My Japanese Butcher
On one end of the spectrum we have plastic, artificial, made in the laboratory, fake food. On the other end of the spectrum we have REAL food. There is food that transcends the spectrum and hovers thousands of feet above. Maybe we should call this UNREAL food. Wagyu beef is one of the few foods that occupies that space. People who have had Wagyu beef at my Do Not Eat Alone meals often say they never experienced anything like it then talk about it for years.
In a non-descript, edgy neighborhood reminiscent of “Rent” (the play) is a little easy to miss storefront. It’s on Great Jones Street, which only runs for 2 blocks, a rather obscure street where the buildings are covered with graffiti, or is it artwork? Many people probably walk by without noticing. If they do notice their pace quickens because maybe there’s something dangerous going on inside. The danger is real, there are a lot of sharp knives in that shop and Wagyu Beef is addicting.
Look carefully at the window and in low-contrast letters you can see – is it the name of the store, or the description? Japan Premium Beef. Here you can get something so fine and so rare, there is nothing like it, clear to the west coast.
Japanese Wagu Beef. That’s REAL Wagyu. Wagyu Beef is a true gastronomic delight.
Eataly, in the Flatiron district, sells American Wagyu from Snake River Farms, and I have occasionally purchased small ‘Bohemian’ steaks there, but the butchers aren’t that knowledgeable. I don’t think they’re really butchers. Not long ago I was purchasing Wagyu beef for my “Do Not Eat Alone” party when a woman heard me order the Wagyu and asked “what’s that?” I gave her a quick explanation and it occurred to me that food education is sorely lacking. How does Eataly, or any retailer expect to sell a product that no one knows exists. At some point you have to trust the purveyor (me) to not only offer it to you, but to educate and contrast the differences. In Japanese this is called: “Omakase” which means “To entrust the Chef”.
I prefer dealing with the independent butcher and businessman here, and he offers Real Japanese Wagyu in addition to the American Wagyu. He is extremely knowledgeable and happy to discuss his products. Ironically his name is Meatoo (that’s phonetic).
These names describing Japanese beef are protected names:
“Wagyu”: “Wa”=Japanese “Gyu”=Cow
The specific breed, Tajima-Gyu raised to strict standard in the geographic prefecture of Hyogo. Breeders take extraordinary care utilizing special feeds and sometimes feed the cattle beer and saki. Wagyu fat melts at a lower temperature and is better tasting and healthier than other beef. The marbling is white, the beef is redder.
“WaShuGyu” = Japanese (“Shu”=”Seed”) Cow / American Wagyu
One of four specific Japanese cow breeds are cross bred with American Angus. They are fed a special diet. Cuts from these cattle typically exceed the quality of other Prime steaks.
Kobe = a specific type of Wagyu.
All Kobe is Wagyu, but not all Wagyu is Kobe. Kobe beef is considered the most abundantly marbled in the world which yields the creamiest, most flavorful steaks. To be labelled Kobe, cattle must meet the following standards:
- Bullock (steer) or virgin cow.
- Tajima-Gyu born within Hyogo Prefecture.
- Fed on a farm within Hyogo Prefecture.
- Meat processed within Hyogo Prefecture.
- Marbling rating (BMS) of 6 or higher on a 12 point scale.
- Meat quality rating of 4 or higher on a 5 point scale.
- An overall weight not exceeding 470 kg.
Only 3000 cattle qualify as Kobe per year.
Japan Prime Beef has Japanese Wagyu
Japan Prime Beef has American WaShuGyu
Presentation is extremely important in Japanese food. The larger cuts are made uniform and square to make a perfect presentation. That leaves a lot of irregularly shaped ‘scraps’ with non-uniform thickness. Sometimes they have an irregularly shaped steak for a discounted price. They sell these ‘scraps’ (my ridiculous word) at a lower price. I bought this ‘scrap’ of Rib Steak for $14, grilled it for 2 minutes on each side. It was
incredible awesome indescribable just unreal. The beef melts on your tongue and has a peaceful, sweet taste that fills the mouth. All it needs is a tiny bit of salt and pepper. The visceral experience of the meat melting on your tongue and filling your mouth with sensation transcends the flavor. The umami is practically aromatic (which is a non-sequitor until you try this beef). The experience lasts a long time after the steak is gone. I’ll take all the ‘scraps’ you’ve got!
Culturally you don’t eat this beef like an American steak. Small slices just big enough to sit on your tongue is all it takes. A little goes a long way. Of course you could cut as big a piece as will fit in your mouth and chew it. Sometimes it’s nice to experience the cultural differences in food by not being an ugly American. One doesn’t need to fill ones mouth with Wagyu beef in order to fill your mouth, body and soul with flavor.
If you would rather get your Japanese Wagyu cooked, there is only one place in The City. Don Wagyu is devoted solely to Wagyu sandwiches. You can get the A5 graded Ozaki for $185, it comes with fries for that.
If you’re in San Francisco, Roka Akor, serves a variety of Wagyu Steaks. I haven’t tried either….. yet. Watch this space!