Anatomy Of A Dish: Steak Tartare

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Cooking and Eating

As you might suspect, the food here in France is crazy good. Who wouldn’t want to eat in a country that has more potato dishes than deodorant brands? Seriously, in the French version of Forrest Gump, the subtitles reveal that Forrest wants to open his own potato stand, instead selling his versions of, “Pommes frites, pommes dauphine, pommes noisettes,” etc. (I would have preferred the dubbed version and hear Forrest’s pronounciation of the dishes, “pohwm freet, pohwm dohwfeen…” but, alas, it was not to be.)

Even with all these classic dishes tantalizing us here, there are a few things that people back in the US would find a little off-putting. As a public service, I will occasionally try one of these less appealing dishes and report back on what I find. I am starting the exercise with a little something called Steak Tartare.

If you are like me, you probably think steak tartare is just hamburger that is, for whatever reason, uncooked. This is not true. A hamburger is a fatty glob of ground beef. (If that sounds negative, it is not because I don’t like burgers. To me, a properly executed burger is 15 minutes of culinary bliss, on par with such things as buttered popcorn and anything deep fried and served at a county fair.) The idea of eating a raw burger is disgusting, though, and on par with eating such things as buttered uncooked popcorn kernels and a wet glob of unfried dough.

Here served with a little basil oil.

Here served with a little basil oil.

Steak tartare is no uncooked burger. It is perfectly lean, meaning there isn’t a hint of fat in it. It is just good old fashioned muscle, hopefully from a cow that was whipped with a bamboo stick every day of its life tenderized. While I have heard that some places grind their tartare, I have only had it at places where the cut is chopped into small pea-sized chunks. Ironically, if you tried to make a burger out of a patty made from lean, pea-sized chunks of beef, it would probably suck. (Do any of you tire of reading the phrase, “pea-size chunks of beef”? I don’t! I plan on trying to work it into every day French conversation as soon as I can Google Translate to figure out what the hell I mean by it.)

The pea-size chunks are then mixed with some dijon, some cornichon (cute little pickles, of which I believe the singular and the plural are the same, like deer or Kardashian) some onions, a raw egg yolk and maybe some capers. After mixing, the dish is assembled like a hockey puck on your plate, which you get to tear apart like a velociraptor. To me, it is a perfect combination of acidity, a hint of spiciness and cornichon. I find I am even more attracted to the texture of the dish. It is the tender texture of a perfectly cooked steak, and that is pretty amazing. When paired with wine and pohwm freetz, it is a spectacular bistro dish that I order often. Malcolm likes it too, except he often has to negotiate with the waiter ahead of time to ensure that it doesn’t turn out too vinegar-y for his tastes.

Oddly, the dish has its roots in something called, “Beefsteack √† l’Am√©ricaine,” although no one is sure why. Did the mid-20th century French culinary world really think that Americans took their beef raw? Everyone knows that, during the 1950’s, Americans took their beef in an aluminum tray, a la Salisbury. Perhaps sensing this inaccuracy, at some point the name for the dish transmogrified into steak tartare, and now the term tartare is used to refer to any number of raw meat preparations. Curiously, it did not make its way into the name of the German dish, “Mett,” which is raw pork served in shape of a hedgehog. I think I know why. everything about Mett sounds fucking disgusting and anything that disgusting deserves to have a name like, “Mett.”

So that is Beef Tartare. Try it sometime! It’s not fatty. It’s not ground up. It’s not served in the shape of a hedgehog.

I think I just came up with a new advertising slogan.

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