Toro Beef: Exploring the Buttery “Melt in Your Mouth” Cut Inspired by Sushi Tradition

Toro beef, inspired by toro tuna, offers a buttery, melt-in-your-mouth taste from its fatty belly cut, now gaining popularity for unique, gourmet recipes.

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If “toro beef” doesn’t exactly sound like a traditional meat cut or dish to you, you’re right. The term derives from the toro cut of the kind of tuna that’s prepared for sushi.

Yet beef chefs have drawn inspiration from their seafood counterparts to create dishes that have the fresh, buttery taste of classic sushi, yet are meaty to satisfy the carnivores among us!

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Toro Beef Was Inspired by Sushi

Toro beef’s namesake – or should we say, name steak? – comes from the tradition of toro tuna in sashimi and sushi dishes.

The centuries-old Japanese technique of using fresh, uncooked fish has spawned a variety of famous dishes, along with species and cuts of fish used in them. Among the most prized is the toro cut of tuna.

Usually culled from bluefin tuna, the toro tuna steak is the fattiest part of the tuna fish, found near the navel of the fish. This fatty belly portion is richly marbled in fat, much like a prime cut of beef.

True sushi fans can tell you that toro is then further graded as either otoro, the most prized type because of its richer level of marbled fat, and chutoro, which is less marbled and therefore a bit below otoro in quality.

It’s this fat content that gives toro tuna its “buttery” flavor in raw-fish Japanese dishes. In fact, the word “toro” comes from “toro-ri,” which means “melt in your mouth.” 

Toro tuna is usually saved for dishes like nigiri sushi, which uses a generous slice of tuna on top of small cakes of rice; or sashimi, which are fresh fish slices presented lightly dressed on a bed of nori.

In general, toro is considered too much of a delicacy to utilize for diced-fish sushi rolls. 

Toro Beef’s Popularity is Recent  

The use of toro beef – or at least, the practice of calling it toro beef – is a relatively recent development. But what links toro tuna and toro beef is the buttery, or “melt in your mouth” texture and taste that comes from its rich amount of marbled fat (not to be confused with a seasoning like yakiniku). 

In recent years, chefs and butchers alike have taken to calling the fatty cut of beef on the cow’s underbelly “toro beef.” But not only is the term a new one, but the appreciation for using this type of beef in upscale recipes is also gaining traction.

So what exactly is a “navel cut?” It comes from the ventral, or abdominal, part of the cow. As with most mammals, the abdominal section has a high concentration of fat. If you’re one of the many foodies who love pork belly, you’ll appreciate “beef belly,” in which the cow version is very similar to its pig counterpart. 

Previously, the richy-marbled meat cut from the beef navel was reserved for ground beef and pastrami. While both of these foods have their uses and their own fans, in general they are not considered gourmet. 

But by processing the underbelly differently, a new kind of delicious beef cut has been discovered. The butchering process for toro beef treats this part of beef differently than the type used to create pastrami and other cheaper cuts.

For toro beef, muscles are separated and chewier fat removed, resulting in that “buttery” choice cut that is toro beef.  

Try Toro Beef for Grilling

One venue which has helped put toro beef on the map in North America is the Gyu-Kaku restaurant chain. The Japanese barbecue franchise has dozens of restaurants throughout the U.S. and Canada.

This self-grilling style franchise offers diners the chance to experience yakiniku, or grilled barbecue, in which each table is able to grill cuts of meat of their own choosing, including the increasingly popular toro beef cut.

The addition of toro beef on the menu provides “a fattier cut of thinly sliced beef that has a lot of flavor,” noted one recent review.  

The tableside charcoal grills at restaurants like Gyu-Kaku are a great way to experience the “melt in your mouth” quality of toro beef.

There, you will find professionally-butchered selections of the meat, paired with a sweet soy tare sauce. You can also order these cuts to-go, perhaps for your own backyard BBQ event.  

Are You Daring Enough to Go “Tartare”?

Other cooks apply the concept of “toro” tuna to toro beef in different ways. For example, not only is the tender cut of the tuna fish replicated by choosing the most tender, fatty cuts of beef possible.

But they also play with the concept of sushi-style by harkening back to steak tartare (or “raw beef”) dishes. It may not be for the faint of heart when it comes to preparation, but the risks can pay off big.

