THE Japanese culinary delicacy of Wagyu has Bay foodies in a frenzy, with several retail outlets now stocking the superior “Kobe-style” beef products that sell at a premium, and leading restaurants also getting in on the act.
Bay stockist and meat deli owner Jack Goodwin, of Meat on Stanley, says there is huge interest in Wagyu beef right now. “I got my first carcass in about a month ago and sold a display fridge filled with about R25 000 worth of meat out in no time. I’ve now got another carcass hanging, which should be ready in about a week’s time.”
Tim Walker, head chef at leading Bay restaurant Ginger, recently also came up with an innovative “Urban Showdown” menu so diners could compare the qualities of Wagyu – supplied by Jack – against the best “regular” premium beef the Bay has to offer.
“The evening sold out in just three days and so I will definitely look at other specials with Wagyu in future,” Tim said. “I’m currently also making some bresaola [an Italian speciality of thinly sliced air-dried, cured beef] using Wagyu and hope to have this ready for some dishes on our specials menu next week.”
Ginger patrons were presented with the wet-aged, air-dried Wagyu on one side of their plate and normal A grade fillet on the other, the two beefy rivals separated by roast veggies, fondant potatoes, pearl onions and a wonderfully Marmite-like jus. The impressive “show-down” menu also included duck-liver parfait – velvety, foie-like pate with toasted brioche, delicious, mouth-puckeringly tart cherries and red onion – a glass of Meinert merlot and classic creme brulee with hazelnut biscotti for pud.
Tim explained that, with Wagyu, the focus is very much on the quality of the meat. The big difference between it and the beef we all know and love is the Wagyu’s characteristic marbling, which results in significantly more succulence and depth of flavour.
It was clear when we tasted Tim’s pieces of juxtaposed fillet that the Wagyu was the obviously superior product. We found it incredibly tender, and with a noticeably more beefy taste, though it must be said there was absolutely nothing wrong with the A grade fillet that came from one of Tim’s regular Bay suppliers.
The conundrum, of course, is the cost: Wagyu could set you back about R575 per kilo (retail) for fillet, versus about R165 per kilo for non-Wagyu premium steaks.
There have been Wagyu cattle in South Africa since the late 1990s when the Angus family, who continue to be leaders in the industry, imported the first genetics from Japan. The breed now also has a presence in the Eastern Cape, though Jack says the cattle here are mainly a Wagyu/Angus cross, with a small herd in Alexandria and a bigger breeder, Chris Purdon, out Cathcart way.
Jack sources his from Alexandria’s Denys Wells and says the quality is fantastic. “You get an even better idea of the superiority of the Wagyu with cuts like sirloin, rump and rib-eye [rather than fillet].”
Wagyu cattle have been bred in Japan for hundreds of years. Historically only the emperor, his family and warriors were allowed to feast on the sought-after meat. The famously mollycoddled cattle are today still massaged, fed beer or sake and later sold at sky-high prices.
Though our Eastern Cape cattle are not getting quite this sort of five-star treatment, they are grass-fed and tended with great care, hence the price. The Wagyu breed also takes longer to reach slaughter age, adding to the cost. Wagyu beef is also said to be healthier since its mono-unsaturated to saturated fat ratio is higher than in other beef, according to international studies.
Even the saturated fat in Wagyu is different as some 40% of it is stearic acid, which is less likely to raise cholesterol.
Wagyu beef is sold at Meat on Stanley in Richmond Hill and at the 2 Fat Butchers on the circle in Sixth Avenue, Walmer. The 2 Fat Butchers’ Broughton brothers stock Wagyu from the pure breed (ie no crossing with Angus) sourced straight from Brian Angus in the Free State. Continental Butcheries in Newton Park do not currently stock Wagyu, but have done in the past.