Skip to comments.Japan's Kobe beef back on menus
Posted on 01/03/2006 11:48:01 AM PST by billorites
MABANK For the first time in four years, a gourmet extravagance authentic Japanese Kobe beef is allowed back into the United States.
The question is whether anyone will care. An American Kobe-style brand has taken its place on restaurant menus.
Wagyu cattle began arriving in the United States in the 1990s, often flown over from Japan. They are fattened longer than the average American breed; they live about eight to 14 months longer than U.S. beef cattle. U.S. ranchers often crossbreed them with Angus cattle.
The glossy black cows on Meliton Rincon's ranch in Athens are not your average American breed. These Wagyu cows are fattened longer, and the beef is known for its rich flavor because of the fat that melts when cooked. Now the high-quality beef from Japan is allowed back into the U.S. But U.S. ranchers have gotten a foothold in the market with their own version.
"We cannot meet demand," said Todd Hatoff, president of Allen Brothers, which sells high-end beef to fine restaurants.
Kobe beef bursts with flavor, and the fat melts like butter and coats your mouth with velvety richness. The best American Kobe-style steak will cost $80 or more; a Kobe-style hamburger can run $40.
It tastes good because of the fat. The meat is streaked so thickly with fat, the Japanese call it "white steak." When it's cooked, the fat melts into the meat, infusing it with flavor.
"It's very rich, very full-flavored," said Tom Schneller, assistant professor at the Culinary Institute of America. "This is the cream of the crop."
Legend has it that Japanese Kobe cattle are fed beer, massaged with sake, even soothed with soft music. Experts say beer has been used to stimulate their appetites and that sake makes for a glossy coat, on which they are graded.
But that is not how it's done in America, where ranchers believe good genetics and careful feeding are the main ingredients for quality Kobe-style beef.
"It's a great story, and we don't go out of our way to dispel the myth, but it's really not necessary," said Jay Theiler, president of Idaho-based Snake River Farms. "The two things that make Kobe-style beef are genetics and a long feeding program."
It starts with the cows. True Kobe beef comes from the region surrounding the city of Kobe. For centuries, the cattle were used not for meat, but to provide the muscle for rice cultivation. Consumption didn't really take off until after World War II.
The American version of Kobe beef comes from the same breed of cattle raised in Japan. Called Wagyu, a Japanese name that means "Japanese cattle," they began arriving in the United States in the 1990s, often aboard airplanes.
They are fattened longer than the average American breed they live about 26 to 32 months, compared with 18 months for U.S. beef cattle. U.S. ranchers often crossbreed them with Angus cattle.
The beef they produce is considered better than prime the highest grade given by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Prime is for meat that is abundantly marbled with fat. Restaurants and hotels get most of the country's prime beef; only a small amount is sold in supermarkets.
Texas cattleman Gary Yamamoto says at least 97 percent of his Kobe-style Wagyu beef is prime. Nationwide, only about 2 percent of beef earns a prime rating.
The glossy black cows and calves grazing on Yamamoto's gently rolling hills look like any other beef cows. It's hard to tell the full-blood Wagyu cattle apart from Angus cows that Yamamoto uses for crossbreeding.
He started with a small herd, 88 cows and 10 bulls, bought from a Japanese rancher. The rancher, Shogo Takeda, had flown them to the U.S. so he could sell embryos and calves more easily to Australia, another country where Kobe-style beef is flourishing.
Yamamoto wound up buying the herd in 1999; Takeda still advises him and visits his ranch, which is about 55 miles southeast of Dallas.
Yamamoto, a Japanese American, is not a typical rancher. He's a professional bass fisherman with a thriving custom lure business. He drives around his ranches with a Chihuahua nestled in his lap.
While cattlemen can be private about their operations, Yamamoto chats freely confiding, for example, that the whole thing began because he was looking for a property tax break that comes with grazing livestock or planting trees.
"Once I got into it and learned all the aspects, the health as well as the good taste, I was hooked," Yamamoto said.
Healthy beef? Healthy fatty beef? Absolutely, Yamamoto says; he helped fund research that backs his claim.
A Texas A&M University researcher, Stephen Smith, concluded that compared with American beef, Wagyu beef is much higher in unsaturated fat. It has high levels of oleic acid, the fatty acid in olive and canola oils that has been shown to lower bad LDL cholesterol.
"The health aspect of this animal is what should be the standard for the U.S. cattle herd," Yamamoto said. "If I can put these bulls on any breed and decrease the saturated fat, that would be the standard."
Another selling point for Kobe-style beef is that it's often raised without hormones or antibiotics.
The U.S. banned Japanese beef after mad cow disease was discovered there in 2001. Officials ended the ban in December after Japan ended its own embargo on American beef, imposed because of the threat of mad cow disease.
However, the Japanese won't be sampling American Kobe-style beef because it takes longer to raise than the 21-month age limit Japan has imposed on beef it imports from the United States, also to limit the mad cow threat.
There are no such limits on imports of Japanese Kobe beef. Still, U.S. ranchers have spent four years getting a foothold on the market.
"Just as California wines have taken off, I think you have very good cattlemen here in the U.S. that know how to raise cattle," said Schneller of the Culinary Institute.
Fire up the grill ping.
Mmmmmm, Kobe beef! Sounds SO good right now!
If you want to try it, I recomend the strip sirloin, and you won't need much, it is iincreadibly rich.
