Steak is our anniversary tradition and we always do it right!
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Every year, for the past seven years, I have gotten to celebrate the most special moment of my life with my wife, Stacey, over a special steak dinner. Stacey and I started this tradition of celebrating our wedding anniversary with a steak dinner at New York Prime in Atlanta. Since that first anniversary dinner, we’ve eaten at a variety of top-of-the-line steak restaurants, including Chops Lobster Bar in Buckhead, and The O Bar & Dining in Sydney, Australia. However, this year was going to be different.
This year, I had the wild urge to fulfill a small bucket list item and try what is most likely the pinnacle of all steak; real, imported from Japan, A5 grade Wagyu. This is a very special type of beef! And this special beef is very difficult to find in restaurants and it is very expensive when you do find it
So what exactly is Wagyu? Wagyu, I’m talking REAL Wagyu, comes from Japan. In fact Wagyu actually means “Japanese Beef”, and it is typically named after the region or area of Japan the beef originates from. An example of this is Kobe Wagyu. Many Americans are used to hearing the term Kobe Beef being thrown around to describe a high end beef product here in the United States. Most likely though, what you are hearing about is typically a marketing ploy or a beef product that comes from American cattle bread from Kobe cattle that had been imported into the United States. This is not real Japanese beef, and it is rarely bred and raised to the exacting standards that the Japanese cattle producers pride themselves for. Real Kobe Wagyu comes from Kobe in the Hyōgo Prefecture of Japan, and although some U.S. sourced “Kobe” can be of a high quality, it is only bred from cattle that originally came from the Hyōgo Prefecture.
True Wagyu is graded on a scale from 1 to 5, and A5 Wagyu represents the highest level a cut of Wagyu can be graded. The “A” stands for the “cutability” grade of the beef, or simply the high yield quality of the beef; the scale runs from A to C. The “5” refers to the overall quality of the beef when graded for color (both of the meat and fat) and marbling, based on that 1 to 5 scale.
To avoid paying the extremely high prices for prepared Wagyu in an Atlanta area restaurant, I set out to save some money by sourcing it online and preparing it in my own home. This led to a lot of online research that resulted in me discovering Crowd Cow, an online purveyor of craft and specialty meats. I discovered Crowd Cow imports a very high quality Wagyu from the Kagoshima Prefecture of Japan, and I contacted them via Facebook Messenger to ask some questions. Crowd Cow suggested trying A3 Wagyu if I desired to enjoy it as a main course, and A5 Wagyu if I wanted to try something a little richer in flavor and texture as an appetizer. This resulted in me ordering a 4 oz. strip loin and a 9 oz. filet of Kagoshima A5 Wagyu. The transaction wasn’t painless however, as there was a big moment of sticker shock when these two items hit the shopping cart on the Crowd Cow website. Luckily, Crowd Cow was running a special that included a healthy percentage off the cost of the meat (I saved approximately $35 for being a first time customer) and free shipping. My grand total, for 13 oz. of meat, was $155. I couldn’t click the “Submit Order” button initially; the thought of ordering only 13 oz. of meat for that much money made my head spin. A question popped into my mind, “What if I screw it up when I cook it?” I actually hovered the mouse over the order button for a couple of minutes with my eyes closed. I thought about this meat being a once-in-a-life-time thing, and then I clicked to submit my order. After I allowed myself to start breathing again I found myself getting excited!
A couple of days later, I received my order from Crowd Cow! I’m kicking myself for not taking pictures of how it was all packaged, because it was done quite nicely. My little 13 oz. of meat came packed with six bags of dry ice, and each piece of meat was wrapped nicely in fancy butcher paper with a Crowd Cow sticker sealing it. I unwrapped each pack to find each piece of meat was vacuum sealed and labeled per FDA food labeling requirements, and also labeled as originating from the Kagoshima. Also included in the shipping box was a small canvas sack; in side I discovered they had included a small tin of sal gris. This was a thoughtful addition considering only the minimum of seasoning is recommended for Wagyu in order to let its natural flavors shine though. I tucked the frozen Wagyu into the freezer for safe keeping until 24 hours before I planned on preparing it for our anniversary dinner.
