Kobe or not Kobe

Kobe or not Kobe
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First Published: Fri, Jun 27 2008. 12 29 AM IST

Dig in: The classic Kobe beef is “marbled”, fatty and tender.
Dig in: The classic Kobe beef is “marbled”, fatty and tender.
Updated: Fri, Jun 27 2008. 12 29 AM IST
A new trend in fine dining eateries abroad is something called Wagyu beef. Years ago, the buzz word in beef used to be Kobe. Whenever you saw this on the menu, you knew you were going to be clobbered for at least double the dollars of any other main dish.
Dig in: The classic Kobe beef is “marbled”, fatty and tender.
What was all the fuss about? Well, it was guaranteed to be tender, the kind of beef anyone loves, it could be cut with a butter knife and can taste gamey, almost like venison. You used to see Kobe beef mainly in Japanese restaurants in dishes such as sukiyaki, shabu-shabu, sashimi, and teppanyaki, but rarely on European restaurant menus, wherever American or Australian beef was served, and of course, in France (only French cuts are served in French restaurants).
Apart from all the stories about Kobe cattle being massaged daily to relieve muscle stiffness, being fed a diet of sake and beer and so on, the beef is “marbled” and produces a high percentage of oleaginous, unsaturated fat, which accounts for its tenderness.
Wagyu is a breed of black cattle (Tajima-ushi breed of Wagyu cattle), raised according to strict tradition in the Hyogo Prefecture in Kobe, Japan. In order to earn the designation of “Kobe beef”, the Wagyu must come only from Kobe, Japan. I say this because I recently tasted Wagyu beef in a fantastic new restaurant, Rockpool, opened by the famous chef proprietor, Neil Perry, in Melbourne. They serve a variety of very simply chargrilled (on specially created wood fires) cuts of steak, including Australian Wagyu. I was taken on a visit of the chill rooms and freezers to inspect the cuts of beef and realized what a science it is (a far cry from our Indian style of butchery, where we are given a choice of “with or without bone”).
The other reason I suppose that so much fuss is made is also because of the prices good beef commands abroad. At Rockpool in Melbourne (there is also one in Sydney), there was much publicity about the A$100 steaks (around Rs4,100), from beef dry-aged on the bone, with an age ranging from 24 days to 42 days. Each steak is graded in terms of marbling age (Australian Wagyu has a 9+, whereas others are less than 7), how it was aged and for how long, what it was fed on (grass — I wonder what lesser cattle are given), the portion served and the cut — whether rib eye, sirloin, rump, T-bone, etc., and the breeder’s name (in this case, a lot comes from David Blackmore).
There isn’t really a “best” one. You choose according to your preference and you develop that preference, like anything good in life, by trying a different one every time. I took my two strapping sons, and both of them had a very clear preference — one chose flavour over tenderness and the other chose the big, boneless and marbling variety over anything else. Although this is called a Steak House, Rockpool serves a wondrous range of seafood and Spanish produce and has an extensive Australian and international wine list. The next time you eat a piece of steak abroad, spend some time on choosing and educating yourself on the differences.
Beef Tataki with Sesame Soy Dressing
Serves 4
500g good quality beef sirloin or fillet
Sea salt
Oil, for cooking
100ml “Neil Perry Fresh” Sesame Soy dressing
Optional garnishes:
Finely sliced green shallots
Shiso leaves
Shredded daikon (white radish)
For the best flavour, do this over hot coals or on your barbecue, otherwise just use a very hot pan. Rub a generous pinch of sea salt into the beef and allow to sit for a few minutes. Follow by rubbing lightly with a little oil. Sear the beef very briefly on all sides just to colour the outside, then plunge into iced water for a few seconds to stop the cooking process. Dry with a paper, then slice 5mm thick.
Arrange the sliced beef as desired on a plate with any of the optional garnishes and pour the dressing into a small bowl for dipping the beef into.
Write to Karen at bonvivant@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Jun 27 2008. 12 29 AM IST
More Topics: Wagyu beef | Kobe beef | Beef Tataki | Lounge |