By Lynne Nolan
Sourcing costly high grade beef from across the globe is crucial to bolstering diner satisfaction.
Exclusivity, cattle fed on beer, and marbled textures have all played a part in the increased popularity of quality beef.
And with beef from certain countries - most notably those in Europe - currently banned from several Middle Eastern markets, there has been a large increase in sales of meat from the US, South America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
"We are discovering that sales of our South African grained beef has increased dramatically and continues to do so, with our weekly airfreight of this product now standing at between five and seven tonnes," reveals John Arnold, managing partner, Kibsons International.
Also offering beef from New Zealand, Arnold says the company's 180-day grainfed Sparta and Karan beef from South Africa and Australian Wagyu are the most popular offerings among its customer base in Dubai, which includes Al Manzil Hotel, The Original Butcher Shop and The Meat Company.
Transported to Dubai in envirotainers, the company's most expensive product is Wagyu beef, which is raised in Victoria, Australia, and selected by fine dining restaurants based on its marble score. Ranging between four and 12, the marbling serves as an indicator of the meat's tenderness, but its presence on menus is dependant on most restaurants' budgets.
Wagyu cattle are native to Japan and the world famous Kobe beef comes from the town of the same name in the Hyogo prefecture in Japan.
Originally native to Japan, Wagyu beef comes from a range of cattle, including Tajima, Tottori, Shimane, Kochi and Kumamoto breeds, and while the Middle East remains an emerging market for beef consumption, Arnold says the tender loin, the strip loin and the cube roll that extends over the shoulder area of cattle are the most sought after cuts in the region.
Tougher cuts of beef from the round, brisket, flank, plate, shank and chuck are more commonly cooked in moist cooking methods though, such as braising, pot roasting and stewing.
Renowned for its very heavy fat marbling that keeps the beef moist and the texture firm - and featuring an extremely low melting point when cooked - Wagyu beef dissolves to create a melt in the mouth experience. The marbling also creates the delicate flavour, texture and moisture, as it contains twice as many staeric and oleic acids - termed mono-unsaturated fatty acids - than other breeds of cattle.
"There is a very strict process for breeding Wagyu cattle, which involves holding the cattle in a stable, playing music to keep them happy and still, castration, and giving them daily massages to encourage the development of the marbled meat," comments Jean Paul Naquin, executive chef, Burj Al Arab.
Currently using up to 900kg of beef per month, chef Jean Paul says that costing up to AED600 (US $163) per portion, Wagyu beef should be grilled or roasted. Recommending the rib eye or strip loin, the hotel's 320g Wagyu burger has also received an excellent response at the poolside restaurant and in-room dining.
"We are very fortunate to be able to get the top end Wagyu beef from Australia and serve it at our restaurant Al Muntaha. We deal with two suppliers, as the stock is so limited," he says.
"This incredible piece of meat is definitely top of the pyramid though, as it's more tender and juicy with increased flavour, with the Burj Al Arab offering beef of grades 9+, which is almost impossible to find," he adds.
He says educating front-of-house staff about the origins and cooking of luxury meats such as Australian Black Angus and Wagyu is crucial, for example advising diners to order medium rare to avoid shrinkage, and serving the correct cutlery and condiments, including horseradish, Yorkshire pudding, béarnaise, red wine sauces and mashed potato.
Offering 1855 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) certified Angus beef from the US, alongside Wagyu beef from Australia, The Exchange Grill at The Fairmont Dubai offers a menu featuring an impressive listing of cuts, including fillet mignons, New York strip loin, prime rib eye, T-bone, classic beef Wellington, Australian grain-fed rack of lamb, prime rib and Châteaubriand.
Graham Kruse, sous chef at The Fairmont Dubai, says most chefs prefer the flavour of US beef. However, the hotel works with suppliers Aramtec, Food Source, Faisal al Nasaif and Barrakat to source Wagyu beef from Australia; naturally with the cattle bred in the same way as in Japan.
Chef Graham says the steakhouse - which recently won Best Steakhouse at this year's Time Out Dubai Awards - has stood apart from other restaurants in the city since opening in November 2005, due to the chefs' shrewd attention to detail and the outlet's added touches, resulting in its current 40 covers nightly.
"We make everything from scratch, which is pretty amazing in this day and age, for example our veal au jus, which comes with the choice of five different types of mustards."
Advising diners on the right cuts and gradation of cooking is also imperative, and chef Graham says this is something both front- and back-of-house have to work closely on to achieve.
"It is crucial for front-of-house staff to ask diners about the texture they desire, from melt in the mouth, to chewing for a long time; such as strip loin, or the rib eye which is in between," he adds.
Naturally polled and solid black, Black Angus is also renowned for its marbled meat and the certified Angus beef brand was introduced by the American Angus Association in 1978 to promote the idea that the breed is of a higher cattle than others, with certification only given to cattle that are more than 51% black.
According to Ceejay Haymen, food project manager for the Government of South Australia in Dubai, there has been a 30% increase in beef exports recorded, particularly among high-end varieties including Coorong Angus and Wagyu.
The Coorong district offers beef from cattle that are grown hormone-free on pasture, and are then fed a grain-based diet for a minimum of 60 days. Dry aging follows, whereby whole sides of beef are hung in a cool temperature, with the flavours becoming more concentrated as the moisture evaporates from the muscle.
Coorong certified Australian Angus is also distinguished from counterparts by its aroma of pasture, faint hint of gaminess and a slightly sharp finish. Haymen reveals that of the 80,000 tonnes of beef processed in South Australia last year though, more than 42,000 tonnes were exported for more than AED500 million ($136 million).
From the Americas though, US beef entered the UAE 28 years ago, with Aramtec responsible for the move, and later adding Brazilian beef to its portfolio based on demand and the need to cater to varying sectors of the market.
Hossam Shabayk, foodservice manager for Aramtec says the company now hopes to develop its offering of chilled grain-fed South African this year, in a bid to serve the needs of its customers that range from hotels including Emirates Palace, the Jumeirah Group and Grosvenor House, to airline catering companies and casual dining chains.
He explains that the supplier currently operates an USDA pure land Black Angus programme, which ensures cattle is selected properly and correct grading is in place.
"The stringent quality control by the producer starts from genetic tests for all cattle to ensure they are of genuine Back Angus breed and offers a variety of grades starting from select, to choice, to upper choice, and finally Prime grade ranking. Only 8% of US beef meets this criteria," Shabayk says.
"We supply clients with beef that has been aged for at least 21 days, and it remains a popular ingredient among diners due to the prominence of low carbohydrate diets, such as Atkins and South Beach, and its health benefits due to the high presence of minerals, iron and zinc," adds Shabayk.For all the latest travel news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.