“Carne cruda, or raw beef like steak tartare, is a classic accompaniment for dolcetto [sweet wine] in Piedmont in Italy,” notes the New York Times. 

“Raw” toro beef differs from the French style of steak tartare. Classic steak tartare is usually a minced type of meat, seasoned with capers and Worchester sauce, and presented with a raw egg on top.

But the NYT’s preferred version of toro beef calls for a preparation that most closely resembles tartare aller-retour, in which the meat is lightly seared on the outside, leaving the inside raw.   

To make this toro beef dish, you can, of course, ask for the toro beef cut from your butcher or from an Asian barbecue restaurant that provides raw grilling meat. If that’s not an option, choose beef deckle or fillet cuts.

A recent recipe shared by the New York Times calls for serving the lightly-seared cuts with charred oyster mushrooms, and served atop a salad made from frisee lettuce, scallions, and pickled vegetables. 

After searing the toro beef, cut it into thin slices and place on top of the lettuce and mushrooms. Grated daikon radish that has been mixed with chili paste can be dotted over the entire dish.

To add even more Japanese authenticity, grate ginger over the composed toro beef dish. Serve with ponzu sauce, either bottled or homemade.

A basic ponzu recipe calls for combining equal parts citrus juice, soy sauce, and bonito flakes, along with splashes of rice vinegar and mirin, along with a bit of kelp. Steep the mixture overnight, then strain it.

It should go without saying that searing alone isn’t enough to keep this dish safe enough to serve to yourself and to guests. Make sure that the meat is completely fresh by choosing a trusted butcher or another purveyor of fine beef cuts.

Make sure your cutting implements, as well as your prep, cooking and serving surfaces, are all scrupulously clean. And as with other raw meat or seafood dishes, like sushi, it’s best for pregnant women, young children and older people to avoid these types of dishes.  

Not To Be Confused With…

Given the way that words from other languages can resemble one another, it’s not surprising that the Spanish word for bull, toro, can sometimes get confused with the Japanese toro.

That’s especially true now that some Spanish breeders are pivoting from raising bulls for fighting to selling “toro bull” for eating. 

You can certainly try out this “fighting bull meat” if you’re in Spain, but you’ll probably want to try it when prepared by a knowledgeable chef.

Otherwise, the meat is quite tough. When prepared correctly however, this version of toro bravo meat has won fans because it is highly flavorful.

More FAQs

What is the famous Japanese beef called?

The famous Japanese beef is called Kobe Beef, which is renowned as arguably the most well-known brand of wagyu known outside of Japan. Kobe Beef refers to cows that are raised under stringent conditions at specialised livestock farms in Hyogo Prefecture.

What is Toro in Japanese cuisine?

Toro in Japanese cuisine refers to the fattier portion of the tuna, specifically located in the belly area of the fish. This highly sought-after delicacy is divided into two distinct subtypes, which are more expensive due to their limited availability compared to the rest of the fish.

What is raw shaved beef called?

The raw shaved beef is commonly known as carpaccio, which is an Italian appetizer consisting of thinly sliced raw meat that is typically drizzled with lemon juice and olive oil. While traditionally made with beef, carpaccio can also be prepared using fish such as salmon or tuna, as well as veal or venison.

What cut of meat is Toro?

Toro is a cut of meat that is often used for ground beef and pastrami. It is derived from the navel of a cow and is named after the fatty part of a tuna’s belly, which is commonly used by sushi chefs. Toro steaks are known to complement Asian-inspired flavor profiles, particularly when cooked on a barbecue.

Why is Toro so expensive?

Toro is expensive primarily due to its rarity. Toro specifically refers to the fatty belly portion of the tuna, with Otoro being the fattiest and most prized, followed by Chutoro. Conversely, Akami, the part commonly found in supermarkets, contains minimal fat.

What does Toro taste like?

Toro tastes like a rich and buttery delicacy due to its high fat content, making it highly sought after by sushi chefs and enthusiasts. This prized part of the tuna, found in the belly portion of the fish, ranges in color from pink to white. It is best enjoyed in its raw form to fully appreciate its distinctive flavor.

Can you eat Toro raw?

Toro should not be eaten raw as we cannot recommend it. Although Bluefin Tuna is of the highest quality, we still advise thoroughly cooking it before consumption. A great way to enjoy toro is by marinating it and cooking it on the grill.

Why is Japanese beef cut thinly?