I have only had Kobe style beef; it IS first rate, cannot wait to try the real thing
Free trade bump. (At least until the next BSE scare).
So, how is it in Hamburger Helper?
Kobe Beef?! Wasn't suspending him enough?
Kobe beef is over-rated.
Montana makes perfectly acceptable steak (emphasis on PERFECTLY), and Alberta range-fed beef is just as nice.
For a real treat, go for a New Zealand range-fed steak. Mmmm-mmm! 1-3/4" thick, nice and lean, rare. Plenty of garlic bread on the side! Mushrooms, and peppercorn sauce, just to make it interesting. A few veggies, and of course, red wine.
Kobe beef? Well, I've had it, wasn't overly impressed. Nice enough, but nothing special.
PETA will have a fit when they get a look at that picture.
At $260.00/lb. for a grade 8 (grade 12 is the finest-shown in the picture)I think I will pass.
Mmmm...beef. My favorite is the 16 oz filet at Gene and Georgetti's.
> Mmmm...beef. My favorite is the 16 oz filet at Gene and Georgetti's.
You're from Chicago, right? They make a very tidy steak at Gene & Georgetti's. Most impressed!
Why yes I am! Side order of creamed spinach, yummy.
I have eaten at NOBU in NYC a few times. The kobe beef last I went was 8 dollars an ounce. That would make Chef Nobu's 128 a lb.
Steakhouses are nice ... but if I want a steak really done right, I grill it myself.
"Orc: It's what's for dinner!"
> I have eaten at NOBU in NYC a few times. The kobe beef last I went was 8 dollars an ounce. That would make Chef Nobu's 128 a lb.
Ouch! That's a fair snootful. Instead, come to New Zealand, try our steak (the lamb is even nicer) and enjoy our hospitality. We keep the good stuff for domestic consumption and export the rest.
Guarantee you'll enjoy it.
Texas cattleman Gary Yamamoto? How hath the mighty fallen?
> Speaking of creamed spinach, did you hear that The Berghoff is closing?
That even made the news DownUnder. Tragedy!
Don't wagyu beef at me, pardner.
Steakhouses are nice ... but if I want a steak really done right, I grill it myself.
From the prices they're quoting for this beef, the only way I could afford to eat one, is at home.
Bacon and Hap and I had some for New Year's Eve a few years back - we ordered it from some online steak provider - and I'm here to tell you, there is NOTHING that measures up to it. It is hands-down THE best beef I've ever eaten.
I have had Kobe steaks twice in my life. Once as a 10 year old on a trip around the world with my grandparents in Kobe Japan, and once in Naha, which is the capitol of the island of Okinawa in 1967 prior to going incountry to Viet Nam.
It is an experience you should not miss if you have the opportunity (the steaks, not viet nam).
Believe me, Australia is on my list of places to travel too.
There's two different types of Kobe beef? I think we need to get some of each and find out which is superior!
Hope you get some rain soon.
The leaner the cut in Kobe grading, the more inferior the meat. Go figure.
> Believe me, Australia is on my list of places to travel too.
The Aussies make a good steak, too. Very nice indeed, all respect to our Australian cousins in that department!
En-route to Australia, have a stopover in New Zealand. 'Tis a long flight from the US, after all. Refresh yourself, enjoy our hospitality and then Go for Gold on the other side of the Tasman.
I recommend specifically 3 days and nites at Rotorua, stay at the Polynesian Spa and take in the thermal hot pools. Nothing better! Then one nite in Auckland, dine at Black Angus steak house (Albert Street) for the finest steak money can buy. You'll be all ready for Australia after that.
Hmmm ... that's a good bit more reasonable. The 'New York Strips" in the upper right look really good.
I had some in Japan, and it just melted in my mouth. Really extraordinary.
Foolishly, when I came home I tried to bring some steaks back and the Customs agents seized them.
Oh please do forgive me. I know my brain read NZ but my head said Australia. I am so sorry for the confusion on that matter.
NZ is on my travel list sheet also. I am so damn silly : )))
Have you been to NYC? If so do let me know your coming so I can hook you up with the best of FOODS!!!!!!!!
> Sounds great...
Tastes even better! Crikey, all this steak-talk is making me hungry. Time to spark up the barbie I reckon. Gotta nice couple of sirloins aging down in the back of the fridge, plus a good handful of shrimp: sounds like a nice summer snack.
One of my friends recently went to the TOP OF THE ROCK. She said it was better then the top of Empire and WTC combined. I must get there real soon. I never saw her say something like that. My hub works in NYC so its hard to convince him to go back in with his family but we manage to do so or I go with my gals or my kids.
Japan * ping * (kono risuto ni hairitai ka detai wo shirasete kudasai : let me know if you want on or off this list)
Gene & Georgetti's is my favorite steakhouse in the world. And I'm from Texas.
Here in Texas, we don't care where a man's family comes from. It's what they do after they get here that matters to us.
Yamamoto, Garcia, Sapp, Czarnecki -- the last name is irrelevant. A man who lives life the Texas Way is a Texan, period.
Texans know a thing or two about good beef. Had a great steak in El Paso. If I think hard I can still taste it.
> Yamamoto, Garcia, Sapp, Czarnecki -- the last name is irrelevant. A man who lives life the Texas Way is a Texan, period.
That's one of the things I like about Texans. Yer a good lot, not to be messed with. Not unlike Kiwis in that respect.