Steak tartare, sometimes referred to as beef tartare, is bit of a mystery and can be quite intimidating to those who have never tried it. Some folks find the dish quite off-putting while others see it as a delicacy. But what exactly is it anyway?
First of all, any fish or meat can be served á la tartare, which just means raw. With that being said, steak tartare is a dish made from raw ground beef (sometimes horse meat). Onions, capers, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and other herbs and spices are added to the beef to give it a rich and savory flavor. Steak tartare is often topped with a raw egg yolk and served with rye bread or toast. The dish is often served as an hors d'oeuvre or appetizer, but can also be a main course.
It may seem strange that so many people find a dish made with raw beef and egg so delectable, but steak tartare is a dish that was created out of necessity rather than the desire to possibly contract salmonella.
According to legend, tartare originated in Tartary, which is now modern-day Mongolia, when Russian and Mongolian horsemen would ride their horses with tough pieces of raw beef, horse, and camel under their saddles so it would tenderize throughout the day. At the end of their days, the men would chop or grind the meat and mix it with eggs and milk. Over time, Russian migrants starting settling all over Europe and brought their love of raw ground meat with them.
By the 20th century, steak tartare became popular with the elite classes of Paris and has since been synonymous with luxury and French cooking. These days, you can typically find steak tartare on the menus of upscale eateries, steakhouses, and French dining establishments all across the globe.
The question of whether or not steak tartare is safe to consume gets brought up a lot, and for good reason because not a lot people are used to the idea of eating raw beef.
Here's where things get tricky. When eating raw food, whether it be beef or fish, you risk for getting a food borne illness increases. However, don't let that deter you from enjoying raw food because, when prepared carefully with fresh ingredients, eating raw food can be an incredible culinary experience.
So yes, steak tartare is safe to eat, but ONLY if it is prepared correctly. It is incredibly important that you are working with the highest quality beef when making steak tartare and that it remains refrigerated until it is time to eat.
Though you should use extra caution when preparing steak tartare, because of the raw ingredients, it is actually quite simple to make. The most important aspect of the dish is the beef itself, which should only be bought fresh and high quality from a reputable and trusted butcher (unless you want to risk Salmonella). Other ingredients may include: fresh egg yolk (which should be just as fresh as the beef), hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, and herbs and spices like parsley, capers, and minced shallot.
Before preparing the beef, make sure it is chilled so it doesn't go bad. Finely chop and mince the beef with a sharpened chef's knife, then mix the beef with the rest of the ingredients until they are evenly distributed and form a puck-shaped patty. You can also opt to put the egg yolk on top of the tartare for a more eye-catching presentation. Once prepared, keep the dish covered and refrigerated until it is ready to eat.
When in doubt, spare yourself from making the dish yourself and order it from a nice restaurant instead.