What is Wagyu Beef, and How Should it be Prepared?
A fresh, choice cut of Wagyu beef is unequivocally one of the most decadent and enjoyable delicacies one could ever hope to experience. You have probably heard of it, but have you eaten it? There are a number of misconceptions, however, about what exactly Wagyu beef is, and perhaps more importantly, how to prepare it.
Wagyu beef is often confused with Kobe beef, and vice versa. Much like all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares, all Kobe beef is Wagyu, but not all Wagyu is Kobe. Interestingly, "Wagyu" refers to any and all cattle raised in Japan. Kobe beef comes from a special, specific breed of Wagyu cattle, which are raised and cared for according to a strict set of standards. Regardless of this technical differentiation, a prime cut of Wagyu will never disappoint the discerning beef connoisseur.
Unlike a typical cut of beef found in an American grocery store, choice Wagyu beef generally has a deep, rich, and visibly apparent marbling. Where one might find hard and chewy connective tissue in other breeds, the succulent, fatty layers in a perfect cut of Wagyu beef render to perfection and, when prepared properly, offer a delicate and pleasant tenderness unrivaled by any other beef.
Given the relative scarcity of prime Wagyu beef, it is not uncommon for restaurants in Japan to charge between $100 and $200 for a dish consisting of a relatively modest amount of beef. Prices will vary based on the specific cut of beef, the portion, and the experience of the chef who prepares the dish. While this may be an acceptable price for the wealthier among us, it is not surprising to discover that many consider the best cuts of Wagyu beef to be prohibitively expensive when dining out.
In an effort to reduce this cost, a true fan of Wagyu may opt to buy a cut of Wagyu to cook at home, usually found in craft butcher shops or ordered online. One should have no trouble finding Kobe beef in the United States. Assuming one is able to procure a decent cut of Wagyu, there are a number of basic steps to keep in mind while preparing the meat.
You may be surprised to learn that in Japan, Wagyu beef is often consumed completely raw. In fact, there are a number of dishes which feature raw beef, including but not limited to sushi, thin sliced to show off the beautiful marbling.
If you're going to prepare Wagyu beef, however, it is recommended that it is prepared and consumed fully cooked to avoid illness. First and foremost, a grill should be avoided. Though it may seem counter-intuitive, Wagyu beef should almost always be cooked in a pan over high, intense heat. This way, the fat is able to render properly, but the juices will not be lost to the flames of a grill.
In that vein, one may be tempted to use oils or butter when cooking Wagyu beef, but the use of oil or butter should be kept to a minimum or avoided entirely. Since the fatty content of a proper cut of Wagyu beef will render and pool in the pan, it should provide more than enough of its own juices to produce a healthy sear as it cooks.
Spices should be kept simple when cooking Wagyu beef. The delicious flavor of the meat itself should shine through over any spice. As such, a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper should be more than enough.
When you are finished cooking, it is important to allow the beef to rest for about ten minutes to allow its juices to seal in. Consider pairing the beef with earthy flavors, like a traditional miso soup or sautéed mushrooms.
By following these basic tips, you will surely prepare a terrific entree.