Flamethrowers on Wagyu
A-Frame, round two.
Tapas style. Furikake Kettle Corn - sold out. Sadface. Clam Chowder. Octopi L.A. Wagyu Beef Tataki.
Second encounter in the land of Roy Choi. Dishes this time around were just as good as last time, if not better. I think the description was “spectacular, to the point where I didn’t even need to be anywhere close to full to be satisfied.” I guess that saves me alot of writing.
Portion size on the tataki dish was minuscule but no matter; the result was a fresh explosion of deliciousness in my mouth.
Tataki, in Japanese, means “pounded;” a piece of meat or fish is “hit to pieces,” and subsequently seared off and marinated in a bit of vinegar n’ ginger. In the case of the A-frame tataki, there were thinly sliced pearl onions, pickled jalapeno, and a shoyu vinaigrette instead of the normal vinegar.
Usually, when I see that thin meats are “quick seared,” I wonder if the process is accomplished with a hand-held blowtorch, or an extremely hot pan. The amount of control involved with the hot pan makes it difficult. Thin meat, ridiculously hot thick pan, makes it a delicate process. A mere 2-3 seconds can result in a cooked disaster. On the other hand, a hand-held blow-torch sounds very “chefy,” but does it impart a propane-ish aftertaste? Does it provide enough BTUs to properly sear off a dish? Is it cost efficient? I didn’t taste anything much like propane in the tataki, but it could be a thought experiment.
So, we investigate.
I dug up a patent article from the 1980’s involving the pre-cooking of hamburger meat using a blowtorch-like apparatus, which is basically the hand-held blowtorches we find in restaurants across the world today. The intended application back in the 1980’s, from the patent written by James L. Harkins, goes something like this.
The object of the invention was to “provide a method of cooking and browning meats quickly…browning can be completed manually on each side in less than two minutes. After searing, meat portions may be placed on a absorbent material, then placed in a storage compartment…When it is desired to cook the meat portions…the portions are placed in a microwave oven and cooked in a short period of time. The result is a hamburger patty or other cut of meat that is cooked to taste and is brown on the surface, giving it an appetizing and tempting appearance.”
Yeah, tempting appearance, sure. Appetizing? Doubt it.
Mechanistically, this method would be great if the microwave was the only thing we owned. It would be the only way to achieve browning without completely obliterating a piece of meat. However, stone-age technology…like FIRE and HEAT…dictate much more efficient ways to cook meat. Ideally, one could cook an entire piece of meat using a portable blowtorch, but there would be rampant uneven heating going on (by the time the cooking was finished, the other half of the meat would be cold), and perhaps some problems with food safety (missed a spot?).
Propane, the primary fuel used in these sort of blowtorch-flamethrower applications, is a clean-burning fuel, but can sometimes form carbon monoxide. At best, there would be a constant stream of heat; worst case scenario, your meat tastes like hydrocarbons.
In the case of sashimi-thin meats, searing usually happens in the whole fillet before cutting, so the dangers of overcooking are mitigated. I would suspect the same in beef. It wouldn’t make much sense to cut paper-think slices and then think you can successfully sear the top and bottom tenths of a millimeter to perfection. If you wanted that type of precision, a super hot pan would not be your answer. In this case, a blowtorch would suffice. In essence though, a blowtorch is just a small, pencil-thin, portable stove.
Making good seared, raw thin slices? Sear the meat as a whole on the stove. Slice it thinly. Use a real pan and some serious BTUs. Save the blowtorch for applications that require browning, but cannot be done on a stove (oddly shaped creations, creme brulees and the sort). However, if you made the mistake of slicing it thin before searing…you might be better off not searing. Or you could try the blowtorch on the cross-section.