Friday, March 12, 2010

Raw Food, My Way

I have a bit of a problem with the whole raw food diet concept. Now, I'm a firm believer in to each his own and chacun à son gout and all that, and it's not that I don't enjoy a nice cold faux pizza made with faux cheese and dehydrated tomato purée on a pappy crust of compressed sprouts and seeds washed down with a refreshing glass of kale juice....

Okay, it is that. It's that exactly. I do not enjoy that sort of raw food. Not that I can say I've explored every corner of that realm of eating, because, well, I don't like that kind of food, so why punish myself? Beyond the fact that the application of heat does wonderful things for the flavor of food, the whole idea behind the raw food approach goes right over my head. I don't get the idea that people were meant to be pure herbivores, any more than I do to the absurd notion of "caveman cuisine" that has also popped up recently, a regimen centered around large portions of bloody meat and nothing else that has graced the human table since the dawn of civilization. I like civilization. Well, parts of it....

The raw food approach would be more appealing if one were allowed oysters on the half shell, sashimi, or well-seasoned raw chopped steak, but you always run into that whole "vegan" thing, if you know what I mean.

This is all just a snarky, roundabout way of saying: Is there anything better than a plate of good steak tartare, frites, levain toast, and a glass of red wine? The sort of steak tartare I like is a French invention, and I try not to think of its supposed origin in the barbarian practice of tenderizing a piece of meat by keeping it between horse and saddle over the course of a long day's ride. I think I would rather eat hemp and seaweed than that "authentic" sort of tartare.

I had my first steak tartare in Paris, at a chain wine bar called
L'Ecluse, off the Champs Elysées--you can actually see a picture of the dish at that link. What I remember most about it is that the portion was huge. I ate and ate and ate, and Mary had a few bites, too, and still the ginormous mound of meat did not recede. When I could eat no more and abandoned the plate in defeat, the manager came over and regarded my failure with a look of deep disappointment and hurt. He asked me if I hadn't enjoyed my dinner, and I tried to summon enough French to respond, yes, indeed I had, it was very good, but, Monsieur Dude, that was one honking hill of raw beef, n'est-ce pas?

I recall that we ended that meal with an astoundingly good, runny, salty, smelly round of st. marcellin cheese.

I've had steak tartare in France several times since then, and the sum of those experiences leads me to conclude: 1) The French really like steak tartare, as it still shows up on many, many menus, and 2) The French like very large portions of steak tartare. We're often told, and I find it generally true, that the French diet is not focused on large servings of protein, being comprised rather of a balanced approach, several courses, salad, bread, cheese, wine, and vegetables. When the meat is not cooked, though, all bets are off--chop it, mix it, pile it high. Bring on the toast, and let's eat raw beef. And what, I ask, is wrong with that?

Occasionally I've had steak tartare as a first course, but now I prefer to make a meal of it, indeed, an event, Bistro Night! Cue up the Serge Gainsbourg, the Aznavour, the Amélie soundtrack, bring up a bordeaux or a cru beaujolais, and sail across the sea on a dreary Minnesota March night to
Les Bacchantes on the rue Caumartin near the opera--STEAK TARTARE HACHE A LA COMMANDE 14.50.

But I'm getting carried away, and am yearning for Paris and all that it implies, so back to the topic of homemade steak tartare. The question of health issues will invariably arise, and all I can say is that that is something one must decide for oneself, and you should know the source of your beef, and it should be very fresh. I will also say that I have never been made ill by steak tartare, or, for that matter, by the many dozens of raw egg mayonnaises that I've made over the decades. Most bacteria on a piece of meat inhabit the outside surfaces, so if you want to be fastidious you could carefully cut away the outside and use the middle only. And, needless to say, I would never, ever eat raw beef ground by someone else. I want to choose it, see it, smell it, chop it, eat it.

Those are the caveats; on to the recipe.

The meat: sirloin is a good choice, or top round. The most recent version I made with a chuck-eye steak from the Seward Co-op. Pricier cuts like a strip or ribeye would be fine, as well, but you don't need to spend the big bucks to have excellent tartare. I certainly would not use tenderloin, which costs an arm and a leg and has no flavor, but that's what a lot of tartare recipes call for, so, whatever.

My seasoning is a bit idiosyncratic, and I like my tartare very well seasoned. I don't use the traditional raw egg, but I do add some mayonnaise, Hellmann's. This may cause outrage among purists, but I stand by it. It gives lot of savory depth and unctuousness to the tartare.

