Text by Arvada Haradiran. Photos by Harry Wibawa
There are many different types and cuts of meat on the market, and it pays to know some of the best ones because, well, you shouldn’t be eating anything else. Let’s start with the one meat that has been all the rage of late.
The Hype about Wagyu Beef: What is this stuff, anyways?
With the recent hype surrounding Wagyu beef, it pays to know just what exactly constitutes Wagyu and whether it is really as good as its reputation. Let’s start with the basics. Wagyu is beef grown from the Wagyu breed of cattle. This particular breed is genetically predisposed to intense marbling and to producing a higher percentage of oleaginous unsaturated fat, and thus the meat is highly prized worldwide for its naturally enhanced rich flavours, tenderness and juiciness. Wagyu cattle produce arguably the finest beef in the world. In fact, the beef is so well marbled that it goes right off the charts for Prime grading. (American Prime Beef, the most expensive cut, is graded 6 on a marbling scale of 1 to 12, while Wagyu beef tends to be graded at 12). Wagyu beef was once raised exclusively in Kobe, Japan, where it is considered the premium cut of beef. Now, much of Wagyu beef is grown outside of Japan, making it distinct from Kobe beef, which must come from Kobe, Japan, and meet rigid production standards imposed in that prefecture in order to earn the designation/appellation of “Kobe beef.”
However, most food experts say there is little difference between the taste of Wagyu beef and Kobe beef. But they also warn that you get what you pay for when it comes to Wagyu. Wagyu beef ranges from expensive (by any measure) to extremely expensive (about US$500 per 150 grams of filet steak sold retail in Japan), although some lower-quality cuts of Wagyu may sell for US$50 per pound. However, these cuts may be no better than the average prime grade or choice grade cuts of beef. So how do you best enjoy a strip of Wagyu beef? According to Vindex Tengker, the Executive Chef of the Steak House at the Four Seasons Hotel Jakarta, the best way to savour the meat is to eat it close to raw. “This one is best enjoyed medium rare or even raw, because the flavours are so great that you want to be able to actually taste the meat and not mask it with any sauce. Forget the sauce.” Much of Wagyu beef is either prepared as steak tartar, or is given just a quick pan searing. In other words, if you overcook Wagyu beef, you’ve wasted a lot of money.
The “Other” Beefs
So what about all the other meats? Chef Tengker says most of the beef you encounter in five-star restaurants falls into two major categories: primary cuts, or prime cuts, and secondary cuts, or what are now more commonly referred to as non-loin cuts. “The prime cuts are the most expensive cuts and are typically offered as strip loin, tenderloin and rib eye,” he says. “The non-loin cuts include meats from the shoulder part, such as the flat iron steak. This is actually a very tender cut because it has no movements that deposit muscle fibre on the meat. The rump is another great cut – it is very similar to tenderloin, but with a cheaper price. If you wrap it in foil and cut it in the middle, most people wouldn’t be able to differentiate between the two.”
“Look, I’m not trying to sell you on how much cheaper these cuts are or that they should replace the primary cuts. It’s not about that at all. All I’m saying is that there are many different parts of a cow that you can totally use that is still of prime quality,” Chef Tengker says. “I just don’t see why we can’t use these cuts if the quality is good. So my advice to people is to be open to new possibilities. Who knows, you might just like it better and the price will turn out to be cheaper. That’s a win-win scenario in my book.”