Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Japanese Beef

Japanese beef is world famous. You have heard about Wagyu of course. If you have read the previous post on Shabu Shabu you will know how good meat can be.

HRH the Queen of Kutch declared that we should have a meal of Japanese beef. So we set about looking for a suitable restaurant, something that was approachable and would not bankrupt us with beef that was prohibitively expensive as can often be the case in Japan. The Japanese can and often do go over the top with quality and consequently the price of food. We needed a sort of more middle path, Buddhist approach to our beef prices.

As is her wont, HRH the Queen of Kutch saw a restaurant which fit the bill, it was small, it was quite upmarket and it was a specialist beef restaurant where you could roast the beef of your choice. We made a reservation and arrived at the appointed time. The restaurant was called Matsusaka Wagyutei.

Now everybody has heard about Wagyu. The cattle are massaged with gin and fed beer and are made to listen to soothing music by Mozart and so on and so forth. There is probably some element of truth in all this. If you type in `Wagyu’ on Google you will get a host of literature. I am extracting a paragraph or two for you. Reading this is revelatory.

“Wagyu” actually simply means Japan (“wa”) beef (“gyu”), so it could be used to describe any type beef and is not an indication of grade. And while Kobe is the most well known Wagyu, there are higher grades of Wagyu. Higher grades of course, are determined by the degree of fat layers (“sashi”) in the meat. The marbling grades are 1 – 12, and whereas Kobe is 6+, Matsusaka is 10-12. To give you a basis for comparison, USDA Prime Beef is 6-8% fat, whereas top Japanese beef can be 25% fat. And much like the best sushi grade fish, not a lot of super premium grade Wagyu leaves Japan, so you may not have had a chance to taste it if you have not visited Japan.

Matsusaka is widely acknowledged as the finest beef Japan has to offer. It is produced from the Tajima-ushi cows, female only, from the Hyogo Prefecture. There are raised in a quiet and serene area between 2 rivers. When they have no appetite, they are fed beer to stimulate hunger and then are fed a combination of tofu lees and ground wheat. These are the famous cows that receive massages and are played often soothing music to calm the heifers’ mood as it is believed that this leads to better quality beef.

The New York Times writes

“And the meat, densely marbled and butter-tender, is difficult to come by, even in Tokyo, because only 2,500 Matsuzaka cows are slaughtered each year. It commands prices as high as Kobe's -- up to $60 a pound in a meat market, if you can find it. Don't look for Matsuzaka in the United States, where Japanese beef has been banned since March 2000, after an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease in southern Japan.”

Matsuzaka cows are slaughtered when they are 3 years old, an unusually long life for cows bred for beef. ''They are alive longer than any other beef cattle, and that makes a difference in the taste and texture of their meat,'' said Shizuo Kashiwagi, the owner of a meat market not far from Matsuzaka. ''And in the fat.''

When I read something like this, I get pretty het up. With all our religious mumbo jumbo, our innate cruelty, though, ostensibly we are deeply compassionate, we have no qualms with Cows/Cattle eating garbage or being fed bananas and god awful waste from temples and heaven knows what else [all of which is alien to their diet] and keeping them in Panjrapoles. But real care is never taken. After seeing the care with which Japanese cows are raised, I am not sure if India is the cow worshipping country, or Japan. Anyway, that is another story.

We were welcomed in, bowed to and whisked to the upper level where we were seated at a table. The owner came along, gave us an `English Menu’, which, to be honest, seemed like it was written by a 4 year old kindergarten student. Anyway, we did not have much to look at, it was basically different types/cuts of beef with prices in Roman/English, and so we knew if something was going to cost us an arm and leg. We were informed by not so dumb charades in as much as he spoke a few words, that the Fillet and Sirloin were over. We looked disappointed, sighed and said that he should get us whatever he thought was appropriate. Looking at the menu, it became apparent to us that the owner buys whole cattle and then butchers them. He is on some sort of Guild that entitles him to do so, presumably like the Palanpuri Diamond Merchants who are `sight holders'. We knew that even with Fillet and Sirloin being sold out we would eat very well.

So platter one arrived with three cuts of meat, rather small portions. The in-table brazier was electrical, and switched on. An indented plate containing Soy, Sweet Sauce and Salt & Pepper arrived and we were told to add some Chilli Paste to the Sweet Sauce. We also got some fresh Wasabi with a ceramic grater and were told to add the grated Wasabi to the Soy. The meat was to be grilled, dipped in either of the sauces and eaten. As a side we got some Cucumber Kimchi.

The electrical in table brazier


Left to right - Salt & Black Pepper, Sweet Sauce, Soy Sauce

3 Meats

The pieces of meat were sliced to a thickness of about 1 centimetre or slightly less. We placed a piece each on the grill, boy, the grill was hot, the meat seared beautifully and cooked in under a minute each side. We sprinkled some salt and pepper and ate. Magic. That is the only word I can use to describe the meat. Magic. The unctuousness of the meat, soft, buttery with just the slightest chew was something to savour. If you do look at the photographs you will notice that the three meats are clearly distinguishable. Don’t ask me what cuts they were. If you can read Japanese then there are little labels you can read.

Beautifully seared

The meat was soon over, another plate was ordered. That too was demolished. We were still hungry, so I asked for the menu again and saw Special Tongue. So Special Tongue it was. Delicious, thought it had a different texture from the other cuts we had eaten. The Tongue was equally fatty, extremely tender but had a different mouth feel [sorry about the deeply sexual context or double entendre].  

More meat

The special Tongue

It was an excellent meal, something we would not get outside Japan. We came away very satisfied and totally happy.

The Queen can do no wrong. Every restaurant she identifies is sure to be a delight.

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