Lifestyle & Culture

Kitchen Detail: Misadventures in A5

Peter Luger Steak House’s stock in trade: yards and yard of aging steaks. On the front: “Pack A” from Peter Luger includes four USDA Prime dry-aged strip steaks averaging 24 to 26 ounces each, plus two bottles of Peter Luger steak sauce, for . . . $361.95 plus shipping. From the Peter Luger website.

By Nancy Pollard

After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years—La Cuisine in Alexandria, Virginia—Nancy Pollard writes Kitchen Detail, a blog about food in all its aspects—recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources, and food-related issues.

Bakr's seminsweet chocolate box imageIN THE interests of protecting the innocent and the perpetrators, no names will be mentioned in this post. One of my Fraternal Relations (I have two) was obsessed with eating chocolate (this accusation has been leveled at me as well). In fact, when we were children and were told to go to bed at a criminally early hour by our parents, he and I would walk down the stairs while our parents were trying to enjoy a quiet time with coffee and a teensy but well-deserved brandy. In our pajamas, we would march into the kitchen for a glass of water. The Fraternal Relation was very adroit in telling the parents that we both needed a clean glass, not the toothpaste-smeared one in the bathroom. We then very quietly would open the cupboard door while the water was running in the sink, and remove several squares of Baker’s Semi-Sweet baking chocolate from its box. We then cleverly stuck them carefully in the elasticized waistband of our pajamas and carefully and sweetly walked out of the kitchen, past our seated parents and up the stairs to bed. This went well a few times, until one night I responded to my parents’ questions (which my Fraternal Relation ignored), and as I was answering them, the movement in my body allowed the blocks of chocolate to slip down to the floor by my feet. I was punished, and my chocolate was returned to the cupboard. I don’t remember my Fraternal Relation sharing any of his loot with me.

Following the Path of Diogenes

Wagyu works in progress. From the Peter Luger website.

As this particular person grew older, he became equally obsessed with steak. It was never just any steak. He had long since moved beyond the steak sales at Safeway. He used to call me with his latest discovery in steak perfection, but since I did not share the same intense passion, he found a friend in my spouse. Over the years, the two of them would travel to butchers in out-of-the-way places or new butcher departments in stores. He lamented the lowering of beef standards in the US after US Choice was upgraded to US Prime. The other person in our house was intrigued when my sibling shared with us the divine properties of Kobe beef. And I must admit that even I was impressed, although I am sure we had not purchased it from the right supplier. With the intrusion of the Internet, things looked brighter. We thought we had scored a major victory when we introduced him to Peter Luger steaks (fresh not frozen, delivered next-day air probably at the same cost of a round-trip airfare). Fraternal Relation was impressed, but the victory was short-lived as soon as he stumbled across A5 Wagyu beef, the highest standard, with the most marbling, of the renowned Japanese beef.

Union Meat Market at Eastern Market from their website

Union Meat Market at DC’s Eastern Market.

Very expensive hilarity ensued. He reported to me that a successful sortie to Union Meat Market had been made, and he, with A5 in hand, was driving up to meet his wife who was helping with their grandchildren. He envisioned a rewarding dinner surrounded by adoring relatives, but more important one that featured a home-cooked A5 Wagyu steak. Other people’s issues intervened. There were warnings that the frying pan could not be too hot because it would fill the house with smoke from the fat. Someone had brought an intensely neurotic dog that would routinely run away and needed to be cajoled back with a piece of A5 beef.  The person in charge of the actual cooking had children to feed, people to please. (I didn’t have the heart to ask if a non-stick pan was used. Too horrifying.) The result was a smaller piece of very expensive grayish steak. On a return trip, Fraternal Relation discovered a restaurant that occasionally served A5 steaks with considerable fanfare to those who ordered them. His stars were aligned and he wisely left the extended family and made a solo venture. His message to me was short and rhapsodic. Meanwhile, we had purchased at a local store a rather thin piece of A5 beef (without provenance) and proceeded to sear it in a cast-iron pan as we did with other steaks. The fat exploded out of the meat, leaving an over-seared shrunken steak in a puddle of costly grease.

Road Map to Success

A5 Happy Camper at the KD dining hall

An A5 Happy Camper, aka the Fraternal Relation, at the Kitchen Detail dining hall.

We were bitterly disappointed, but my Fraternal Relation was undeterred and thought that we were simply too easily swayed by one disaster. He returned to the Union Meat Market and queried about the provenance (at my instructions) of their supposed Miyazaki A5 beef. He was allowed to photograph their only brochure so that we would be reassured that it did not come from Texas or Bulgaria, and he promptly bought a generous pound. Clearly I needed to consult the fount of culinary wisdom, YouTube. And really you should, too, as the videos on A5, Kobe, and Wagyu come in all grades. Some were downright comical—one that sticks in my mind was a lesser cut being grilled mercilessly with flies hovering over and on it. But several of the Japanese ones were truly helpful (my favorite one is below) and helped make our joint A5 meal a rousing success.

No Substitute for Experience

Trim your piece precisely, and save these trimmings to be seared separately. I cut mine into small pieces afterward and served them to be finished with the rice and condiments. They are almost like crackling candy. Some videos showed them being mixed in with an egg and rice on the grill.

No high searing on your flat grill surface (or frypan). On the video, you can see that the garlic is being gently “sautéed” on the flat grill, and the steak follows suit. I browned my first try a bit too much, but I pretty much followed what was happening in this video.

Meat must be at room temperature before the grilling process starts. Use freshly ground pepper and fleur de sel as you start to grill each side.

Slice into rectangular logs, and flame with a bit of cognac, turning to brown the newly exposed sides.

I checked with my Thermapen, as I do not have the skill to test with the blade of a spatula as the chef does in the video.

Cut each log into thinner squares and roll from the grill to your spatula.

Freshly made wasabi is definitely preferable.We were ignorant and bought a prepared one, which ended in the bin. Ditto the bottled Ginger Soy Sauce and Teriyaki Sauce. A high-quality dipping sauce (these are easy to make) or Japanese vinegar, miso and soy, fleur de sel and sautéed garlic chips are the only additions you need. In the video, he also presented a Himalayan-style pink salt from Pakistan.

No one needs more than 4 ounces of A5 beef.

Serve plain rice; in this instance, I used Carolina Gold Rice.

Mission accomplished. Can hardly wait to try this again.



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