Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Kobe....or not Kobe. Red Bull is The Question....

Kobe beef has this weird reputation in America. Fat cows, fed good Kirin beer, rubbed down by gorgeous Japanese girls daily.....ludicrously expensive beef. P Diddy stuff, fit to be washed down with Crystal. Or Krug.

At The Masters (the last real Masters of Food and Wine, as it turned out) I signed for one half prime rib of real Kobe from Japan....airlifted in. Only $2400 for maybe six or eight pounds. The idiot, knucklehead, 3-star Frenchmen who ordered it then cut it up and made stew. This is like using a Dali original to light your fireplace.....just because you can, doesn't make it right.

I....raised in French restaurants.....have not eaten in one since.

Well....pommes frites in CDG on the way to Prague does not count.

Hey!! Guys at Le Cinq! Open a fucking newspaper....or a Spanish cookbook from this millenium.

I don't think they have I-phones yet....much less the app for "No one wants to eat "ris de veau" and other shitty animal parts" anymore unless they are bored, broke, drunk, addicted.....or all four.

We have been serving lots of Kobe and Wagyu steaks of different sorts lately.....and I am getting worn out explaining what is the real deal.

Hence this post.

Kobe is just one type of Japanese-style beef. Kobe is a city about 300 miles from Tokyo, part of the megalopolis that includes Kyoto. Cattle were raised here back in the day....still are, for that matter.

Americans love short names. (Corton and Pommard wildly outsell Pernand-Vergelesses in red Burgundy, for no other real reason). Kobe is so much easier to remember than Tottori, Tajima, Shimane, Mishima, and Okayama. We won't even talk about Akaushi, much less Kochi and Kumamoto.

All Japanese cattle are controlled by the government....and always have been. All Japanese and Japanese style cattle are from a set of distinct breeds called "Wagyu"....which means "Japanese cows". Duh. All the other names and breeds are subsets of Wagyu....Japanese beef.

Cattle were introduced to Japan around 2,200 years ago for use as four-legged tractors. The relative value of their labor vs. their value of meat was incalculable. Eating a cow in Japan in 200 BC would be like taking apart a John Deer tractor to use the fenders as skillets. Until 1868 there was a complete ban in Japan of eating ANY four-legged animal. (The Mejii Dynasty was to Japan what Dick Cheney was to America, and the brief "modernization" of the four-legged food culture did not last long).

All cattle have basically.... always..... been completely controlled by the government of Japan. Bows, arrows, swords, nukes.....Do NOT touch our cattle!

The rugged terrain of Japan and isolation of its people and animals from each other back in the day caused each of the subsets of Wagyu to develop individual characteristics independently.

The Tajima district used cattle to pull carts, so their cows had heavy forequarters, but they were smaller and more agile. Tottori were used to pack grain, so they were big and strong with broad backs.

All those cattle from the island of Honshu were black. The Kyushu island cattle were red: the Kochi and the Kumamoto...generically called Akaushi. (Oyster lovers will recognize the Kumamoto name).

Oh...and what is up with the massaging and beer? Kobe is a big port city. Their cattle could not get out and work and stretch like the country mice...errr, cows. Hey, they got cramps! Kind of like me on Tuesday mornings. Leticia!!!

And beer? Not so much beer as all the ripe, buzzy by-products of making beer....and making soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, tofu, etc....but feeding cows beer sounds so much cooler.

Like Zenyatta, the champion racehorse at Santa Anita with her Guinness every morning.

Actual Wagyu are fed a more mundane daily diet of corn, barley, wheatstraw and alfalfa.

So...basically all the various Wagyu breeds are like breeds of dogs: Alsatians, Bernese Mountain Dogs, German Wirehairs, etc. The main difference between their cattle breeds and ours is that the Japanese government has been intimately involved in protecting and developing these cattle for 2200 years. They are more like wolves than dogs. No....more like Super Models! They have not been cross-bred, like even the best of our beef strains back here in the Land of Outback Steakhouse (Black Angus, Red Angus, Beefmaster, Charolais, etc)

So......their bred-in characteristics are set and durable. The meat comes out the same almost regardless of: diet, weather, age, diet, weather conditions...and whatever weird shit the cattle are exposed to growing up. I mean, 2200 years of JAPAN, for chrissakes.....

Wagyu cattle process and store the energy from the food they eat..... differently. Rather than store fat on the outside of their bodies, they store it inside the muscle tissue as marbling. In fact, dumbass American consumers actually rejected the first Wagyu meats sold here as being "too white".

Jesus wept.

The other aspect of Wagyu beef is the nature of the fats themselves: there are omega-3's and omega-6's, and crazy high levels of oleic acids...as in olive oil....and other mono-saturated fats..... as opposed to saturated fats.

Wagyu fat is liquid at room temperature.....anathema to modern food processors. All the fats currently being banned in New York and San Francisco have as their main quality that they are solid at room temperature. Can't have your Pepperidge Farm cookie leaking onto your lunch bag on the subway! Oleic acids reduce hypertension, reduce bad cholesterol, etc.

Plus....fat tastes good, dammit!

We have been serving American Kobe for months and months now. It is all Wagyu....duh. It also turns out that all American Kobe or Wagyu is from Wagyu bulls bred to Angus or Hereford cows. Faux-Wagyu....but the stuff rocks the house and do you really have $600 a pound (including bone) for Wa-gyu from the Land of the Rising Sun?

It turns out that the American standard for the quality of the beef is settled after the animal has been slaughtered.....the marbling is graded on a ten point standard. We have been selling 1# Kobe first grade rib eye steaks for $36....that cost us $22, just because we love the quality. (A normal nice restaurant would charge $66....in New York or San Francisco, you would pay $100 or $200).

The grading system used by the Japanese for 100 years has been, of course, corrupted by us Yanks. Now, you have to know your supplier to know what you are buying. Despite the T-Party/Former Republican abhorrence for government interference in commerce....there are virtually no meaningful rules that apply to labeling meat, fish, produce or anything else we put into our bodies.

The reputable purveyors grade by the Japanese system after slaughter: they inspect the short loin after the carcass is broken, but there can be variation even in different muscles in the same animal. A heavy marbling Ultra Mishima Ranch ribeye that hits 8.5 out of ten might run $30 a pound in bulk, wholesale. Last month we got one for $20 that was graded low at the short loin, but turned out to rock the house further up the animal. All y'all that had our "Kobe #1" ribeye made out like fat rats....

Our new supplier raises Akaushi (red Kumamoto) cattle from Kyushu. They are little smaller than their black cousins from the other island. Our guy, Beeman Family Ranch, was part of the cartel who originally imported the ancestor cows and bulls back in 1994. They started with 11 cattle, and now have somewhere around 4-5k of them. They are breeding first generation crosses of Akaushi bulls with Angus cows. The Akaushi are more stable and predictable genetically.....One hopes. A nice steak will still cost you $30, even at our prices.....but stay tuned for that animal by animal variation.

This is a little strange.....explaining to people that the steak they had for $36 last month was really worth $200....and we have new and better coming up soon.


Well, the Japanese have been working on cows for 2200 years.....and on audio and TV's for less than 50.

Not to mention Honda's.

That stuff seems to have worked out.......


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