If you’re fortunate enough to score a top-notch steak, here’s how to treat it right.
BY KRISTY ALPERT
If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on a perfect steak, you want to prepare it like a pro. So here’s how to cook Wagyu at home according to an expert.
Steak night in my household is a special event. It’s a rare treat; and that’s exactly the way my husband grills ‘em. Well, medium rare actually. The man can grill a mean steak, and he does it with confidence each time; which is why when I brought home a thick pair of NY strip Wagyu steaks to celebrate the end of a really tough week, I was surprised to see him shudder with self-doubt while stepping back and saying, “I can’t grill those!”
Grillers’ anxiety is legit a thing. Tons of home cooks get it when grilling anything for others or even for themselves, nervously opening the lid too many times and letting the heat out, overcooking the meat for fear of undercooking it, or even just waffling between the decision whether to marinate or not. Add an $80 artisanal steak to that mix, and the pressure to not “mess it up,” amplifies tenfold.
“Cooking a quality product can be scary,” says Dr. Sheila Patinkin, owner and founder of Vermont Wagyu in Springfield, Vermont. “But it shouldn’t be.”
Wagyu originates from Japan (where “wa” means Japanese and “gyu” means cow), and it was first brought to the United States in 1975. Exporting live Wagyu animals from Japan became illegal in the 1990s, and, as a result, the American Wagyu Association was formed to register Wagyu cattle on U.S. soil. Although the number of breeders and ranchers across the country has increased in recent years, Wagyu still only accounts for less than 1 percent of American cattle.
Dr. Patinkin has been raising authentic Wagyu on her farm in Vermont since 2008 and considers it the “Rolls-Royce of beef.”
“Full-Blood Wagyu beef tastes unlike any other meat,” she explains. “It has an incredible depth and uniqueness of flavor, predominantly because of the impressive marbling of its fat. [It] is high in monounsaturated fats, considered a healthy fat similar to those found in avocados, nuts, and salmon. One hundred percent full-blood Wagyu are also high in Omega-3, Omega-6, and Omega-9 fatty acids, which are essential fatty acids the body cannot produce. These are considered helpful and important in protecting against heart disease and other ailments.”
Wagyu carries a hefty price tag no matter where you are in the world, and in America, Wagyu beef can run anywhere from $22 to more than $300 per serving. Scoring a cut from this prized breed is an investment in quality, and, if you’re fortunate enough to be able to try it, follow Dr. Patinkin’s tips for treating that investment right:
Start at Room Temperature
Don’t Use a Grill
The secret to the best grilled steak is to avoid the grill altogether. Instead, Dr. Patinkin recommends using a heavy bottomed cast iron pan on high heat to sear the steak and ensure the meat comes in contact with the entire cooking surface instead of simply the grill grates.
“Most customers and chefs prefer a quick sear to capture the natural tenderness of our beef,” she adds. Once the pan is heated to high, place the steak on the pan and begin to flip it every minute until it’s reached your desired doneness (medium-rare should be around 6 minutes).
The reverse sear method is also a favorite of many chefs and home cooks.
Stick to Sea Salt
The fat from the Wagyu will add a lot of flavor to the meat, but a good quality sea salt will take the cut to the next level. Season liberally with sea salt before placing the meat in the pan.
Save the Fat
Whether you use a grill or a stovetop to cook your Wagyu, opt for a cooking vessel that allows you to save the fat, suggests Dr. Patinkin. “Store it in glass jars and use it later in lieu of oil or butter in other meals. You’ll never go back!”
Try a Different Cut
No way around it; Wagyu is expensive. Thankfully you don’t have to tackle the tomahawk ($154) to experience what makes Wagyu so special. “Some of our personal favorites are the lesser known but absolutely delicious cuts such as the Bavette (flap) steak ($30), Denver steak ($22-$40), and chuck eye steak ($22-$36),” Dr. Patinkin explains. “The Bavette is similar to a skirt steak and is especially enjoyable when cut into thin slices. The real show stealers are our burgers and all-beef sausages. Our burgers are absolutely packed with flavor. I like to start them on a cast iron on top of the grill and then move them to direct flame after the fat has been sealed in to harness some direct heat before serving.”
Finish with Butter
In a small ramekin, melt a tablespoon or more of butter (add a clove of garlic if you’re into that), and baste the steak with a spoon for the last minute. This softens the charred exterior and adds extra flavor and richness to the steak. “We sometimes finish our steaks on the grill on top of a bundle of thyme or another herb from our farm garden to let the aroma and oils from the herb add another flavor profile,” Dr. Patinkin suggests.
Let It Rest
Once the steak has finished cooking, let it rest anywhere between 5-10 minutes before cutting into it.
“Cooking should be fun, so take a light-hearted approach and don’t let it stress you out,” Dr. Patinkin advises. “Enjoy the process and know that we’re here to help. One of our passions is to encourage our customers to know their farmers. It’s now more important than ever to reconnect with your food and your farmers. I always encourage people to experiment and find what they love the most and to let us know by email or on Instagram @VTwagyu. We regularly share customer posts and stories and often incorporate customer recipes online. Once you join the herd, you’re part of our family.”
Where to Buy Wagyu Steak
Now that you know how to cook it with confidence, here are a handful of online sources that will ship Wagyu steak to you:
Kristy Alpert is a freelance travel and food writer on the hunt for the obscure and untold stories around the world. Her passion for savoring the local flavor of a destination has led to her unearthing bread baking secrets on Muhu Island to chiseling ancient ice for martinis in Antarctica. Kristy has won numerous international awards for her writing. See her bylines in Cosmopolitan, Food & Wine, Men’s Health, Fodor’s Travel, American Way, and more.