How to Trim Wagyu for Steak
“I really love wagyu,” says Chef Mike Lim, “in all its forms.”
Chef Mike certainly knows his wagyu; he’s worked with Japan’s prized and pricey beef for over a decade, across a half dozen restaurants. Chef Mike graciously joined us to explain how to expertly trim wagyu, and to share his delicious approach to preparing it as steak.
First, let’s talk a little about Japanese beef:
“Wagyu” refers to just four special breeds of Japanese cattle descended from a mix of domestic and foreign livestock. These cows have a unique trait—they’re genetically predisposed to the marbling of fat on the inside of muscle tissue, significantly more than any other cattle breed. The result is a rich, luscious, decadent beef like no other.
These breeds are further defined by the area where they’re raised and their specific terroir. Chef Mike explains:
“The varieties of wagyu that come from Japan really taste different, depending on the breed, lineage, fat content, feed, and of course, location—whether you’re talking about Sanuki, Omi, Sendai, Nagasaki or Kumamoto wagyu. They all taste different. Omi in a raw form or as tataki is probably the best among all of them. Or if I’m using wagyu as a slightly torched sashimi or nigiri, Hokkaido Snow Beef has unique flavor. For a steak, Nagasaki A4 is meatier, instead of being so fatty and over the top. That’s why I intentionally use an A4 instead of A5 for steak.”
The “A4” and “A5” Chef Mike is referring to are wagyu designations, graded according to yield, marbling and other factors. The highest quality wagyu is rated A4 and A5, with the latter considered the richest, fattiest cuts.
(Check out this link for more details on the varieties of Wagyu.)
Trimming the meat
Now, what about his steak? Unlike, say, braising, when cooking a wagyu steak, Chef Mike explains, “the inedible, chewy sinew is not going to break down.“ So he has to remove sinew, but preserve as much of the precious wagyu as possible.
Which leads him to an innovative approach: To create his steak, Chef Mike separates the cap from the ribeye, trims them both, and then reattaches the parts with all-natural “meat glue.” The result? All the inedible sinew is removed. “You’re left with just pure flavor,” explains the chef.
Let’s watch him work with the cap:
Now that he’s cleaned up the cap, Chef Mike trims the ribeye next:
As he trims, Chef Mike relies on his experience, feel and, of course, his knife. What kind of blade does he work with?
“This is actually an old knife that I’ve had for 20-plus years,” he explains. “A chef gave it to me but it’s lost maybe 60% of its original size. It’s been shaped up to work like a mini-honesuki, perfect for taking off the sinew.”
Other blades Chef Mike recommends for this kind of work?
“I just bought a Nenox ironwood petty to replace my current knife, which will soon be whittled down to nothing,” he says. “A solid petty is a great substitute, or a honesuki.”
Assembling the wagyu steak
Now that he’s trimmed both the cap and eye, Chef Mike is ready to put the two cuts together and assemble his steak. He explains the process:
To recap his technique:
1. Fit together the cap and ribeye
2. Sprinkle transglutaminase to both sides
3. Wrap tightly in film, like “a second skin” (two to three times)
4. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours for the meat to bond
Now Chef Mike is ready to assemble his dish.
Cooking the wagyu steak
With the steak prepped, Chef Mike employs a classic French basting technique to cook it in a carbon steel skillet:
Once rested, Chef Mike slices the steak and serves it on a bed of micro emerald green lettuce and micro watercress dressed in a light yuzu vinaigrette, with the roasted garlic, soy pickled garlic and roasted maitake mushrooms. The result? A steak that is at once rich, complex, layered… and sublime.
Check out these photos of the process and final dish, below. Thank you, Chef Mike!