How enticing is corned beef? Astronaut John Young once snuck a corned beef sandwich on Gemini 3 in the pocket of his spacesuit. That’s how enticing. And we’re pretty sure Wagyu corned beef didn’t exist in 1965. If it had, John might have had a whole smoked brisket in his pocket.
That’s why we’re going to give you everything you need to know about Wagyu corned beef. And then some. We’re going to tell you what it is, where it came from, and how to make it. Then we’re going to talk about the best cut (brisket) and introduce you to some delicious recipes.
Wagyu loosely translates to “Japanese cattle.” And corned beef is typically made from brisket. So Wagyu corned beef is corned beef made from the brisket cut of Angus cattle carrying the DNA of a Japanese cow.
But not just any Japanese cow—a specific breed known as Tajima.
Tajima cattle, raised in the Hyogo prefecture of Japan, are coveted for their superior marbling. Kobe—perhaps the most misused term in all of beef—is the capital of Hyogo.
If you’re determined to squeeze yourself down the rabbit hole of Kobe politics, there’s an excellent article on chefseattle.com titled: The Real Beef On Kobe Beef that detangles the whole controversy in less time than it takes to grill a T-bone.
Since we’ve already waded into the murky waters of historical verbiage (thanks, Kobe), we may as well tackle the misleading nature of corned beef. In Old English, “corn” was a common term used to describe anything with a similar consistency to the seeds of cereal grains. In this case: the large-grained rock salt used to cure the beef.
In the end, “corned” beef is simply beef preserved in salt, a practice dating back thousands of years.
The name stuck, probably due to the tradition of corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day, leaving us with a tasty little slice of history.
Historically, cows in Ireland were a sign of wealth and prized for their dairy. Only royalty and the extremely wealthy could afford to eat them. Ireland’s culinary history features a lengthy love affair with all things pork. In the 1600s, an Irish table on St. Patrick’s Day was laden with bacon and cabbage.
Legend has it when the first wave of Irish immigrants reached the US, kosher butchers maintained a steady supply of affordable brisket. Eastern Jewish immigrants squeezed into the same neighborhoods as Irish settlers, diversified the dinner table, and elevated St. Patrick’s Day forever.
One thing’s for sure; corned beef travels well. In the 17th century, the British lust for beef turned the Irish countryside into one big cattle ranch. The meat was salt-cured and shipped back to England, where they coined it “corned beef” to describe the rock salt used in the curing process.
Since then, corned beef has been a staple for US troops in both World War I and II and has long been a staple of the Israeli military (called loof).
Today, Brazil has the largest canned corned beef production, contributing to a range of nostalgia-inducing comfort dishes throughout the Caribbean.
The leaner flat cut, or “first cut,” is the deep pectoral of the brisket. Although, being leaner than the point doesn’t make it lean. A layer of fat separates the two—also called the nose—part of which will blanket your brisket. (As you’ll read below, this is a good thing.)
Brisket is one of the nine primal cuts. It wears a prodigious fat cap, the flesh beneath laced with connective tissue. The fat cap helps to keep the meat from drying out during the prolonged cooking process. Slow cooking helps integrate the gelatin with the leaner meat to create a succulent brisket.
For the ultra-beef nerds out there, brisket’s IMPS is 120A.
Corned beef is either cured in salt or brined in spices. The majority of recipes call for pickling spices. Most corned beef is pre-cured, but you can certainly try it at home. A salt-rub or brine is a multi-day process, but you’ll have the freedom to experiment with your spice blend.
Mass-produced corned beef uses saltpeter, or sodium nitrate, as a preservative. Sodium nitrate also preserves the pigment of the meat, maintaining that characteristic pinkish hue.
The key to cooking all raw corned beef is low and slow. Other preparation methods exist, but a smoker or slow-cooker is the best way to get the best out of your Wagyu brisket.
If you own a smoker and know how to use it—you know who you are; you’ve never hired a plumber, and your ax-throwing slab has a well-marred bullseye—feel free to skip this section.
If you’re not a seasoned pro, there are several great reasons a smoker can enhance your Wagyu corned beef brisket. For starters, wood smoke adds flavor. Before you cover the meat, fat drips on the coals and further seasons the smoke in the beginning stages of the smoking process.
Some popular smoker hardwoods are Oak, Pecan, Hickory, and Mesquite. You can use a combination of hardwood and charcoal, all hardwood, or experiment with your own unique blend. It’s helpful to think of using hardwood species like a chef uses spices.
If you’re short on time or an adherent of Dudeism, you’re going to appreciate the slow-cooker method. Some recipes call for the addition of root vegetables or potatoes just before the meat is tender. If so, you may have to revisit the pot. Otherwise, you can pretty much add all the ingredients to the slow-cooker, set it on low, and return eight hours later to a delicious meal.
If you’re in the market for Wagyu, chances are you’ve already mastered the art of cooking brisket. If you’re venturing into raw corned beef for the first time, we’ve put together a list of fantastic recipes listed by the cooking method to get you fired up.
Whether you choose to follow one of these recipes, combine them, or create your own, Wagyu DNA is sure to launch your St. Patrick’s Day feast into orbit and render your corned beef brisket out of this world.
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