Lately I’ve been thinking about steak tartare.
It supposedly gets its name from the Tartars (Mongols) who tenderized meat by keeping it under their saddles, and then eating it raw. This is almost certainly apocryphal, but here is Ghengis Khan – the world’s best known Mongol.
A friend of mine, American, worldly, a very good French speaker, used to tell the story of her first time in Paris when she went into a somewhat fancy restaurant and saw steak tartare on the menu. So she ordered it and asked for it well done. French hilarity ensued.
I don’t disbelieve her but according to Alan Davidson inThe Oxford Companion to Food, the French term for steak tartare is steak à l'Americaine, which spoils the story, and I’d no more argue with Alan Davidson than with Ghengis Khan.
Anyway I’d been thinking a lot about steak tartare. I wasn’t craving it exactly, but I was feeling I’d like to have one if the opportunity presented itself, and it did a couple of weekends ago when I found it on the menu of the Bear in Rodborough, Gloucestershire. Naturally I ordered it. It looked like this:
It wasn’t a standard issue tartare, and actually you know I’m not sure there is an absolutely standard recipe. Everybody seems to have their own version. Beef, gherkins, lemon juice, capers, onion, Dijon mustard, Worcester sauce, and a raw egg are pretty much always involved, but some include horseradish and Nigel Slater even favours anchovies but then he’s a maverick. The menu description at the Bear read ‘Native dry-aged beef tartare, shaved black truffle, Tunworth soft cheese, sorrel oil, beef dripping toast.’ There was no mention of raw egg for example, for which I was on balance grateful. I mean I’ll eat it if it’s there, but if it’s not there I don’t feel deprived. It came looking like this (it tasted better than it looked):
|Photo by Luna Woodyear-Smith|
Under the garnish, there was a reddish goo, which I suppose must have contained the cheese since I couldn’t detect it in the beef. Could there have been ketchup in there too? And possibly an egg yolk? As for sorrel oil I never knew there was such a thing but I suppose it would be tart and zingy and much like oil and lemon juice, which was fine by me. The whole thing was pretty good, though I could have done with a bit less salt.
When I got home, having the bit between my teeth, as it were, I decided, a few days later, to make my own steak tartare. Perhaps surprisingly even to me I’d never done this before. I mean it ain’t rocket science.
Being pathologically incapable of following a detailed recipe I consulted multiple sources; the likes of Nigella, Gordon and Martha: the usual suspects. My perfectly ordinary version was much as described above steak, gherkins, lemon juice, capers, onion, Dijon mustard, Worcester sauce, salt and pepper. No egg.
|Photo by Luna Woodyear-Smith|
The result was pretty damn good if I say so myself. In retrospect I think I could have added a bit more of each of those seasonings, but I didn’t want to go too crazy on my first time. The Platonic ideal of the steak tartare remains elusive but time is on my side.