Finally I feel the steak must be chopped, not ground. I'll usually slice my beef into strips and put it on a plate in the freezer for 15 or 20 minutes to make it easier to chop. Then I go through it with a very sharp knife just as if I'm mincing an onion or such, and when I've got it chopped quite fine I'll spread the meat out on the cutting board, and get another sharp knife, so a knife in each hand and I go chop-chop-chop-chop-chop until I'm tired of chopping, and taste a bit for texture, season, let meld, enjoy.

Steak Tartare Maison
pour deux personnes

10 ounces beef--sirloin or top round
1 small shallot finely chopped, about a tablespoon
1 1/2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 to 3 shakes Worchestershire sauce, or to taste
1/4 tsp sambal oelek chili paste--or a few shakes Tabasco
1 heaping Tbsp Hellmann's mayonnaise
juice of 1/4 lemon, or to taste
2 good pinches salt
1 tsp capers, chopped fine
2 tsp dijon mustard
a few grinds of black pepper

Mix all together well and let sit at room temp for at least 30 minutes. Serve with good buttered toast,
oven fries, cornichons if you have some, and a green salad. Drizzle a little extra olive oil over the meat on the plate, if you like. You can also bring some of the condiments to the table for individual adjustments.

Our salad this night was our first harvest from the potted greens shown in the previous post. The potatoes came from our root cellar stash, from the market (things are getting pretty sprouty down there; I guess spring is on the way). I baked the bread, of course, made with Minnesota and North Dakota flours. The cornichons, grew 'em, pickled 'em--and this year I'll be able to use my own vinegar. The steak was either Hill & Vale or Grass Run Farm, I forget which--purchased at the Seward Co-op. The nice thing about shopping at co-ops is that you often wind up eating local foods without having to think about it.

But don't assume that because a store has a "green" reputation that they're actually walking the talk. I read something in a blog recently about Whole Foods 365 frozen "organic" vegetables which I found hard to believe, but I checked it last time I was there, and it's true: Many of those vegetables are grown and packaged in China. Talk about your food miles....

These greens traveled about 25 feet from "farm" to table:

Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw


Emily said...

love this piece of writing here, much better then the mn writer in the new edible twin cities spring issue, going on about what a drag it was to live in france where they dont have campbells cream of mushroom soup for baking egg noodle delight hotdish blek! give me pom frittes and bernaise please! i have only tried carpacio, the italian version of raw beef delights i guess, it was damn good.

Emily said...

oh, and the vegans are crazy for sure, but i do like the cookies at our local raw veg restaurant ecopolitan. just make sure you have reservations for a juicy steak afterwards.

Fred said...

Oh, that sounds so good. I know what I might be making tonight. Simplicity is the key to good cooking. Hmmm, may have go out for my greens though.

Charles Leck said...

Briliant blog!
Right up my alley, too.
I'm doing it Sunday night for my dinner. Voila and thank you for this really fine piece of writing.

Rob said...

Raw veggies?! Why then you'd miss out on the wonderful caramelized onions, as well as celery and carrots, etc. Add more flavor of deglazing with red wine. The aroma of red wine sizzling on the hot pan is my favorite part of cooking. No, I'll keep my veggies hot and dancing with red wine.

I never tried steak tartare when in Paris. I wanted too, but I declined. i don't know why, maybe it's a visual thing. Irrational as it may be, (I love sushi) raw steak just doesn't seem right, it should be on the Webber. OK, nothing ventured, nothing gained; next time I'm in Paris, I'll order steak tartare and get back to you about it.

Tom said...

Well you certainly had me convinced, Brett, but I just couldn't get Martha to go for it!

Liz said...

I'm a total stranger but I love your blog, and had to comment...

I once ate veal tartare in Paris. We tried to go the restaurant at 7:45pm, and they laughed at us because they weren't open yet. We came back 15 min later and were the only people in the place for at least 45 minutes. We ordered the veal tartare as an appetizer and it was the most amazing thing, and probably the largest portion of anything I ever consumed in Paris. It wasn't ground, but very small chunks of tender veal with a mustard and who-knows-what-else sauce. They do it right.

Trout Caviar said...

I'm delighted at this robust response from all of you uninhibited carnivores--though I wonder if I'd want to be around you come the next full moon...!

