Wagyu beef has become synonymous with beer fed, massaged beef that no-one can afford. Just one look at the menu's of many New York steakhouses and you'll see that Wagyu from Japan lists at around $30 per OUNCE!
Now I'm definitely one to pay the extra buck for quality food, but 30 bucks a bite is a bit steep even for me. I've tried both Australian, and American raised Wagyu which are both cheaper than the Japanese kind and while admittedly good, they left me wondering why I paid so much for something only marginally better than a good grass-fed steak.
So Saturday I'm at the Mitsuwa in Edgewater, New Jersey doing my monthly Japanese food run and I noticed these big banners advertising Ohmi Wagyu beef. I've seen them carry Wagyu before but they were expensive, and given my past experiences I had no desire to spend $40 for a small steak. As I worked my way to the meat section, I noticed a massive crowd gathered around a table that was wafting a heavenly scent. Samples!
As you probably guessed by now, one taste is all it took before I was hooked. I had the beautifully marbled steak you see above in my cart before the buttery flavor of the sample had left my mouth. A quarter pound of beef for two people isn't much, but really you have to think of this as foie gras or caviar. It's something you savor for its deliciousness, not something you'd make an entire meal out of. And delicious it was. I sliced it up, got a pan super hot and quickly seared each side, dipping it in some cherry wood smoked salt and sesame oil on the way to my mouth.
So what is Wagyu and why is it so good? It's actually a breed of cattle that has been breed specifically for a high fat content. The ones raised in Japan are fed a mix of corn, wheat, rice, sake and beer and are cared for on an individual level (no overcrowded feed lots). Some ranches even massage their cows as it is believed that a calm and stress-free cow yields better meat. Over the past 20 years, some of these cattle have been exported to the US and Australia where ranchers have tried to emulate their production, but having had both, I'd have to say that something in the water ain't the same.