This week, I thought about raising the stakes, or should that be ‘raising the STEAKS’? I completely lost my mind for a second and began a search through Google for the best beef on the planet. The result? Japanese Wagyu A5.
I should explain that Wagyu is a breed of cattle, not just a code name for expensive steak. Wagyu is actually very affordable depending on the level of marbling that you like in a steak. Some of the best is actually bred right here in the UK, in particular Wales and the Scottish Highlands.
On the subject of marbling, this is what sets the Japanese A5 out in front. The Wagyu A5 is notorious for intense marbling, resulting in a rich, juicy steak. This is achieved by some rather unusual farming methods. Cows are raised in a completely stress free environment and even rumoured to have music played to them or daily massages in some cases.
This labour-intensive strategy produces incredible results in the final product. Cuts of beef that are intense in both marbling and flavour using the simple equation ‘fat = flavour’. I couldn’t believe the prices being quoted online, very few places had this particular grade of Wagyu – and those that did were not selling it cheap.
With prices dancing around the £250 per kilo mark, I wasn’t holding out much hope of finding budget A5 Wagyu. I stumbled across a London Wagyu supplier called Tajimaya. An online shop specialising in both Kobe and Wagyu from Japan. The A5 grade steaks were actually very well priced.
300g of A5 sirloin steak set me back £60. A fair price as it turned out. The steaks are actually good for sharing between 3-4 people, due to the richness. One steak between two of us seemed like a good option. Within a couple of days, my order arrived by courier. I couldn’t fault the customer service.
Wrapped up like a christmas present, this is something very special. Tajimaya had kindly sent through a pack of Kobe air-dried beef for us to try which was a lovely touch. The sight of the heavily marbled sirloin staring back at me was incredible. I have never seen a steak like this before, let alone in my possession.
The steak arrived frozen, which in my opinion, is the best option for storage. The weather in the UK can be very unpredictable and the last thing you need is rain when trying to cook over charcoal. The steak being frozen means that you can pick your day to cook and get the best result.
When the time came to cook the steak, I was taking no chances. I looked at a method involving a sous-vide set up. I’m a big fan of the YouTube channel ‘Sous Vide Everything’ and Guga, the host, had cooked Wagyu A5 using the water bath to get the perfect result. I decided to take the same direction by setting the bath for 57C.
After vacuum sealing the steak in a bag, the meat took the plunge into the water bath. Two hours later, I had a steak ready for searing. When I removed the steak from the bag, I noticed it was incredibly flexible, not firm like a regular steak. I wasn’t going to attempt gymnastics with it but this was so unusual.
As a side dish, I was going to put together some sushi rice. This is simply prepared sushi rice with scrambled eggs and shiitake mushrooms. I made the eggs with a dash of mirin which helps the egg maintain a glossy appearance. I then simply sliced the shiitakes and sauteed them in butter with a dash of soy sauce.
A dipping sauce also entered my mind. I went with a combination of ginger, caster sugar, soy sauce, rice vinegar and sesame oil. Mixed together this made a simple dipping sauce to compliment the steak.
With the barbecue fired up, I could now sear the steak. A really important tip at this point is to make sure that your grill is roaring hot. I cleaned the grate with a grill brush and placed the steak over the glowing coals.
Due to the amount of fat in the steak, expect the coals to flare up. You can control this by spraying a little water from a bottle on the coals to calm the flame a bit, but I didn’t. The wagyu seared in next to no time, literally a minute and a half each side to give that lick of charcoal flavour.
While the steak rested, I plated up the rice and the sauce. Carving into the steak was like cutting through butter. It’s a strange texture as it feels like a firm steak at first but then the knife simply glides through.
So, what does it taste like? I couldn’t believe the amount of juice coming out of the steak, it pretty much dresses itself. The first bite, similar to the slicing, was the firm texture of a steak but then an explosion of flavour and a melting texture in the mouth. This is on another level. It’s almost like someone has taken a steak and injected it with butter.
I was glad to have the steak medium as due to the amount of fat cooking it rare could leave some of the internal fat undisturbed. This could result in a more chewy steak. It is a very forgiving steak though if you like it well done, the sheer amount of juice ensures that there is no chance of a dry steak.
If I had to compare it to something, it would be Iberico pork. The secreto cut in particular. A fatty cut from the shoulder of the pig with such rich marbling and flavour, it’s little wonder they want to keep it a secret. Wagyu A5 sits right alongside this in terms of texture, flavour and quality, in my opinion.
The Kobe air-dried beef was insanely delicious too. It didn’t exactly play second fiddle to the main event like I thought that it might. This may look like ultra-thin slices of innocent looking beef but my goodness the flavours are insanely good. It just goes and goes, absolutely delicious.
Many will baulk at the price of the wagyu but when you break it down one steak can go a long way. Many people gather around hibachi grills at Japanese restaurants to barbecue strips of this prized meat, why not do the same at home? In terms of value for money, you definitely get what you pay for.
I would happily end this article by declaring that Wagyu A5 is the best beef that I have ever eaten. This beef sits comfortably in the premier league of meat. Completely unique and an event in itself. For some, it could be a once in a lifetime experience. For me, I don’t think that I have seen the last of this wonderful steak.