For steak tartare buy your beef from a trustworthy butcher; wash the shell of your free range egg and the worry if it’s safe to eat disappears.
Where does steak tartare come from?
Steak tartare is the original processed food, the primary burger, the fundamental convenience food. It began with the fierce, horse-dwelling Eurasian warriors variously identified as Tatars, Tartary, Mongolians or Attila the Hun; all most probably related or at least acquainted.
They were nomads, they lived on horseback, so no small wonder they carried their food supplies with them at all times. Meat being their nutritional mainline, they preserved it and tenderised it (what with the fact that it was usually tough horse meat) by sticking a slab under their stead’s saddle and going wahey! off to slaughter the neighbours they didn’t like.
Such treatment did not just tenderise the steak like no mallet ever could, it probably also seasoned it beautifully with horse sweat – eew! but still, very organic and all natural.
The steak travelled under the saddle to Poland and Germany, then farther to France and took a firm position amongst the macho appetisers.
Modern recipe: what is steak tartare?
The modern recipe was created in France by the chef Auguste Escoffier and it is found in his book Le Guide Culinaire from 1903 under the name beefsteak à l’américaine. It is variously all mixed up or served deconstructed: with egg yolk, onions et al assorted around the mound of chopped beef.
There are several variations of steak tartare.
A variant of steak tartare is present in Danish cuisine: smørrebrød, where it is served on rugbrød (rye bread) with assorted toppings.
In Sweden, steak tartare, råbiff, is usually served with raw egg yolk, raw onions, diced pickled beetroot, and capers. Other popular variations on the classic steak tartare recipe include tuna tartare, salmon tartare, and, hmm, beetroot tartare.
What are some other dishes that use raw meat?
The French by way of Genghis Khan are not the only nation to consume their meat raw. It might be surprising how popular it is to keep your dinner off the fire all over the world.
There is Italian carpaccio, thinly sliced beef dressed with olive oil vinaigrette, as well as nduja, spicy sausage which can be eaten raw though it is commonly added to cooking.
The Dutch have their ossenworst, sausage originally made with ox meat and the Germans – mett, heavily peppered pork spread.
In the Middle East a version of kibbeh which is uncooked, kibbeh nayyeh, is immensely popular. On the other side of the world, Mexican carne apache is a kind of beef ceviche, marinated in lime juice.
And of course in Japan, apart from sashimi which is raw fish, they enjoy beef tataki and – shock! horror! – torisashi, raw chicken sashimi.
How to make the perfect beef steak tartare?
The key to it is what I call the three Cs: the cut, the chop and the crunch.
The cut of beef can arguably be rump or even flank; no need to splurge on fillet. That may suffice if you omit my second critical C: the chop, which here means hand chopping into pieces rather than passing it through all-pulping grinder.
Ground beef will always make you think you’re eating a raw burger, however refined the seasoning and garnishes. Hand chopping is king and with that in view the meat must be good quality, no question. So it can be ribeye if you manage to trim all the veins and fattier bits, or else fillet.
A frugal hint here: most butchers will sell you ‘end of tail’ fillet bits which can’t possibly be steaked – and you’re not bothered – at a much lower price.
And the third C is the crunch that must be part of the experience; this is no meal for toothless babies.
My perfect crunch added to the dish is a few sharp gherkins and crispy fried capers, completely worth the effort of some extra frying.
I skip the onion as I don’t care for the onion breath but I add Parmesan for a distinctive je-ne-sais-quois. I definitely don’t skip egg yolk and sometimes double it – making sure it’s fresh, the shell had been washed and thus safe to eat raw.
On the other hand, you’re about to sink your teeth into a mountain of raw meat and scared of a small egg yolk? You wimp.
Is it safe to eat raw meat?
In the UK and most of the US the obsession with food hygiene and the paranoid fear of salmonella, campylobacter and, vaguely perceived, food poisoning, has condemned some gorgeous dishes to extinction.
To the extent that once in a Paris restaurant, having ordered a steak tartare, they made sure I knew it was going to be uncooked. I immediately imagined a parade of ignorant Brits (let’s be honest: a French person would know what to expect of a tartare) ordering the dish and breaking into a panic attack on its arrival in all rawness.
The main issue is to know that your meat comes from a reputable, ethical and sustainable source and that should be a principle always observed, whether the destination of the meat is chops, stew or indeed tartare.
So buy yours from a good butcher’s or at least a butcher counter in a supermarket, and make sure it’s fresh. No harm will come to you then and you can enjoy this exquisitely elegant dish safely.
More beef recipes
Perfect beef fillet steaks cooked medium rare, served with anchovy butter. How to cook a perfect steak? One: smoking hot pan. Two: meat at room temperature. Three: flip every 30 seconds!
Thai beef salad made with finely sliced seared bavette steak, aka flank or skirt steak. Perfectly flavoursome beef on a bed of crunchy vegetables, with classic Thai dressing, makes a delightful dish.
Roast sirloin of beef cooked at low temperature produces as fantastic a dish as sous-vide cooking. The caveat: best results if you own a digital meat probe of some kind.