer in amino acids than its Australian counterparts. This gives Japanese Wagyu its signature rich, savory taste and a slightly sweeter aroma. It also contains monounsaturated fatty acids.
Japanese Wagyu refers to beef derived from one of four breeds of cattle (or a crossbreed between the four). The breeds are Japanese Black, Brown, Shorthorn and Polled cattle.
Beef from these breeds are produced under a number of Japanese regional brands including Matsuzaka, Yonezawa and Kobe beef. All Wagyu from Japan have a traceable ancestry ensuring authentic high-quality, Japanese Wagyu every time.
In the West, the terms ‘Wagyu’ and ‘Kobe’ beef have been loosely used to describe any kind of prime-cut beef.
Some supermarkets in Britain sell a relatively cheaper form of Wagyu that has been cross-bred with Holstein cattle. Some farmers have also bred Wagyu cattle using embryos from the United States, and sold the meat under luxury food labels. This kind of meat is generally less marbled than the original Japanese Wagyu.
Bjoern Weissgerber, Group Executive chef of Zuma restaurant says “There is a big difference in the flavor and texture of the Wagyu from Japan compared to that currently being sold in Europe. That’s why we are happy to import it from Japan.”
Some liken buying Wagyu from anywhere outside Japan to buying a fake Louis Vuitton bag.
What is the best way to cook Japanese Wagyu beef?
In the West, Wagyu is usually cooked into a steak, or served in a gourmet burger. As Mr. Yoneda puts it, in the West bigger and thicker is better. This is not the case in Japanese cooking.
The two traditional Japanese ways of cooking Wagyu beef is either poaching it in a flavorsome broth, or having it quickly grilled.
Today, Mr. Yoneda shares a feips and tricks on cooking Wagyu the Japanese way:
The name of this dish comes from the “shabu-shabu” sound of the meat cooking in broth. You can cook this in a pot on the stove, but a double-boiler would work better, and an at-home fondue pot is the best.
- Slice a pound of sirloin or tenderloin paper thin with a mandolin slicer. The thinner the slices, the better the Wagyu beef will taste.
- For the vegetables, you may have to visit a specialty or Asian market (but you bought Wagyu beef, so an extra trip isn’t that much trouble!).
- Slice Chinese cabbage (Bok Choy works just as well), enokitake mushrooms (long, thin white stems), watercress, shirataki (Japanese yam) noodles, Shitake mushrooms and very firm tofu.
- For a dipping sauce, buy different styles of soy sauces, which are much more varied in flavors than the Kikkoman name-brand with which many of us are familiar.
- First place the Kombu (kelp)in a pot of cold water and slowly bring the water to just below a boil and then remove it. Bring the liquid to a very low boil and place the vegetables, mushrooms, and tofu in the liquid and let them cook first, since they can overcook and become mushy. When the vegetables poach to a firm crunch, remove them.
- Now comes the Wagyu beef. Place the thinly sliced Wagyu into the liquid and let it poach. Take your fork, or chop sticks, and move the slices of beef around in the liquid. This is the “shabu-shabu” of the dish’s name.
- It will only take a few minutes to cook the beef, but given that it’s poached, you don’t have to worry too much about drying the meet out. Nonetheless, just give it a minute or two.
Hibachi: Japanese tabletop barbeques
Probably the most enjoyable way to enjoy Wagyu is to cook it on a communal hibachi grill filled with binchotan (Japanese charcoal made of oak) placed at the centre of the table. The fats and marinades drip directly onto searing hot binchotan charcoal creating wafts of aromatic smoke that add flavour and atmosphere.
Thin slices of Wagyu (approx 1/2 cm thick) are placed on the grill and quickly seared on each side.
Serve with a variety of dipping sauces and a bowl of rice to soak up the juices.
Some tips on cooking hibachi style:
- Use only high quality binchotan charcoal as it burns hot and clean
- Place something thick and fireproof under the hibachi so you don’t burn the table
- Light the binchotan over a gas burner in a special holder (never, never use any fuel starters as they will affect the flavour of the charcoal)
- Use only in a well ventilated room or outside
- If you can’t find Japanese cuts of beef, cut a piece sirloin or fillet cut in thin diagonal slices using a sharp knife – the idea is to have pieces of meat that will cook in moments
- Grill each piece of meat on each side until cooked, dip in your favorite dipping sauce and eat – quite simple really
- This is lots of fun because everyone shares the cooking
- As an option you can marinate the beef in a little soy sauce or teriyaki marinade before grilling
- Binchotan burns for a long time and high quality binchotan can be extinguished with water, dried out and used again
- Some suggested dipping sauces are goma (sesame), soy with wasabi, soy with ginger and garlic that has been grated on a sharkskin grater
- Other items like shitake mushrooms, skewers of ginnan (ginko), peppers, thin potato slices, asparagus and other vegetables can also be cooked on the hibachi
Teppanyaki literally means ‘iron pan grill’, and is the method by which most Japanese steakhouses cook their Wagyu.
Although many kitchen suppliers sell specific Teppan grills for both the kitchen and tabletop, you can still make do with your flat grill plate on the barbeque. This style of cooking favours western cuts such as sirloin steaks and scotch fillets. Both high and low marble scores can be cooked in this way.
Here are some tips on cooking Wagyu Teppanyaki-style:
- Take the meat from the fridge, unwrap and let sit on the bench for 20 minutes to warm
- Heat the teppan to an even med/high heat
- Ensure the plate is clean and free from rust and burnt material
- Use oil with a high smoke point such as rice bran oil
- Higher marble scores should be cut thinner
- Oil the teppan lightly and place Wagyu on the grill (you can also add butter for batayaki, very popular in Japan)
- You can simmer on the teppan with a little sherry to make sheriyaki
- Turn the Wagyu over when you can see the top start to “seep”
- Turn over once more after the meat starts to seep again and remove from the grill 1 minute later
- Let sit for 8 – 10 minutes and then slice in diagonal ½ cm slices before placing it on a serving plate
- Serve with a dipping sauce made of quality soy and wasabi
- Other dishes you can grill on the teppan are scallops, prawns, fish, peppers, shiitake mushroom and scrambled eggs
- Side dishes you can serve with Teppanyaki Wagyu are spinach salad, cabbage saled, rice etc.
This single hotpot dish is enjoyed in the winter months throughout Japan.
Vegetables, seafood and of course Wagyu is cooked in a clay pot in the centre of the table.
Any basic stock can be used and any combination of vegetables.
We recommend slicing the Wagyu thinly and cooking only for a short time.
You can serve it with a dipping sauce of wasabi, ponzu or goma (sesame).
Thank-you Mr. Yoneda, these recipes look absolutely mouth-watering!