03 June 2009

Benito vs. the Raw Beef: Steak Tartare

I've said this before and I'll say it again: one of the joys of cooking is that you don't need to travel to a fancy restaurant to try a fabled dish if you've got access to the proper ingredients and have the requisite skills and determination. With that in mind, I recently attempted steak tartare. Naturally, I followed Bourdain's recipe from the Les Halles Cookbook.

My first introduction to the dish was actually on the playground in elementary school. Lest you assume that I attended an elite branch of the Lycée Français, this culinary lesson took the form of arguments over them damned Europeans eating raw beef, and eventually a library encyclopedia settled the issue. For years afterward I assumed that the French and Germans always ate raw meat. Fast forward to 2009, and I've become that which terrified me. And I like fresh mayonnaise on my fries. What happened to that all-American lad?

While we're talking about childhood, I'll also note that this dish will disappoint both of my parents. Mom has strict rules against raw meat and raw eggs, and Dad can't stand mayonnaise. (Family dinners are harmonious, fear not--Mom's steak just goes on the grill long before the rest of ours, and Dad just avoids cold salads that are bound together with mayo.)

But I did make the mayo from scratch, and divided the batch into two parts, one of which was seasoned with Sriracha. I left the diced shallots and cornichons on the side to allow for desired mixing at the table, but I loved the presentation of the egg yolk sitting in the pile o' meat.

Want to improve the flavor of your frozen fries? Add some garlic cloves and rosemary during the last few minutes of cooking and toss it all with some good sea salt. Not perfect, but quite nice. Serving them in a parchment paper cone is purely optional, but aesthetically pleasing.

Steak tartare is a lot of work, and I'm not sure that it's worth it for a casual dinner. Mincing the steak by hand, trying to keep everything cold... On top of that, you only need a little bit per person. For some reason, I can easily consume a properly roasted rare 16 oz. prime rib, but I was defeated after three ounces of tartare. It's so rich, so flavorful... think about the difference between eating a grilled filet of salmon and the equivalent amount in sashimi. It's delicious, but if you're not used to consuming a lot of raw flesh it tires you out quickly.

For the wine, I popped open the 2004 Dog House "Zeke's Zin" from the Central and North Coasts of California. $9, 14.4% abv. It's 76% Zinfandel, 11% Syrah, and 9% Petite Sirah. It's got a big blackberry jam profile with hints of coffee afterwards. Still pretty strong after five years, but with a couple of hours of breathing it smoothed out nicely. And proceeds from these wines go to Guide Dogs for the Blind.

I was initially attracted to this wine not because of the producer or the grape, but because it featured a little e-collar around the neck. Any dog owner has come to recognize this item with a mix of sympathy and humor. Even The Roommate, who eschews all forms of alcohol, thought it was adorable, and loved the printing on the collar that said "Two paws up!"

Both of my dogs are fine, but in honor of the pups out there that are recovering from various surgeries, I pulled out their old e-collars for a photo. (The collars were removed shortly after and both boys got treats.) That's Macbeth the fox-red Labrador on the left and Wolfgang the mutt on the right. Two good dogs who guard the wine stash when I'm away from home.

I picked up this wine at Whiskers Wine & Spirits in Cordova. The owners are animal lovers and are engaged in various fundraising activities for the local Humane Society and other related causes. In a gesture that might bring a tear to your eye, they've got an entire wall devoted to a memorial mural called the "Rainbow Bridge" where customers can post photos of deceased pets.


Samantha Dugan said...

Tartare is one of my absolute favorite foods! With all the fears about raw meat, and eggs it has gotten harder and harder to find, some of the higher end French places do it, and do it so freaking well...yum, but most of the time it is tuna tartare, wich is on my list of vetoed foods. I like it with the onions and conrichons mied in and I prefer it served with thick cut potato chips. One of my most profound pairings with this most delicious dish...Rose Champagne...ppuuurrr.

So how long did it take to dice all the beef up? Did you freeze it a bit, seems like that might help. Your Mom and mine, so very different, mine used to let me eat raw humburger meat, sprinkled with a bit of salt and all roasts and steaks were served medium rare to rare. I grew up mixing the pooled blood into my spuds, now I just load the carving board with crunchy bread to sop up all the beefy goodness.

Benito said...


Glad to find someone else that doesn't think I'm a savage here. :)

It took about 20 minutes to get a pound of sirloin to the consistency seen in the photo. Proper tartare seems to be a lot finer, and I'm not sure what the ideal knife technique is there. At some point the math becomes daunting and you're looking at an exponential number of cuts.

For anyone that's interested, I used brown organic eggs. And I'm not trying to beat up on my parents--they are the reason why I love food and wine as much as I do, but certain things are always verboten from the family table.


Michael Hughes said...


Have you gotten any meat or eggs from the new guy at the Downtown Farmer's Market? His eggs are soooo good, so very eggy & with large creamy yolks. Strangely enough I haven't had any experience with tartare of the steak variety. But I love love love beef carpaccio. That's a cute pic of the dogs. My Stella is healing well & surprisingly enough they didn't give her an e-collar. Thank goodness.

Benito said...


I still haven't made it downtown yet this season--really need to do that, and I'll check out the eggs.

I like carpaccio as well, and to be honest, prefer it to tartare. Is there any place in town with a decent carpaccio?

Hope the dog heals up well!


fredric koeppel said...

Benito, you're right, a tiny bit of steak tartare goes a long way. I prefer carpaccio and look forward to seeing you attack that great dish. In my boyhood home, Sam, all meat was cooked well-done. The first time I ate (I think in college) a medium rare hamburger and then a rare steak, it was a revelation.

Allen said...

Many long years ago in a galaxy far, far away your Uncle Ed was a server at Hugo's which was at the top of the Hyatt in Memphis. Now called the East Memphis Hilton. A couple that were salt of the earth had come to town for dinner. The fine gentleman ordered the Steak Tatare. The dish was prepared table side with much fanfare. After the finishing touches were completed, he presented the dish to his customer who smiled and said, "Young man, that looks damn good, me and the little lady would like it medium well."

Benito said...


Great story from Ed there. Take out the diced pickles and it is a really nice meatloaf recipe.


Dirty said...

The food looks awesome and the pics of your dogs priceless!

Awesome stuff Benito!