Omi Beef @ Yutaka Kyoto

This article was inspired by a friend who comes to Japan several times a year in search of the true and authentic Japanese experience in combining food and culture.

So, it can happen when you or order 150g of Omi filet /tenderloin/ it isn’t what you expect, and where did it go wrong? Japanese sirloin represents a small part of a cow, but filet at ¥150,000/kg is on the high side even with a premium for such cuts. I have been to Aragawa one of, if not the most expensive steak restaurant on planet earth. Before the business was sold, and often filet /tenderloin/ wasn’t available, it was sold out – and there was nothing to discuss.

The point is, do not expect that every time you order tenderloin to get first quality, and in this case the marbling isn’t right. you can see from the photo the dispersion of the fat is not consistent with what you expect in filet. The spider effect in meat is in part what determins the quality, and the meat’s color and pedigree is just as important. However, the grading begins after the cow has been slaughtered and color luster and quality of fat all help determine price.

First of all, domestically produced beef, wagyu refers to four breeds, namely, Japanese Black (Kuroge Washu), Japanese Brown (Akage Washu), Japanese shorthorns (Nihon Tankaku Washu) and Japanese Polled (Mukaku Washu). Omi Beef is Japanese Black that accounts for over 90% of wagyu raised in Japan.

In the grading of Japanese beef, the meat quality beguns at a young age, and from their careful treatment is given to the cows. It is true there are varying degrees of how animals are treated and not are all handled the same way. But one thing is for sure, if there is anywhere on our earth where cows are treated well, it is in Japan and in France. In Japanese, there is an expression tema-hima which means time and effort, and embodies the concept of carefully performing and devoting oneself to work.

The tenderloin served at Yutaka in Kyoto had significant varying sizes of fat veins, and in tenderloin we expect more refinement, less density of concentrated fat veins. The fact is, you cannot pick and choose and when you cut the tenderloin, it isn’t similar to sirloin where you have ribs to choose from.

The entire tenderloin is as short as 50cm, and you have an end cut that tapers to a tip. But what counts most important is the cooking and the texture of the meat, flavour and softness in your mouth. The reason the steak at Yutaka was not melting with a softness had mostly to do withe the rendering of the fat.

Japanese gyu when cooked is almost always cooked using sumi, and at Yutaka they use a griddle, and place the meat on a bed of dehydrated garlic chips. This isn’t optimal and the fat is rendered correctly and so consequently the heavier veins of fat do not get cooked evenly. That is the fundamental problem in cooking any Japanese steak unless you are cooking sirloin.

Sirloin is easier to cook because of the high concentration of the fat and the more even concentration and distribution if fat. So when you cook sirloin the fat disperses and the fat dominates the meat. Whereas in filet, the neat is much smaller in terms of the size and shape. The shape of sirloin is much flatter and easier to cook, and the filet is round and so cooking is slightly more complex.

But many appreciate waygyu in Japan because of the oleic acid-rich low-melting temperature of fat. In Japan, beef marbling standard, which is called BMS number, is used as the grading system for meat quality, and ranges from 1 to 12, and the number 12 means the most marbling fat. Since the BMS number is determined based on the appearance of the carcass, livestock breeders cannot determine the quality of the beef until slaughter. Nevertheless, lots of efforts are made to figure it out along the way given the retail value of beef in Japan.

Correctly estimating the BMS number in living beef cattle at an early stage will facilitate the determination of the fattening period and quality improvement by breeders. For example, the estimation of the marbling score using ultrasound echo images of live beef cattle has been investigated extensively. The advantages of using ultrasound images are that in vivo imaging can be performed in real-time, the measurement does not harm the cattle, and the equipment is small and relatively inexpensive.

So at the end of the day Gyu is a very special product and we all want to have the ultimate steak. We keep searching the meat until we find the best Japan has to offer.