By PAUL SIDORIAK
If beef is what’s for dinner, Montana Wagyu beef makes dinner very, very special.
I often travel around Montana for work. Rallying the roads, I try to keep my eye out for a farmer, butcher, meat packer, or processor who is willing to sell local meat directly to the public or, in my case, just some guy off the street. On occasion, I get lucky and have been rewarded with some fantastic local products that you could never buy at the big box store.
There are about six places across Montana where I have had really good luck buying local protein. Cow, fish, fowl, or pig, these small-scale meat purveyors often have fantastic stories to tell. This is an example of one such find and how it migrated from farm to grill.
Kobe beef is an ingredient that has always intrigued me. Wikipedia tells us that Kobe “refers to cuts of beef from the black Tajima-ushi breed of Wagyu cattle, raised according to strict tradition in Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan. The meat is generally considered to be a delicacy, renowned for its flavor, tenderness, and fatty, well-marbled texture.”
Unfortunately, “despite many American beef products being labeled Kobe, authentic Japanese Kobe beef is not available for sale anywhere outside Japan.” The good news for us is that a version of this beef exists on domestic soil in the form of Wagyu beef.
Q: So what really is the difference between Kobe and Wagyu beef?
A: Wagyu is a breed of cattle, originating in Japan. Kobe is the beef produced in Japan from a Wagyu cow.
So if you see Kobe beef on the menu, it’s actually American “style” Kobe beef, served with a side of loose interpretation. To put it in perspective, we commonly know Champagne as a sparkly, bubbly wine. Chances are. the Champagne you are drinking is probably sparkling wine. It might be similar, but Champagne technically only comes from Champagne, France.
I was on the hunt for some American-style Kobe or Wagyu beef. I’ve searched and scoured the web for an extended period of time, mostly to see what’s available. Yes, there are plenty of places online that will sell you great-looking beef, but often at a cost that rivals silver or gold prices per ounce. Did I have an excuse to justify such a purchase? There were no birthdays or anniversaries coming up ending in zero so I needed a better excuse.
After all of my searching, it dawned on me that I had never tried to find a purveyor here in Montana. After a quick search for Montana Wagyu beef, I was on the website of the Montana Wagyu Cattle Company out of Belgrade, MT.
I was enamored with what the website had to offer. Just knowing that I could source this luxury item locally was all the excuse I needed to afford a special occasion. A few minutes later, I sent an email to Rick Wolenski of Montana Wagyu Cattle Company, asking if he would fill an order for someone that was long on curiosity and short on quantity. Rick was very accommodating and agreed to allow me to purchase a small sampling of his products. I ordered a couple of rib eyes, sirloins, four burgers, and a petite filet (apparently not a tenderloin).
Driving west out of Billings, I met Rick to pick up the beef while he was making restaurant deliveries at some of the more clued-in establishments in the Gallatin Valley. We chatted about the growing popularity of his beef and some of the places across the country where he ships it. When they age their beef, they don’t just age certain cuts of beef, they age the whole animal! Hung, dressed, and ready to be the belle of the ball, all of this meat is aged for 28 to 30 days before it’s cut into steaks, chops and burgers. Apparently, this really intensifies the robust and unique flavor that comes with grass-fed beef.
I couldn’t wait to steer home for a sample, and I hit the highway with thoughts of what preparation would be suitable. I settled on a version of the TRex method of cooking. It works well for thicker cuts of meat and the concept is fairly simple. Sear the meat at a very high temperature for a short period of time and then let it rest. Finish to your desired doneness at a lower temperature.
The Big Green Egg’s charcoal was lit and its temperature climbed swiftly to over 750 degrees. I adjusted the airflow and it stabilized around 600 degrees – a perfect temperature for searing. I figured we would sample a rib eye and a sirloin to compare flavors. The steaks were seasoned simply. The rib eye got only salt and cracked black pepper. The sirloin got a homemade coffee rub, which I created, just for the fun of it. The coffee rub included roasted cumin, coriander, and black pepper all ground up with some coffee beans. The seasoning went on five minutes before the grilling process began.
When I dropped the meat on the grill, the meat was a little cooler than room temperature, but not for long. It seared fast and furiously. I went 90 seconds a side on the cast-iron grill grate and then set the steaks aside to rest under a tent of tinfoil.
While they rested, I soaked some local morel mushrooms in a salt-water bath in anticipation of making a morel sauce for the steaks. They soaked for a half hour before they drained. I sautéed diced onion and shallots in butter with fresh garlic and added the mushrooms so they could pick up some flavor. I deglazed with Pendleton whiskey and finished with some cream.
By then, the steaks had had a nice long rest and were ready for a trip back to the grill. The Egg temperature had come down to 400 degrees – a perfect temperature for roasting to the finish. I put the steaks back on, with a digital thermometer inserted in the smaller sirloin. The internal temperature slowly climbed back up; at 123 degrees, I pulled the meat.
Again, I allowed it to rest under a tent of foil while I finished the side dishes. It is amazing how much meat will continue to cook after you take it off the grill. My thermometer continued to rise and the meat gained another 12 degrees before if finally finished cooking. It’s always a good idea to let your meat rest for at least 10 minutes after grilling to allow the juices to redistribute and prevent them from running out once the meat is cut. Mine rested for over a half hour before dinner was served.
Our veggie was asparagus wrapped in prosciutto that was grilled just before dinner. Grilling the prosciutto gives it a wonderful crispy crunch and adds a harmonized salty flavor to the asparagus. You do not need to grill it for long, but making sure you get some color on your veggie will guarantee you get extra flavor points.
I sliced the steaks thinly and plated them alongside the grilled asparagus and morel mushrooms. The steaks each had a different flavor. The sirloin was richer and more earthy, while the rib eye had a lustrous mouth feel with its unmistakable marbling.
I got the same warm satisfied feeling enjoying these steaks as I did when I was a teenager and had to wait a couple of years for the new rollercoaster to finish being built at the amusement park. It seems like you wait a long time before you actually have the opportunity to try it out. The anticipation equally meets with curiosity and before it happens, you wonder if it will live up to the hype.
I knew from the second I unwrapped the steaks that they lived up to the hype. They seemed to be from a pedigree more refined than what I was accustomed to. They smelled good raw. They looked beautiful, and they even felt good when I patted them dry and applied the seasoning. The taste was an amusement park of flavors in my mouth. An explosion of excitement, that made me want to ride the ride again and again. Or in this case, indulge in another slice.
After all this time, I am glad I made an excuse to try some Montana-raised Wagyu beef. What’s your excuse?
Check out Paul’s other tasty summer grilling recipes, Chinook Salmon with Grilled Rice, The Best Burger Grill-Off Competition, and Carne Asada Fajitas with Grilled Veggies, and stay tuned for more delicious grilling recipes all summer long!
Paul moved to Montana in 1996 with about a dozen friends from Lyndon State College in Vermont. He is still reluctantly paying his student loans and has carved out a career working as a supplier representative for various food and beverage products.
Paul enjoys grilling after a day on the water or an afternoon in the garden, where he has been known to grow heirloom tomatoes and peppers out of spite. Often cooking for extended family and friends, he takes a whimsical approach to cooking simple, seasonal dishes, while not taking it too seriously.
Paul does all of his grilling on the Big Green Egg Grill–Available in Missoula at the Axmen.
You can read more of Paul’s grilling recipes at his blog site, Montana Mise en Place.