Steak Tartare: Haute cuisine or a step too far?
What is Steak Tartare?
Steak Tartare is a dish that has been nestled away on the menus of French restaurants and steakhouses for decades but has recently resurfaced as a bit of a taboo pleasure for many people.
The dish in itself is quite simple. It is made from roughly chopped steak that has been seasoned with things such as onions, capers, and other dried spices then usually adorned with an egg yolk ion top. Sounds delicious right? Well, what if we told you that this dish never even sees an oven? It is served completely raw, including the egg on top.
While I can understand that this already sounds incredibly appetising, its made even better by the usually high price tag accompanying it. But what is it that makes a pile of raw beef, some spices, and a raw egg yolk on top such a delicacy? Something that people will proudly proclaim that they have experienced.
Why is Steak Tartare so prized?
The reason that steak tartare has a kind of awkward taboo crown when it comes to meat eating feats is because we are told from a very young age that eating raw meat is not a good idea and can actually be quite dangerous which is very true and this a rule that should be followed 99% of the time. Steak Tartare sits in that 1%.
The danger of eating raw meat lies in the bacteria that accumulates on its exterior surface. This could be good healthy bacteria that causes mould as you would see in a piece of aged meat that is kept in a carefully monitored environment but, with the greatest respect, your fridge is not a controlled environment, so the type of bacteria growth is much more likely to be quite harmful.
It’s only when the beef is sourcest from the finest providers, prepared by expert chefs in the most sanitary conditions that steak tartare can even begin to be thought of as being safe. Even then, those with compromised immune systems and pregnant women are all heavily dissuaded from risking it.
So with all of the extra care, expertise, and cost of the finest product are taken into account, you can clearly see how the bill begins to rack up when you want to take on this dish and earn your badge of honour.
How can Steak Tartare be safe to consume?
So as we said above, it takes a good amount of knowledge and preparation to make Steak Tartare “safe” The reason Steak Tartare can never truly be called safe is because the risk of contamination by some very quiet serious bacteria can never be totally eliminated.
Whenever you eat Steak Tartare, even if its been prepared by the finest hands in the finest establishment in the finest city, you are taking a risk even if it is a small one.
The lengths that high class restaurants go to so they can prepare Steak Tartare and make it as safe as possible to consume are quite extensive. In fact, a cook in the kitchen at one such establishment actually took to an online forum to shed light on how they prepare the dish:
"We have a special prep area in the kitchen that is kept even more meticulous than the rest. It is used for allergy dishes...and raw dishes like tartare, carpaccio, and ceviche." Other precautions include taking a cooking torch such as the kind used to make crème brûlée to the outside of the beef and then using a sanitized knife on a sanitized cutting board to remove the thin layer of cooked meat.
Finally, the meat is served within minutes of grinding, and the final touches — seasoning, garnishing, etc. — are applied tableside. The shorter the window the beef is exposed, the less time it will have to pick up any potential contamination.
Is it all worth it?
The balance of seasonings and accoutrements that are served with Steak Tartare make it an incredibly delicious dish with many diners explaining that while it may clearly be raw meat to the eye, it is infinitely more appetising to the tongue.
Often described as buttery smooth with a much more subtle flavour than a chunk of steak, Steak Tartare can be called a refinement of the steak or the essence.
Steak Tartare has been on menus for decades and it shows no signs of leaving. It’s an interesting take on modern eating and challenges our closely held beliefs on food.
Is it comparable to a nice ribeye? Not in my opinion.
While Steak Tartare is technically steak, it shouldn’t be treated as such and taken as its own experience to be enjoyed at least once in your life.