theresaurus

June 3, 2012

Wagyu

Filed under: Uncategorized — theresaurus @ 4:01 am

The good stuff. It was a gift. It is beautiful. I always feel sorry for the parsley. It can’t be eaten, it’s just for show. But then the green plastic imitation leaves often used instead are worse I guess. Sam and I always eat the parsley garnishes when possible. Waste not, want not. Except at restaurants where you have a strong intuition that the garnishes are recycled.

Sam came home yesterday bearing beef and a large watermelon, a little bonus for doing extra weekend work for the boss. The melon will be taken to Sam’s sister’s next weekend to thank her for taking in their mother, who finally gave in and asked her daughter if she could stay with her so she wouldn’t have to crawl around on hands and knees too much because of her bad back. She doesn’t want to bug her daughter because “she’s busy taking care of her family,” but the kids are fourteen and fifteen (and now tower over their mother). They should be able to manage simple tasks like washing some of their own clothes and helping with the cleaning and food preparation. But no, for some reason mama needs to be at their beck and call. Sam’s mother made him do chores around the house from a young age and was strict — rules are rules and if you break them you are punished, no temper tantrums allowed, no excuses. That’s one of the reasons he’s such a good person.

We are selfishly keeping the beef for ourselves. But how to cook it?

I once taught English at a glass manufacturing factory in Kyoto and worked with an American guy who considered himself quite the James Beard-like gourmet (and he did actually physically resemble Beard). I was dangerously annoyed by one of his food stories. He was dining in one of those exclusive fancypants restaurants in Kyoto where you must be introduced by another customer before they allow you to dine there. One of the courses was a few slices of Wagyu cooked on a hot rock. He said he cooked the first slice and it was so perfect that he left the rest. He wanted the food memory of that one perfect bite to remain pure. Hearing this made me want to pelt him with greasy hot rocks until he apologized for being ridiculous. He was a big phony, I came to realize as I learned more about food. One day I saw him reading M.F.K. Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf and asked if there was really a recipe for wolf in there and he said yes. Later I read the book and of course the wolf isn’t a literal wolf. I think he carried around those books to impress. He had a food column in the English tourist guide I proofread for, and the editor told me that the drafts for his column were in pencil, every other word misspelled. The things people do to impress others, to make themselves seem better than they are, the equivalent of human Wagyu. Wagyu really is delicious, but I like the imported Australian and American steak too.

From Michel Booth’s Sushi & Beyond, What the Japanese know about Cooking:

“Let’s get this straight: the Japanese have always eaten meat. The 730AD decree which is generally held to be the vegetarian watershed, was in reality as much a pragmatic solution to the problem of over-consumption of animals that were needed for farm work; it was intended to stop everyone eating the cows and horses that pulled the ploughs, for which reason pigs were never included. As I have mentioned before, being partial to wild boar, the Japanese promptly re-named them ‘mountain whale’ to circumvent the ‘no meat’ edict. … As noted historian Ishige Maomichi writes in The History and Culture of Japanese Food: ‘The main purpose of the ban was to prohibit the eating of beef and horse meat and protect the livestock population as well as to prevent drought, insect damage and famine. Moreover, it was limited to the spring and summer months which constitute the paddy farming season.’ In fact, the only real concession to the Buddhist principle of avoiding needless bloodshed was to outlaw the indiscriminate trapping of animals and fish. The truth is, the Japanese kept on eating meat using the same excuse that my grandmother employed for her nightly eggnog: that it was for ‘medicinal purposes.’

“Increasing contact with Westerners in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries also alerted the Japanese to the fact that they were physically smaller, a situation they attributed to the Western trader’s meat habit. Around this time … so-called ‘beast restaurants’, serving horse, wild boar and venison, became popular.

“By the second half of the nineteenth century, as the trading ports … opened up to the West, eating meat became yet more popular — even the Emperor was at it and the floodgates opened with his 1872 announcement … that meat was permitted. … Those open ports were also the starting points of a more general craze for Western food and dining practices, such as the use of tables and chairs. Improbable as it may sound, initially at least, the Japanese adopted British cuisine as their favourite foreign food … hence the otherwise perplexing rise of Worcestershire sauce and ‘curry rice’, both still popular in Japan today. … And this is where the misnomer ‘Kobe beef’ stems from. Of all the nineteenth-century international trading posts, Kobe was the most cosmopolitan … and visiting ships always knew they could rely on finding a good steak on arrival. Kobe was the birthplace of one of the most popular ways of eating beef in Japan, …  teppanyaki — in which cubes of beef are briefly seared on a hot plate — invented in the 1950s by an okonomiyaki chef who wanted to offer American diners a dish they might recognize.”

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