Thursday, June 18, 2009
I was browsing through piles of mostly useless stuff in a discount store the other day, in hopes to find some props for my next food styling class, and this book caught my attention. I hate it when people try to tell me what I should do before I die; my own list requires me to live at least another 150 years. So the book is 101 Dishes to Eat Before You Die, by Stefan Gates, a British food adventurer. I would pass, but it had nice photographs with well done styling, there was a story or two included with each recipe, and it was just $6 – so I bought it. Then I went to Amazon to give you a link and found out that it’s not yet available. These discount stores are full of surprises.
Despite the author’s excessive, to my taste, use of the first-person singular personal pronoun (for a book, that is. It’s fine in a blog), the stories are entertaining, informative, nostalgic, and spiced up with irresistible British humor. I don’t care much for the recipes: besides using shortcuts like store-bought red currant sauce or Chinese pancakes and not being precise, most recipes are so well known to any Western cook that you don’t really need to read them to start cooking.
I do agree with the author on most of his must-try dish suggestions, and I cannot agree more on Steak Tartare. It’s surprising how many meat lovers don’t know about this classic, simple and stylish dish. There are many versions explaining why this French dish of seasoned raw beef got its name. Stefan’s explanation is that it was named so because ancient Tatars were known to be bloodthirsty. He also mentions that in rural France the Tartare is sometimes made with horsemeat. But he doesn’t connect the Tartare to anything in Tatar cuisine, which traditionally uses horsemeat, may be more often then beef and lamb. I have to do some research; there must be a Tatar recipe that the French transformed to make their own.
As a descendant of the bloodthirsty ancient warriors, I have taken my horseback riding lessons, but I am still waiting to try horsemeat (I've had a sausage made with horsemeat, but with all the other stuff they put in sausages it's very hard to tell what the meat really tastes like). But you know what? There was a nice cut of beef in my refrigerator, a tenderloin tip that I was just going to grill. So why would the proud daughter of the ancient nomads cook her meat if she can devour it raw? It’s Steak Tartare for dinner.
Of course, if you buy your fine cut of meat packaged in a supermarket, you can expect to turn it over and discover all the fat and sinews still attached. The supermarket has to make some money, after all! I used the technique that I learned from my brother, a vascular surgeon and a gourmet with a passion for red meats (and all things with fat and cholesterol in them), to carefully separate the muscle from the sinews with my fingers, no knife required, resulting in very pure meat, and lost very little in trimmings. Then I got out my favorite chef’s knife and minced the meat. A grinder or food processor doesn’t give you the same texture, so it’s worth it to spend a few minutes chopping.
Most Tartare recipes call for Tabasco or some hot sauce. I cannot eat anything that hot, so I left it out. If you like spicy foods, add it back.
All ingredients should be cold; refrigerate them for at least 30 minutes before cooking.
½ pound tenderloin tip, trimmed and minced
1 shallot, minced
1 Tbsp capers, rinsed, drained and chopped
4 anchovy fillets, chopped
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp cognac
2 whole raw egg yolks
Mix all ingredients except egg yolks in a bowl. Divide between two plates, shape into fat patties. Make a depression in the middle of each patty and carefully place an egg yolk in it.
Serve with boiled potatoes and green salad.
Diners mix the egg yolk with the meat at the table.
Alternative: Divide the meat only between plates. Serve all ingredients in separate small bowls and let the diners mix their own. Don’t forget to put salt and pepper mills and a bottle of Tabasco on the table.