Steam some rice, fry up some mushrooms and garnish with some slices of the best wagyu you can afford…done! What’s the big deal?
It’s true, great ingredients can and should really sing out in a dish. But, there’s so much more to it than that, getting every last note out of each element is critical, and can only be achieved by walking along a culinary knife edge, on one side perfection, the other a costly step too far.
The creator of Sake Central’s popular Wagyu Rice dish, Chef Marco Livoti, knows this only too well after weeks of tinkering with what seems, on the outside, a relatively simple dish.
“The inspiration for this dish comes from my love of mushrooms. Within Veneto and around Vicenza, my hometown, we eat and enjoy many types of mushrooms and so I came up with the idea to create some sort of Japanese mushroom risotto”, explains Marco.
Incorporating the learnings and successes of a recent dish - Wagyu Tartare - the journey to Wagyu Rice began and quite quickly the defining identity of the dish came together. The indulgent unctuousness of wagyu beef, coupled with the earthy forest floor aromas of mushrooms naturally all led Marco down Umami Avenue:
“However this dish developed, it had to deliver an umami bomb to the customer each time, and this seemed to be an idea that would work well here where we offer so many sakes that could match the potential levels of richness”.
So let’s take a closer look at how this dish is built.
The base is steamed rice grown in Aomori, the northernmost Prefecture in the Tohoku region just south of Hokkaido, with ideal cool summer growing conditions and bountiful pure waters. These plump grains are soft to the touch but remain separated, allowing them to easily incorporate some chopped shallot for a little bite.
Seasoning of the rice comes in the form of light shoyu - soy sauce - rather than salt. Soy sauce which is manufactured by fermenting soybeans using koji-kin in a process that has parallels to sake production. You can see right away where Marco was going with this.
Next into the bowl is the dish’s inspiration and we’ve kept the Italian heritage alive with the name: Mushroom Ragu. However here shiitake takes over from porcini but what these skinny stemmed shrooms lack in stature, is made up with by their good meaty flavours.
Treating them with respect, Marco gently slow cooks them for an hour to retain not only the texture but to prevent all the good stuff leeching out and evaporating into the ether from the pan. Garlic, shallot and olive oil - an Italian triumvirate - are added and caramelised to max out the flavours. Finally, we flambé the ragu with sake, naturally, and chop it all by hand, ready for service.
Now for the Tare Egg Yolk and time to crank up the umami again. Essentially, this is the sauce in this dish, to be broken and swirled through the rice and ragu. We gently prepare our yolks by poaching them to 65C in the umami-rich tare, made from soy sauce, bonito flakes and konbu. We want it just cooked but at maximum ooze.
And so to the protagonist and rockstar in this bowl of lusciousness! Bring on the A4 wagyu striploin. Although Miyazaki wagyu isn’t yet the global rockstar of beef that is Kobe wagyu, the quality is becoming more and more known outside of Japan and for now this is exactly why we use it.
“Striploin has really great fat levels and more meatiness in terms of taste than other cuts of beef and A4 is the right grade for this dish”, explains Marco. Just one level down from the uber-marbled top grade, A4 proves simply more enjoyable for eating whereas A5 is really an experience in its own right and shouldn’t be complicated and compromised by other rich flavours.
A gentle melting of the copious fat under the salamander and the wagyu is ready to enrobe the rice and tare yolk in folds of bovine decadence. A quick scrunch of sea salt (from Maldon’s clay-lined salt pans dating back to Roman times, something Marco is particularly proud of!) works well with the richness of the wagyu.
Almost there, just a sprinkle of finely sliced spring onion remains to be added, the tartness and acidity cut wonderfully well through the abundance of fatty goodness. The humblest ingredient in the dish actually, but taking on a key role that it plays brilliantly. The green also adds a welcome splash of colour.
So there you have it, the umami bomb is deployed. But there’s more…
Proving more popular than not is the almost irresistible Truffle add on. Right now, the Australian winter black truffle is at its richest, offering up dark chocolate and cocoa notes, with a photogenic distinctive black and white marbling of its own.
But it’s more than just a treat for your Instagram feed. Truffle, mushroom, beef, yolk - what a combination and one to enjoy in its prime at this time of year. Better still, Chef Marco or Vincent will grate to order tableside, allowing you to experience the aroma overload first hand!
But what to drink with this proliferation of earthy goodness? Well there’s a saying that what grows together, goes together so we recommend Kunisaki Tokubetsu Junmai from Oita Prefecture that borders Miyazaki Prefecture on the island of Kyushu. It’s an umami laden bold and full bodied sake, a worthy match to take on the dish.
Fittingly, Tokubetsu translates as special, and it doesn’t get more special than this gift inspired by Italy.
Will Jarvis is based in Hong Kong and the author behind Sake Matters, focusing on the Japanese beverage and surrounding culture. Will has previously worked for a variety of international food businesses around the world, is a trained chef and certified Sake scholar.