'Wa' means Japanese, 'gyu' means beef in Japanese. Wagyu is beef from special Japanese breeds of cow which are now not only reared in Japan but also in Australia and the USA. Prized and craved for their marbled fat, which is due to genetics and the special feed and treatment, Wagyu has more mono-saturated fat than regular beef, meaning it is 'healthier' to eat than regular beef. Wagyu is the most expensive beef in the world, Kobe Wagyu (Wagyu from cows raised in Kobe) being the most famous.
The wholesaler only sells Australian Wagyu in 5 kg blocks, so three of us shared one block. At a discounted rate of RM150/US$50 per kg for Grade 6+ Wagyu, I got 8 pieces for RM330, Rm41.25/US$11.50 per piece, very cheap by restaurant standards. I waited until Kid No 1 and 2 came back on holidays to cook the Wagyu, (Kid No 3 had by then cooked 2 pieces of the steaks for his own consumption) which I have eaten in Japan and Shanghai but never cooked before. Since my Wagyu was cut into steaks, I figured that was the best way to cook Wagyu. I was wrong.
Wey recommended pan-frying rather than grilling steaks, based on his experience. He said somehow pan-fried steaks taste better. I believe the guy, so I pan-fried the 3/4" wagyu steaks for 5-6 minutes on each side for my mom and niece who didn't like rare steaks. The remaining steaks were again sprinkled with a pinch of salt just before frying and black pepper was freshly cracked over them during frying. I fried them about 4 minutes each side and they were rare, a little too rare but we didn't bother to cook them again because they tasted so good. Just before serving, they were given a small splash of red wine and sherry. I also made black pepper sauce, an Asian favorite.
We agree that Wagyu is best cooked rare to medium rare than well-done and medium. When cooked to medium-well, the beef tasted like good ordinary beef, only more tender. When done rare, each bite released juice that was buttery and smooth, after which you taste that bite of flavorful, tender meat. We ate very fast, not talking, finishing all the steaks first, clearing our palates with a great Spanish red wine in between bites, then dutifully ate the sides: taters and salad. Which actually was the right way because the meat was so good nothing else on the table was worth eating. Juicy, tender, flavorful and buttery-smooth is the only way I can describe Wagyu.
I obsessed about Waygu all night after that, thinking about ways in which this wonderful meat can be cooked to its best gastronomic potential. I felt that Wagyu shouldn't be eaten in a large chunk. First of all, because it was a big piece of steak, it got cold before I could chew half of it. With so much (cold) fat in it, I felt rather uncomfortable by the time I got to the last bite. Second, the seared part of the meat, the surfaces, were very flavorful but cooked as a steak, the surface area was limited. I remembered the thin slices--about 1/6" or 1/3 cm thick--of Wagyu in a Korean restaurant in Shanghai and how flavorful and delicious they were, grilled over a fire at our table and served with a flavored salt dip. That was one way to maximize the grilled surfaces of Wagyu, and I wished I had more Wagyu to experiment on.
The next day, I searched for my copy of 'The Man Who Ate Everything' by my food idol, Jerry Steingarten, because I remembered he ate everything and wrote about it. I wish I'd kept the food articles in all those Vogue magazines that I used to buy when Steingarten was the food writer. It wasn't for the silly fashion that I bought Vogue: I would read Steingarten's pages, savoring every sentence, before I looked at other pages.
Steingarten too had no idea what to do with his Wagyu so like me, he also made steaks out of them, and like me, he wasn't sure if that was the best way to eat Wagyu. But his job paid obscenely for him to find that sort of thing out, so he flew to Osaka, Japan to eat the best Wagyu dinner in a restaurant called Devon Steak (I know, ironic).
At Devon Steak, Steingarten ate Wagyu 2 ways: raw slices ("tasted more like tuna than beef") and teppanyakied strips, eaten with dips of soy, garlic, honey, miso and a spicy house dip. Steingarten declared that it was the best beef he had ever eaten.
That confirmed my suspicions, that Wagyu is to be cut into thin strips (but not paper thin unless it's for shabu shabu or sukiyaki, which was how we ate Wagyu in Tokyo and my memories of that meal is that I couldn't taste the beef because it was cut so thin and there was so little to go around...) or even cubes, sauteed on all sides not only to get the meat juice caramelized, as Steingarten put it, but also to sear the wondrous streaks of fat so that the flavor of the buttery fat is released. Cooked as steaks, the fat inside do not get seared which is a pity.
What I will do the next time I get my hands on a slab of Wagyu is to:
1. Have the Wagyu cut into 2" steaks. Thaw the steaks in a cool place for about 2 hours. Surprisingly, very little blood will seep out, maybe because there is more fat and less meat compared to regular beef.
2. Rub salt all over just before cooking, pan-fry them on a very hot griddle/grill plate until they are browned and crisp, turning once only, then slice them into strips or small cubes on the grill plate so that all sides can get seared, then sprinkle some freshly cracked pepper over, and finally douse them with brandy like they did at Devon Steak, count a few seconds for the alcohol to evaporate, then serve immediately. Mmmm. Heaven.
3. The fat can be left on the steak or cut off and sauteed separately. Be brave and taste some if not all, because Wagyu fat is the softest, sweetest fat you'll ever eat. Reminded me of foie gras.
I didn't use butter to fry the Wagyu, so I decided to put a thin pat of butter on the cooked steak, which was totally unnecessary.
Meltingly soft, tender, flavorful and sweet Wagyu.
Coated by a black pepper sauce, this piece of Wagyu was wasted because I couldn't taste the full flavor of the meat with all that cream, pepper, shallots and wine.