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Book Review–Steak:One man’s search for the world’s tastiest piece of beef,” by Mark Schatzker

December 8, 2010

Today we present you with a partial book review of “Steak: One man’s search for the world’s tastiest piece of beef,” by Mark Schatzker. We say partial because we only want to review the part that is relevant to you and me, the section on Japan and cows. You did not come to this blog to learn about how Japan relates to chickens or giant salamanders, so let us commence with our “partial book review.”

Mark starts out telling us about his love for cows, albeit in the strictly savory sense. Mark points out that use modern cows are descendants of the aurochs, a species of cattle present half a million years ago. With such a long history, and with so many ancestors, now you understand why cows in Japan are so busy at Obon. We have hoards of herds of dead relatives visiting!

But as Mark prefers cows as cuisine, we must get on to the most important chapter in the book, Chapter 5, called simply “Japan.” Keep in mind that Mark travelled to many countries to find out how different cultures raised, prepared and cooked their beef. He went to France, Scotland, Italy, Argentina, the U.S, Scotland and Japan (so many cows, such little time!). I think Mark’s advice to cows in general would be to avoid the US and aim for Scotland or Japan to settle down.

Okay now, where’s the beef?

Chapter 5: Japan

According to Mark, what distinguishes Kobe beef from others is that it is all grade A5, which, despite being a popular paper size in Japan for printers and copiers, is also a designation for the highest quality of beef. This may also be why beef, like shabu-shabu, is so often served in paper-thin slices.

Japan had a ban on eating beef for over a thousand years, thanks largely to our friends the Buddhist Priests, who are (were) vegetarian. This cow protection law was scrapped in 1868 during the Meiji Era when the emperor decided Japan had to open up to the West and their heathen ways of eating 4-legged animals.*(see hoofnote at bottom)

Like so many customs imported from China and Korea, the Japanese perfected their own brand of this new beef custom. By the 1950s they had cooking beef down to an art that distinguished Japanese beef from all others.

On a lighter note, Mark points out that despite the Japanese professed love for beef, they eat only a third the amount of beef as Americans do. Isn’t that nice?

Now on to the origin of Black Wagyu beef.

Two thousand years ago Black Wagyu were brought from other parts of Asia to Japan as slave labor: for plowing rice fields and hauling lumber. Black Wagyu, apparently, marble easier than other breeds and the marbling is reportedly softer.

One breed of Black Wagyu is Matsusaka. Matsusaka beef is from virgin female cows who have lived in the Matsusaka part of Japan longer than anywhere else. Whereas cows in the US are “finished” (fattened for slaughter) in 5 months, cows in Japan are finished for 30 months and some even 35 months. Thank you very much.

The Kobe beef cows enjoy gourmet food such as hay, wheat, crushed soybeans, corn, rice straw and barley. This is as opposed to corn-fed cattle in the US, a percentage of whom die before they are “finished” because the corn is so bad for their digestive tracts.

One rather alarming thing Mark reveals is: “Everything I’d been told about Japanese cows was false. The accounts of sake-soaked massages, buckets of beer, and Mozart piano concertos were all myths.”

The cows at Humor-Us feel this was too much information, very much along the lines of a WikiLeak, and we don’t endorse this kind of potentially false information being made public. Instead, we invite our readers and fans to feel free, anytime, to offer their favorite bovine a beer and a massage. We deserve that at least for providing fodder for you humans. We also like moosic, although the calves these days don’t even know who Moozart is. They prefer J-Pop.

We found the last chapter, about Mark eating his own cow, a bit hard to chew. Upon killing, slaughtering and preparing his pet cow, “Fleurance,” he then fed her to his children, who were still babies at the time. “Feeding Fleurance to my offspring satisfied an inner desire I hadn’t realized I possessed,” he said proudly. He didn’t say what that inner desire was, nor do we really want to know, but I would advise the Mark against keeping any other pets.

*Hoofnote–This complies with the information in the bovine chronicles of Japan, called the cow-jiki (牛事記 ) a collection of stories concerning the origins of cows in Japan.

Buy this book on Amazon (no, we don’t get a kickback, mainly because cows prefer to kick from the side).

Buy the Kindle version (much cheaper)

What, you don’t have a Kindle? (gasp!) Buy one here:

US$139.00 version with Wi-Fi

US$189.00 version with Free 3G and Wi-Fi

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