Mad cows in Kobe

I am putting this blog post together just before lunch time and its not easy as it is making me incredibly hungry.

One of our fantastic Japan staff, Ayako Kiyono recently took it upon herself to visit a Kobe beef farm.  I am sure that you have heard of Kobe Beef, but these days the term ‘Kobe Beef’ seems to be linked to any meat where the animals have been reared slightly differently to the usual methods as I recently found on a trip to Cornwall. The landlord of a pub and farmer was feeding his cows and pigs on local beer and producing his own, “Kobe beef and pork”. It was nice, but it certainly wasn’t the real McCoy.

The real Kobe beef is produced in the Hyogo area of Japan and Kiyono san wanted to actually see what went into producing the finest beef in the world. She travelled to Takami Kobe Beef farm in the rural town of Ichijima to find out and here is what she discovered.

 

What is the Kobe Beef?

No cows are born to be “Kobe Beef” cow.

Only Tajima-gyu cows (special breed in Hyogo prefecture) that satisfy the specific quality criteria deserve the title “Kobe Beef”.

Roughly 3000 Tajima-gyu cows manage to pass the criteria and titled as Kobe Beef every year.

Takami san delivered this calf the previous night and is nursing it himself.

Who discovered Kobe Beef for the first time?

Surprisingly, it was an Englishman! Until 1868, Japanese were not accustomed to eating meat, but that year, Kobe opened its doors to foreign trade as an international port and Kobe Beef was eaten for the first time.

 How are the cows raised?

The mother and baby names are written next to each calf.

At the Takami Kobe Beef Farm, the following methods are use for their cows;

Cows drink Sakamizu water. Sakamizu refers to spring water that is used to brew fine Sake.

Cows take a shower twice a day. (Shampoo and treatment)

Cows are talked to by farmers. (Farmers check each cows health by talking to them)

Each cow has Japanese name and taken care very well by farmers.

Cows are watched 24h through security camera.

Cows do not do any exercise.

Calves relax. No moooving for these cows!

 Are there any problems with raising pure-blood Tajima-Gyu?

Pure-blood Tajima Cows are not as healthy as their half-blood counterpart.

Pure-blood cows tend to be born premature and grow slowly.

New calves are kept in their own shed.

 What is special about Kobe Takami Beef Farm?

Takami Kobe Beef Farm won the championship for Kobe Beef 2010 and the farm has an official license.

Normally, each process, such as breeding, raising, and fattening are done separately by different farmers who is specialized in each process. Visitors to Takami can observe all the processes that go into raising a ‘Kobe Beef Cow’.

The highest grade kobe beef.

Takami Beef Farm has restaurants where visitors are able to enjoy fresh Kobe beef for reasonable prices. Try a Kobe beef rice bowl (Gyudon) or  1260 yen or the best Takami Kobe beef course at lunch time for an incredible 3800 yen.

 

Takami Kobe Beef Farm is approximately a 2h 15 minute train ride from Kyoto by train. If you want to eat the best beef in the world and at a decent price…and see exactly what goes into producing it, then it might be worth a visit. Let us know and we can organise it for you!

 

Rolled Sushi

Traditional nigiri sushi – a block of rice with raw fish on top – is great if you have easy access to a variety of very fresh fish, as it emphasises the fish’s subtle and delicate flavour. Unfortunately, availability of a range of fresh fish of a suitable quality is rare when living in the UK. Rolled sushi, however, enables you to introduce more variety in your sushi making by incorporating other ingredients such as cooked seafood, avocado and cucumber. It is even possible to eliminate raw fish altogether! Personally, I think that raw salmon is the best fish for rolled sushi, and is also the one fish which is readily available in all supermarkets. This is my favourite recipe: salmon and avocado. Do be aware that rice will absorb varying quantities of water depending on type and how it’s stored, so be prepared to adjust the volume of water if it doesn’t work for you.

Ingredients (40 pieces)

Rolls

370g Japanese rice
500ml water (1.25 cups of water per cup of rice)
5 nori seaweed sheets (each sheet yields 8 pieces)
240g fresh raw salmon, cut into thin strips
2 big avocados, cut into thin strips
5 tbsp sesame seeds
Mayonnaise

Sushi Seasoning

20ml rice vinegar
2 heaped tsp sugar
¼ tsp salt
Or use 20ml of ready made seasoning.

