Steak Tartare: Eat Beef Raw, It's Historical
Steak Tartare inevitably starts a conversation. Such a common dish really shouldn’t but every time it shows up on a menu, opinions begin to flow. One or two people usually turn their noses up immediately, I mean it’s raw meat. Its defenders make long-winded impassioned speeches attesting to its velvety texture and the fact that raw “you can really taste the beef.” The know-it-all at the table (usually me) will give some anecdote about the inception of the dish. Tartare’s origin stories, however, tend to vary widely.
I’ve heard the story that the name comes from the Tatars (maybe better known as Mongols) who would put pieces of raw meat under their saddles to tenderize it as they rode through the day. Anybody who’s ever ridden a horse will tell you that all you’d get is some noxiously sweat-soaked beef. Not exactly the rich patty served with capers and cornichons we know today.
I’ve also heard the name comes from the use of egg yolks in the dish. Some tableside preparations whip one egg yolk into something resembling a tartar sauce. I buy this a little more but it’s not exactly my favourite story.
I like the idea that the dish is named for the Tatars. Maybe just because I want to feel connected to those throat-singing, world-conquering badasses as I sit in a French bistro. So the story I’ve chosen to believe is that the Tatars would make a version of this dish from raw horse heart. A slightly more refined version of Daenerys Targaryen’s snack from season 1 of Game of Thrones.
Heart would also be fantastic to make Tartare from. Beef heart I mean, I’m not about to start telling Canadians we need to eat horses. But heart is pretty much the anti-tenderloin, which most people use, and I’m all for ignoring that such an insipid, overpriced cut even exists. Heart has a rich, irony flavour that comes only from a well used muscle. It’s tough, for sure, but trimmed carefully and minced well, heart would make and ideal, and maybe more historically accurate, Tartare.
I didn’t have a heart, sadly enough, so at a friend’s recommendation I used the tough muscles at the bottom of a top sirloin butt I bought recently. Top Sirloin is, to me, easily the most versatile cut of beef. The muscle was well used by the cow, closer to the back leg than the more tender striploin or tenderloin. Because it got more work, it’s tougher. It also means the cut had more blood flow and has a stronger flavour. It’s still nice and tender though. Well-trimmed, a top sirloin steak is soft enough to serve without a marinade.
In turning a whole top butt into steaks, hopefully the subject of a future post, I ended up with plenty of trim. Much of this was good muscle interspersed with tough connective tissue. Patient and careful trimming, and a good boning knife, yielded about a pound of lean top sirloin. Since most people probably aren’t willing to buy and butcher eleven pounds of beef, one lean top sirloin steak is a perfect substitute. The rest of the recipe is as follows.
You will need
3tsp dijon mustard
2tsp chopped capers
1tsp chopped cornichons (plus whole cornichons for garnish)
1 egg yolk
1 12 Oz. Top Sirloin steak, trimmed of all fat and connective tissue
1 large shallot minced fine
4tsp olive oil
4-5 dashes Worcestershire sauce
1tsp chilli oil (I like the Chinese stuff)
Very simple, begin by mincing your beef by hand. It takes elbow grease but by mincing beef with a sharp knife, rather than a meat grinder, you achieve a coarser texture which, every so often, requires you to chew the Tartare a little bit. I love it this way. You also avoid picking up anything nasty from inside a meat grinder.
In a bowl, combine mustard, capers, chopped cornichons, and the egg yolk. Mix well.
Gradually add in the remaining ingredients making sure they’re well incorporated.
Serve immediately with toast corners. If you want to be really fancy, lay a raw egg yolk on top of the tartare as you serve it.
Impress, delight, and enrage your friends. All without actually putting in much effort.