Emily, I think I had carpaccio before I tried tartare--the elegant presentation of that dish is a good intro into raw beef cuisine; also the portion is not so daunting. Please tell me you're joking about the Edible TC article! Yearning for canned soup in La Belle France? Sacre bleu. The one raw food restaurant experience I've had was at Ecopolitan a couple of years ago, and...I've almost recovered from it.

Fred, you've got nice southern exposure at the back of your house. Just scratch up the dirt a bit and throw some lettuce or arugula seeds in there--you'll have salad in no time. Or: I'll do it for you in return for a couple more hits from that Laphroaig bottle....

Thank you, Charlie, and how was your tartare? Given your sheepy connections I have to wonder, has anyone ever tried lamb tartare? I'll bet it could be good. I'm imagining it seasoned with green garlic and thyme, lots of black pepper.

Rob, well, obviously y'r preachin' to the choir here! Not that I don't enjoy my veggies raw, as well, but caramelizing onions is one of those elementally great smells. Tartare is an acquired taste, for sure, and if you start with an indifferent one, you could be put off for a long time. I was actually thinking about a sort of seared tartare, where you would take a piece of very cold steak, sear it over the hottest coals you could manage, so the outside got the char but the inside was still totally raw, then chop that into tartare. What do you think?

Tom, just keep at her, she may come around. Or, while Martha's grilling her steak, you can chop yours into a savory raw heap--like I said, to each his/her own. And then, when she takes a little taste of yours, she'll be sold.

Liz, welcome, and thanks for your note. I'd never heard of veal tartare, but why not? It's just baby beef, and, yeah, I imagine that was pretty good. Thank you for confirming my impressions of the typically enormous French tartare portions. Your comment about French dining times also brings back memories. More than once we've stuck our head in a restaurant door around dinner time and found the place totally empty. And though we were planning to eat in, say, half an hour, we would make a reservation, go back to the hotel, grab a shower, and come right back. And then upon returning to the restaurant we were treated to that wonderful French hospitality, because we had a reservation, we had "our" table, and it was ours for the night. Glad we were to have it, too, since as you say, the restaurants almost always fill up at that more "civilized" dining hour of 8:00 or 9:00.

Cheers all~ Brett

el said...

Brett, I haven't had a chance to comment until now but wished to join the fray. Not to take ANYTHING away from your fab recipe and erudition on tartare, let me just step to the defense of the raw! (And no, I'm no grass-sipper, either; I did frequent Ecopolitan when I lived down the road from it, but I won't say I was a devotee...but Emily's right those cookies are fabulous.)

I think our diets in the past had a LOT more uncooked things in their betterment, incidentally. Uncooked = happy microbes = happy intestinal fortitude methinks. So it is with great delight that I learned that I will kill my yogurt culture if I add it to milk at anything over 118*...anything over that temp. will burn my fingers too! I think that is amazing; a very fun little evolutionary factoid.

So it is with great pleasure that I grab platesfuls or glasses of the raw: not just the uncooked, but the undead! Cheese, sauerkraut, beer, kimchi, yeasted bread, wine, kefir/yogurt. SALAD, coated with mayonnaise dressing from our hens. It's all good stuff! And: most pairs well with steak tartare.

And beer is a great thing with which to wash down one's oysters.

Trout Caviar said...

Hi El: Thanks for the thoughtful comment, and for broadening the discussion. I owned up to a certain level of snarkiness in my post; it's not raw food that I resist, but a fanatical approach to a diet that excludes all but. I'm writing from fermentation central--the cider, vinegar, the 'kraut, kimchi, sour beets and dills, and the levain starter (aka "The Franchise"), of course, which I sort of think of as the core of our fermunda-reactor. There's stuff fermenting here that I don't even know about. You're certainly correct to sing the praises of that sort of noble rot and rawness.

What I find puzzling about a lot of the "raw food" preparations I've seen is that they seem so processed, in spite of being uncooked. So many raw food dishes seem to be ersatz versions of the cooked or meat-filled ones--faux "pasta," "pizza," "burgers," etc., perfectly honorable raw ingredients forced into an unnatural form. And then, in our part of the world, where winter's vegetables don't really work that well in the raw, menus can be desperately unseasonal, non-local.

I've certainly had my fanatical phases in life; now I am for balance, and calm. Maybe if I were a little less snarky....

