Wed, 06 Aug 2003

'Wagyu' beef on offer at Intercontinental's food festival

Maria Endah Hulupi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Beef lovers demand a thick cut of finely marbled, premium grade beef, ensuring succulence, perfect tenderness and a deep, rich flavor. One beef that fits this description is wagyu.

Wagyu refers to any breed of cattle native to Japan, which are generally black in color. In the Japanese language, the word wagyu is derived from two words: wa means Japanese and gyu means beef.

Despite its famous reputation, there is often a misunderstanding about wagyu beef and Kobe beef. In the past, Kobe beef referred to cattle that was specifically bred and raised in Kobe prefecture, Japan. But today most Kobe beef, including wagyu beef, is bred in California and Australia where, unlike in Japan, land and feed is relatively inexpensive.

When the cattle is ready for slaughter, it is shipped to Kobe to be raised and fed based on the strict specifications for Kobe beef before it is slaughtered.

Wagyu beef is famous around the world as the smoothest, most delicious and most marbled beef. Some connoisseurs even liken the richness and smoothness of wagyu beef to the delicate foie gras.

And this is not without reason, since with the right technique the beef can be prepared into an extremely tender, succulent steak that fork and knife will glide through, and which will release delicious juices when chewed.

Luca Pezzera, chef de cuisine at the Intercontinental Midplaza Hotel in Jakarta, said wagyu beef could be easily identified by its high marbling and the intensity of the white streaks in its flesh, which is the fat content.

"This marbling contributes not only to tenderness and juiciness, but more importantly to taste," Luca said during a food tasting at the hotel's stylish Scusa restaurant.

The food tasting was held ahead of the restaurant's Wagyu Beef Festival from Aug. 6 to Aug. 17, jointly sponsored by PT Bogacitra Nusapratama and Bir Bintang.

The hotel is importing specially bred wagyu beef from Australia for the festival.

Luca said research at Washington State University in the U.S. indicated that the infra-muscular fat of wagyu cattle contained high levels of mono-unsaturated fats with a lower level of saturated fat.

"This makes wagyu beef flavorful and healthier than any other breed of cattle."

This delicate beef also requires delicate handling, especially during cooking.

"The tender texture of wagyu beef can only be maintained with the right cooking technique, which is usually done by searing," Luca said.

During the tasting, Luca also performed a cooking demonstration, preparing two dishes featured in the beef promotion: beef salad with sauteed forest mushrooms and rosemary garlic croutons, and grilled tenderloin with Parmesan risotto and duck liver mousse.

For the grilled tenderloin, the chef seasoned a thick cut of wagyu beef and cooked it using a variety of methods, including searing it on the stove, grilling it and then baking it. But all were done very briefly, so as not to expose the fragile beef to the heat for too long. The result was a juicy steak that was brown on the outside but tender and palatable on the inside.

Other special dishes on the menu for the festival include warm beef carpaccio with melted fontina cheese spinach and truffle oil, and grilled rib eye with baked eggplant, grilled asparagus and roasted tomato salsa.

Luca, who specializes in Mediterranean cuisine, is using mostly natural herbs and spices to season the delectable wagyu dishes featured in the festival.