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Trying Steak Tartare

I recently came across a short piece on how to safely prepare steak tartare by Michael Ruhlman (author of Ratio which is a great book).

Today I had a spontaneous day off drop in my lap. A Friday off is a good day for a decadent lunch, so I decided to try making steak tartare for the first time.

Surprisingly easy

There are basically three steps to making steak tartare (after you’ve brought home some beef from the store).

  1. Prepare the beef by rinsing and salting
  2. Grinding or cutting the beef into small bits
  3. Season the beef

I rinse every cut of meat, poultry, or fish I bring home. I do this if the meat is fresh or the fish comes frozen in an individually sealed plastic pouch. You cannot know what has come into contact with the surface of any meat you buy, so wash it off thoroughly.

Michael Ruhlman’s article above instructs coating the beef in a heavy layer of salt and resting the salted beef in the fridge for about an hour.

Salted

Salted for safety and seasoning

This does two things:

  • Any bacteria surviving on the surface of the meat are thoroughly destroyed
  • The exterior of the beef is seasoned and partially cured

After an hour the salt had pulled a good amount of moisture from the meat. I rinsed and patted the meat dry with fresh paper towels. I could see the texture and color of the beef had changed. I cut the small sirloin steak into thin strips. I could see that about 1/8” of the exterior of the meat had been salt cured after only an hour.

I cut the wide flat strips into thin strips. Then I cut all the strips into tiny cubes.

Cut into strips

Cut into strips

I flavored my tartare with some painstakingly browned and reduced onions I prepared earlier (think In-N-Out style onions), a few grinds of black pepper, and a splash of balsamic vinegar. The beef needed no additional seasoning. The salty bits from the exterior of the steak had now been diced up fine and distributed throughout, seasoning everything nicely. This worked because my steak was relatively thin, about an inch, so there was plenty of surface area to be salted. A thicker cut may require a little additional salt.

Adding onion pepper and vinegar

Adding onion pepper and vinegar

Once I had everything mixed I packed it all into a 1 cup measure and stashed it in the fridge to wait while I prepared a libation, toast, and a poached egg.

ready to rest in fridge

Ready to rest in fridge

Aside: Cocktail on the side

emergency protocol 417

At the ready, captain

If there was ever a dish which called out for a martini, steak tatare is it. I favor ‘classic’ martinis with 1 part vermouth to 3 parts gin. It’s OK. They’re big parts. A vodka martini would be acceptable with this dish, mostly because the vodka would be a good palate cleanser. Vodka is built to be colorless, odorless, and tasteless (like people who drink vodka martinis). It’s basically diluted pure grain alcohol. Alcohol works with foods sort of like salt does with foods – it brings out flavors that aren’t directly accessible by your tongue and saliva. Vodka, being tasteless, makes other things taste more like themselves. Imagine cooking with wine without the wine flavor. This is why you have vodka sauces, why vodka cocktails are typically made with bold fruits like tomatoes and lemons, and why vodka is served with caviar. If you like vodka, skip the martini, and just sip a shot straight from the freezer with some rich food.

Serving

I turned the tartare out onto a plate, topped with a poached egg, and added a buttered and toasted english muffin. I piled some cornichons on the side.

This dish was really fantastic. I’m generally pretty happy with what I make in the kitchen, but this was simply remarkable. Delicious, rich, but somehow not heavy. Simple and good.