"Hey Jesse, here it is."
A plastic chinatown grocery bag landed with a hefty thud on the table next to me.
"Figured it would be safer if it was in a nondescript bag," said my friend. "Less chance of you being robbed. Enjoy."
My heartbeat increased as my Uber driver pulled up. I wasn't going to risk it by going on the subway. Safely ensconced in the backseat of a Toyota Camry, I slowly opened the bag for the first time and examined the contents.
An audible gasp escaped my lips.
This shipment was supposed to be 6 lbs but staring back at me was 9.25 lbs of vacuum-sealed A5 Miyazaki Wagyu.
Over the summer, I randomly ran into a friend in the hospitality industry. We caught up on life and naturally talked about food. He asked if I liked wagyu because he had some A5 Miyazaki he could sell to me at a discount. The caveat was that I had to take the whole slab of meat (estimated 6lbs - 8lbs) because he wasn’t going to cut me off a 12 oz steak. Retail price of this magnificent meat? $130/lb if you buy online and even more if you order it prepared at a restaurant. Yikes. After a millisecond of thought, I told him I was in.
After some research, I found out that A5 was the highest grade of beef and that the cattle from Miyazaki produced some of the best steak in terms of marbling and flavor.
I wanted to treat this delicacy with respect so to find out the optimal way of preparing wagyu, I asked two chef friends of mine (Zuma, Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare) for cooking tips. They both warned me not to render the meat too much because nothing will be left due to the high fat content. They independently told me to "have the beef come to room temp, sear it hot, finish in the oven at 250 F. Cook to about 130F, let it rest for a few minutes and season with salt after it is sliced."
Armed with these directions, I went through my final phase of preparation...cooking a test piece. What can I say, maybe I'm a perfectionist or maybe I just don't like the embarrassment from lack of preparation. I bought a piece of wagyu from Japan Premium Beef butcher shop and met my chef friend at Bohemian.
He was in the kitchen, busy cooking himself a juicy Washugyu burger (cross breed of Wagyu and Black Angus) for lunch.
The piece of wagyu I bought was already paper thin so there was no need to slice. After I seasoned with salt and pepper, he cranked up the heat on the stove until the pan was rip-roaring hot. We didn't use an oven because the meat was so thin. I decided then and there to pre-slice my meat into half inch slices for my steak night and cook only in the cast iron.
If you've never cooked wagyu before, let me be the first to tell you that it's glorious. Visually, a shit ton of fat and grease ooze out from the meat. Stunning. the intoxicating smell of sizzling wagyu fat is unparalleled. 20 seconds on each side, done. As the meat rest, he deglazed the pan with extremely rare Franzia wine and reduced it. He also added a little ponzu to build notes of sweetness into the tartness.
A final dab of wasabi on the side to cut through the wagyu fat and we clinked our glasses of Franzia. Cheers! We giggled like schoolgirls as we ripped into this buttery meat, our fingers and chins covered with grease. That brief moment was filled with intense euphoria that I revisit often.
Now that I had a taste of the teat and did a practice run, I was ready to introduce this delicacy to my supper club. It was time to assemble the squad.
Jamie and Colette brought desserts and smiles.
My coworker Lexi and her friend Dharmin were in charge of wine, and I'm not talking about picking up a bottle of Kendall Jackson from Trader Joe's. I’m talking about bringing their own wine glasses, decanter, and a few bottles of the good stuff in a roller bag and wheeling it into my apartment like a Mary Kay sales demo.
We started off with some champagne, Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé to be more specific. Super refreshing and not too dry.
My coworker and recent eating partner, David, was in charge of the appetizer: the Crudo Duo which included sliced raw Hamachi and salmon with serrano chilies (he meant to buy jalapenos).
To reduce the heat, he gutted out the seeds and sautéed them in butter before placing them on top of the Hamachi. For not having done this before, he nailed it. Everyone wanted more but had to save room for the main event.
After the Sine Qua Non had been breathing for about an hour, Lexi started pouring while giving a brief introduction on the producer of this wine and what makes it so special.
Meanwhile, I was finishing up the side dishes. My cremini and shiitake mushrooms were getting caramelized while my cauliflower was looking golden brown.
David brought his personal knife set (supper club ain't a joke) and unfurled the case. He paused and smiled as he unsheathed one of his knives to cut the wagyu.
Although the frozen 9lb behemoth had been defrosting all this time, the core was still frozen. There we were in my apt with the ovens and stove at full blast up with the sweltering July heat outside. The cranked up AC didn't do much to combat the mugginess as David's shirt began to soak from sweat. Drops rolled off his brow and forehead as he diligently put every ounce of energy into slicing the par-frozen meat. Worst.
After 30 minutes of hacking, we had enough slices to start cooking. My pans were smoking hot and everyone crowded around the kitchen, pregnant with anticipation.
The familiar sizzle assuaged my fears and muscle memory from years of searing meat, took over. I let a few test slices rest and sprinkled some Maldon flakes. We each had a small chunk of meat in our hands, screamed CHEERS! and partook together as if it were Communion.
I remember the look everyone had as they bit down. Some had their eyes rolled back, some were mid-coma, and some were very quiet, trying to savor each bite. Then came a wave of moaning, high-pitched squeals, and dry heaving...of pleasure. This was worth the hype and beyond our expectations.
I quickly heated up two cast iron skillets and started cooking all the slices in batches. After this was done, I made the red wine, ponzu sauce and Colette helped arrange all the wasabi on the plates. It was 10:30pm and we were hungry fucking hippos.
We finally sat down and feasted with more wine, trash-talking about the Patriots, and Dharmin educating me about how Voss sparkling is more superior to Pellegrino or "toilet water" as he refers to it. Ugh, what a douche :)
Bellies full, we started cleaning up (thanks Colette for washing and drying everything to perfection) and began vacuum-sealing the remaining 5 pounds of wagyu.
I gave everyone a pound of A5 to take home as party favors.
Yeah, over my dead body. I kept the remaining wagyu on ice and ate the rest with friends in the following week. The end.
Scrumphsus steak night done right!
- 9 lbs of wagyu, even at a discount, was quite pricey. Would I do it again? Absolutely.
- I'd keep the serving method the same. Seared thin slices has less of a chance of being overcooked vs a big thick chunk of meat. Also, eating thin slices won't be as overwhelming as eating a big hunk of rich wagyu.
- Things I'd do differently:
- Invest in a butcher saw, or go all out and get a meat slicer or bring it to a butcher to cut the meat while still frozen. As it defrosts, it becomes a globby mess and even more difficult to cut.
- Invite more people. 9 lbs could feed 10-12 ppl. Yes it's rich, but you can easily put down a few slices. If you have a vacuum-sealer like me, you can invite less people and vacuum seal + freeze the untouched part for later. Like a solo steak night while Netflixing "Master of None".
- Cooking multiple steaks for a group of people isn't easy (which is why I sous-vide). Next time, I'd have 3 or 4 cast irons going at the same time. Took a long time even with 2 cast irons and the meat got a touch cold.
- Make the sauce ahead of time. By itself, the wagyu with some Maldon sea salt is already pretty good. But the acid from the red wine, the sugar from the ponzu, and the kick from the wasabi really works well with the fatty meat and enhances the overall flavor. I might add roasted soft garlic to this sauce.