Japanese beef is cut thinly to allow for quick searing on a teppanyaki grill or stainless steel pan, which warms the meat sufficiently to melt the interior fat. As a result, all Japanese A5 steaks are typically sliced to a thickness of just 3/4″ for steaks and 1 & 1/2″ to 2″ for tenderloin.

Where is Toro cut from?

Toro is cut from the belly of the maguro, which is the greasiest part of the abdomen. It has a soft texture and melts in your mouth. This particular cut is considered more expensive because it is rare and only available in limited quantities. The fat in toro contains high levels of DHA and EPA.

Can you sear Toro?

Yes, you can sear Toro to achieve a lightly seared exterior while keeping the inside raw. Once cooked, place it on a plate and garnish with green onion. For added flavor, dip the Toro in yuzu before enjoying it.

What is Japanese thin sliced beef called?

The Japanese thin sliced beef is known as Gyudon, which is prepared by cooking thinly sliced fatty beef in a slightly sweet mixture of mirin and soy sauce, and served over rice.

What is the difference between Toro beef and Yaki shabu beef?

The difference between Toro beef and Yaki shabu beef is that Toro beef is a fattier cut of thinly sliced beef with a lot of flavor, while Yaki shabu beef is thinly sliced beef brisket that can be marinated with shio white soy, tare sweet soy, miso, garlic, or basil. Both are delicious barbecue options worth trying.

What are the 4 types of Japanese beef?

The four types of Japanese beef are known as Wagyu, which is the term used to refer to four distinct breeds of purebred cattle: Kuroge (Japanese Black), Akage (Japanese Brown), Nihon Tankaku (Japanese Shorthorn), and Mukaku (Japanese Polled).

What is the most delicious beef in Japan?

The most delicious beef in Japan is typically regarded as Kobe beef, Matsusaka beef, and Omi beef, which are commonly considered the “top three” wagyu brands. Although Kobe beef is sometimes used interchangeably with the term “wagyu” outside of Japan, it is just one of many varieties produced throughout the country.

What is the expensive Japanese beef called?

The expensive Japanese beef is known as Kobe beef, which is widely regarded as the most costly and desirable beef globally. It is not uncommon for individual servings of Kobe beef to be sold for over $200, while in Japan, the price for Kobe beef starts at approximately $300 per pound. In the United States, it can be as high as $50 per ounce, whereas other non-Kobe Wagyu beef can be half that price.

What is the fancy Japanese beef called?

The fancy Japanese beef is called Kobe, which is a specific type of Wagyu known as Tajima-Gyu. Wagyu is a term that refers to Japanese cattle, and Kobe beef is produced in the Hyogo prefecture, where the capital city is Kobe.

Why is Japanese beef so good?

Japanese beef is considered to be exceptionally good due to its higher levels of intra-muscular fat, also known as marbling, which enhances the flavor of the meat. Additionally, the texture of the beef is finer, resulting in a more enjoyable eating experience. Wagyu beef, often referred to as a ‘super beef’, is renowned for its marbled appearance and its ability to melt in your mouth due to its tenderness.

What makes Japanese beef so expensive?

Japanese beef is expensive due to several factors. One of these factors is the high cost of Japanese beer taxes, which can reach up to 222 yen (about US $2.50) per liter. This is significant because low-malt beers, known as happo-shu, are commonly consumed in Japan and are subject to these high taxes. Happo-shu typically contains 25% malt or less, with the remaining portion consisting of other starches or sugars. It is only when the malt content exceeds 65% that it is reclassified as beer.

Why Japanese beef is different?

Japanese beef is different because it offers a unique combination of flavor, texture, and quality. Authentic Japanese Wagyu stands out with its incredible taste and tenderness, as well as its superbly melting texture and intense marbling. These characteristics are simply unmatched by American Wagyu. The reason behind this distinction lies in the high standard of cattle raising and robust grading standards followed in Japan, which ensure the unparalleled quality of Japanese Wagyu.

What is the best Japanese beef?

The best Japanese beef is represented by Japan’s “top three” wagyu brands, which are Matsusaka Ushi, Kobe Beef, and Ohmi Beef. These renowned brands all originate from the Kansai region of Japan and share a common ancestry with Tajima beef, a subspecies of Japanese Black cattle from Hyogo Prefecture. However, each wagyu brand possesses its own distinct flavor profile.

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