24 hours before the big day, I transferred the frozen Wagyu from the freezer to the refrigerator to carefully defrost. Crowd Cow suggests to only defrost this way; advising to not defrost Wagyu by leaving it out on the counter and to definitely not use the microwave. Crowd Cow explains on their website that the marbled fat in Wagyu actually starts to render at 77° F, thus care needs to be taken in defrosting the meat properly.
Approximately one hour before I planned on putting the Wagyu on the grill, I brought it out of the refrigerator to come up to room temperature and seasoned it with the sal gris (the filet also got a dash of fresh ground pepper). While the meat rested, I took the time to prepare items for our anniversary dinner and to get the grill ready. I was using a kamado grill with a stainless steel cooking-surface insert to cook the Wagyu and the kamado was fueled with Royal Oak lump charcoal without any flavoring woods. As the grill came up to temperature, I sliced the 4 oz. strip loin into four servings; the filet was left whole for cooking.
It was now time to put the meat to the metal, and sear it off to a rare level of done-ness. I was surprised at this point by my lack of nervousness! I think had I watched enough YouTube videos of Japanese chefs cooking Wagyu at this point that I felt I could do it in my sleep. I carefully placed the strip loin and filet on the hot stainless cooking surface, and kept and eagle-eye on it. The smell was beautiful, and the searing went quickly.
I showed the small slices of strip loin the most attention on the kamado grill, using a flat-top grilling spatula to make sure each surface of each bite of Wagyu strip loin was seared on the stainless surface. The filet was left alone a little to allow it to cook to the proper level of done-ness; rare!
Once I pulled the meat from the kamado, I let it rest briefly before slicing the filet in bite sized pieces for plating. I was shocked at how easily my knife fell through the filet; it was actually softer than butter! Stacey looked amazed as she could actually see how easy the knife sliced through it. The Wagyu was meant to be for us to enjoy as an appetizer (it was only 13 oz. after all!), and it was paired with a few bites of sushi and an enjoyable cold sake that Stacey had picked out for us.
So I’m betting you’d like to know what we thought of it! I tried the strip loin first. I fell in love with the texture and flavor with the first bite! The texture was similar to a thick pork bacon, and it melted a little in my mouth, releasing that flavor of umami for my taste buds. Stacey, on the other hand, did not enjoy the strip loin; stating, “I felt like I was eating just fat. It wasn’t for me.”
I tried the filet next. It was EXQUISITE! The texture reminded me of tuna sashimi; with a nice, soft mouthfeel. It was flavorful, with a smooth beefiness that melted in my mouth. It was easy to slow down and savor each bite, and I caught myself looking at Stacey’s portions of Wagyu filet whilst licking lips. She caught me looking, and her body language visibly changed to defensive with a touch hostile as she pointed out I had four bites of filet just like she did!
After our fancy appetizer of Wagyu steak, I poured myself some more sake and set to making the main course for our anniversary feast. I cooked a filet for Stacey and I to share that we purchased from Sprouts Supermarket (excellent USDA Choice filet at a phenomenal low price!) and a lobster tail for myself. Stacey prepared mash potatoes and a Caesar salad to accompany the main course. It was all wonderful!
To finish it off, Stacey had made a Pineapple Upside-Down Cake for me. It was phenomenal and I can’t wait for her to make it again!
So would I do it all again? I’d love to, but eating Wagyu seems pretty cost prohibitive. It was a great bucket list item to be able to cross off and I enjoyed the whole experience immensely. As a gastronome and connoisseur of good steak, I would highly recommend it to anybody with similar interests to try at least once. For me, I think eating Wagyu in Japan (along with sushi and noodles) is now on the bucket list, as well as maybe trying a Wagyu ribeye steak. (Sorry Stacey!)
- Real Wagyu comes from Japan!
- Real Wagyu is ridiculously expensive!
- Wagyu is GOOD!
- John wants more Wagyu!
- Most importantly, John loves his Stacey! It’s been an awesome seven years! Thank you for tolerating me Stacey.