Dipping Sauce

Soy sauce mixed with wasabi to taste (be careful, wasabi is potent)

Equipment

Large tray for cooling rice
Stiff spatula
Sushi rolling mat

Wash the rice in water (either through a sieve or in a pan) to remove some of the starch. Put the rice in a pan and add the water. Put it on a high heat until it comes to the boil then turn the heat down to the minimum. Cook for 10 minutes then remove from heat and allow to stand for at least 15 minutes. Spread the rice over the tray and let it cool. If you’re making your own seasoning then put all seasoning ingredients in a small pan and heat slowly until the sugar has dissolved, then allow to cool. Once everything has reached room temperature, sprinkle the seasoning over the rice and fold in with a wooden spoon.
Take one sheet of seaweed and, with the shiny side down, spread on the rice firmly and uniformly with the spatula; leaving a 1 inch strip at the top with no rice (this “tab” will be used to seal the roll). Don’t be afraid to press the rice down forcefully. Next, place the seaweed and rice onto the mat. With the tab at one end, lay the salmon and avocado across the rice in one line, spread a little mayonnaise and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Then roll the sushi by lifting the mat at the end with the filling and, whilst carefully holding the filling, firmly roll towards the tab. Use the tab to seal the roll, applying a little water may help.

sushi rolling final

With a sharp, thin knife, slice the sushi into 8 pieces (wiping the blade frequently with a wet cloth will help achieve a clean cut). Present on a plate with the dipping sauce in a separate dish.

Wasabi

Wasabi

Wasabi

Wasabi comes from the same family as horseradish and has a similar flavour (and a similar effect on the nose). It comes either as a paste in a tube (shown right) or as a powder which needs to be reconstituted.

Soy Sauce

Kikkoman Soy Sauce
Kikkoman Soy Sauce

Japanese soy sauce is very different to the Chinese variety you may use in your stir-fries. A good Japanese soy sauce should only be made from soy beans, wheat, salt and water and is delicious used as a dip (think of sushi). Chinese soy sauce (or poorer quality Japanese soy sauce), whilst good for cooking, is too heavy and does not make a good accompaniment to subtle Japanese cuisine. I would recommend Kikkoman brand soy sauce which is available in all Asian supermarkets and even at Tesco.

Rice Vinegar & Sushi Rice Seasoning

Sushi rice (or simply; sushi) is not the same as the plain boiled rice which accompany most meals in Japan: it is made with slightly less water and is seasoned with vinegar, sugar and salt. The seasoning mixture and be prepared easily (see Rolled Sushi recipe) using Japanese Rice Vinegar or can be bought ready made as Sushi Rice Seasoning (both available at Asian supermarkets).

rice vinegar……………… sushi seasoning

Rice Vinegar……………. Sushi Seasoning

Nori (seaweed sheets)

Nori

Nori

These are very thin sheets of laver which have been toasted. Look for a Japanese brand which will be strong enough to cope with being rolled (some Korean brands can be rather holey and brittle). It may be called Yakinori which simply means toasted nori.

Japanese Rice

Japanese Rice

Japanese Rice

Japanese rice is different to the Indian varieties you might be used to in the UK. It is short grained and sticky when cooked which allows it to be picked-up by chopsticks. You will be charged a premium for genuine Japanese rice from Japan, but Japanese rice is also grown in other countries and this can be sourced from Asian supermarkets at a cheaper price.

Japanese Cuisine

tempura

This marks the start of new series of posts focusing on Japanese recipes and food. The recipes will be carefully put together to show that it is possible to produce authentic Japanese food with ingredients readily available from your local supermarket.

I think Japanese cuisine is more varied than any other I have encountered. Lining the streets of any Japanese town you will find restaurants serving dishes as diverse as fresh and simple sushi, to spicy and satisfying ramen noodles; from delicate tempura, to the Sumo wrestlers’ favourite stew: chanko-nabe. It is quite easy to spend a week dining in Japan without encountering the same cooking style twice. One commonality, however, is freshness and quality of ingredients. This is important, as Japanese dishes tend to be based on just a few core flavours. But this is not to say that Japan does not have its share of hearty, rustic and highly seasoned food.

One thing that frustrates me about many Japanese cookery books is the author’s assumption that even the most exotic of ingredients are easily and cheaply available at my local Tesco. This is rarely the case, and the resulting search for substitute ingredients – that I’m not familiar with in the first place – leaves me feeling that I’m veering further away from an authentic result. Some specialist ingredients are required for certain dishes, but I have chosen only those dishes that can be completely – and authentically – reproduced with ingredients that can be bought from most Asian supermarkets. If access to an Asian supermarket is difficult, the ingredients can be readily bought online; try: http://www.japanesekitchen.co.uk. I will also provided pictures of the key ingredients, so you can easily identify the correct items if the array of similarly packaged products becomes confusing.

I would love to know how you get on with these recipes, so feel free to contact me at:
liam@insidejapantours.com

Many thanks, Liam.

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