Re the yogurt, 118 degrees, I'm missing your point. Is that the magic temperature for raw-foodists? I tried making yogurt once from raw milk, unheated, and got something VERY VERY FUNKY!

Isn't beer cooked before being fermented?

In San Francisco or Seattle with a plate of local oysters I would love an Anchor Steam, a Red Hook. Here we usually hew to the traditional crisp white, muscadet, or more often lately, gruner veltliner.

To the microbes, the generous raw offerings of the soil, and free choice~ Brett

el said...

re: 118* oui for most things
145-150* too hot in the world of the raw

but yes yogurt is a thermophilic culture, cooked, to about 180 or so, then cooled and to that cool (116*) milk then the yogurt culture is added. And I defer to you about the beer, you could be quite right. My wine and cider aren't cooked though :)

Kris said...

I, too, love steak tartar, however believe it or not, the first time I had it was at Town Hall Brewery in Minneapolis. Amazing! And so much so that I sought out a recipe and have made it multiple times (Thousand Hills beef, mayo on the side, please). In addition, I ordered it at the 112 Eatery and they,too, serve it in a HUGE portion. YUM!

Trout Caviar said...

El, I recall home brewers talking about the "wort," which I think is a cooked grain mash. I seem to remember terrible tales of "wort explosions." Perhaps Teresa or Nate or someone can elaborate.

Kris, I'm glad you mentioned 112 Eatery--they make a great tartare; that's the type of seasoning I strive for in mine. Meritage has it on the menu regularly; we've had good and not so good there. Thanks for the Town Hall tip. And, it appears you know a thing or two about beer--what's with the wort?

Cheers~ Brett

Emily said...

sadly i am not kidding about the article. it made me so dismayed that someone was represting us minnesotans as pining away for campbells crap in a can... its in the most recent edible Twin Cities mag, which is free at the coop, if you want to get your panties in a bunch over something, too.

Rob said...

"where you would take a piece of very cold steak, sear it over the hottest coals you could manage, so the outside got the char but the inside was still totally raw, then chop that into tartare. What do you think?"

I think this could work, but I'm thinking the textures would conflict with combining the seared meat with the raw. It's worth a try, how will we know otherwise? BTW, I got my Poolish going for the morning.

Trout Caviar said...

Emily, if that person was in Paris, she could have gone to this grocery store-- . I'll bet they carry Campbell's. Baked beans in the land of cassoulet, and Durkee's Fried Onions! At least they didn't say "French-fried...". But I must admit that I have a lingering affection for a can of B&M or Bush's. Haven't opened one in a good while, though.

Rob, you could be right that the textures would clash, but I think I'll try it with just a small piece of meat next time I'm grilling a steak.

Good baking weather today; I made buns yesterday, and a couple big levain loaves. Hope yours is all you desire.

Cheers~ Brett

mdmnm said...

What a great tartare! I may try it with oryx, as that is a very mild meat. My favorite version from a restaurant was at a place called Cafe Las Brisas in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, where they will sometimes make a fresh tuna tartare tableside using yellowfin. Lots of chopping, some garlic, some onion, more chopping, black pepper, worcestershire sauce, chopping, parsley, chopping, then served. Very very good.

Kris said...

You pegged me! I am a self described beer geek and have done a bit of homebrewing. Essentially making beer is like making soup. You start out with water, bring it to a boil (so yes, probably goes above the boundaries for raw foodists), and then add certain ingredients (grains, hops) at specified times during the boil. At this point you have "wort", which you will cool down to a temperature so that when you pitch your yeast, you won't kill it because you want the yeast to do its work to eat up the sugar in the wort and as a result, produce alcohol.

Sylvie in Rappahannock said...

I am late to this thread, and was going to jump in re: beer, but I see Kris already provided the answer. Similar to heating the milk up and letting it cool before adding the culture (We have wort cooling as I type this... the house is redolent with the smell of hops)

It's not the raw that irritating to me (I eat plenty of it too), it the torturing the raw ingredients into something they are not. Like grating & dehydrating sweet potatoes for hours and then making it into a "pizza" crust... sigh... maybe it taste good to somebody, not to me. Or like the turkey tofu... oh well, to each their own.

Good looking Tartare by the way. Tres genereux, aussi.

Trout Caviar said...

Kris: Thanks for the clarification!

Sylvie, my sentiments exactly.

Cheers~ Brett