– cross-posted from Project Foodie
by Betty Fussell
When I was in Paris last June, for the first time in years, I was surprised to find a long-loved friend on the menu of every bistro I went to — Steak Tartare. I’d forgotten how long it’d been missing from the menus of cafes and restaurants across America. In fact, it had been missing from my own kitchen. One forkful, however, and I remembered how passionate our friendship once had been.
My guess is that raw beef disappeared from the menus of America around 2003, about the time the Mad Cow scare came in. For decades, Steak Tartare had been a fabled item at places like the “The 21 Club,” but that was before raw fish became chic and raw beef and raw eggs taboo. Of course the E.coli tainted hamburgers of The Jack-in-the-Box chain in the mid-90s did nothing to reassure a nervous public, nor did last year’s recall of several hundred million pounds of ground beef from a California Meat Packing Company.
But does that mean we should Eat Beef No More? Of course not. It does mean that we should choose our beef carefully — choose it for quality, which puts top priority on flavor and wholesomeness. Industry’s runaway commodification of all our factory-raised foods, but most egregiously meat and poultry, has tried to con the public into equating Cheap with Good. That is dead wrong. Cheap is as cheap does, and cheap comes from mass production, which is the opposite of raising calves and cows properly — without hormones or antibiotics, feeding them properly on grass, processing them properly on a scale that is humane, manageable and safe.
Quality meat guarantees that the meat you buy is fresh meat, not fiddled with chemically to prolong its shelf life. In other words, we must distinguish between artisan beef and commodity beef. Common sense tells us that we must expect to pay more for real food than faux food. The French have always been smart about that.
Thank god artisan beef has returned to this country as part of the greening movement. At last, we have other places to buy meat than in behemoth supermarkets. At last, we are restoring heritage breeds, not just breeds that put on weight fast and are sent to market as obese teenagers. At last, we are replacing a forced-fed grain diet with a ruminant’s natural one of grass. At last, we’re letting cows put on flesh in their own sweet time, not according to the slaughter-house schedule. At last, we can restore Steak Tartare to our menus by choosing our beef carefully from a source that we trust, whether we buy it already ground or grind the cut ourselves.
One of the most luscious meats in the world comes from the increasingly popular breed called Wagyu (sometimes called Kobe because that’s the port this Japanese breed of beef was originally shipped from). This breed (even when it’s crossbred with Angus and other American breeds) is so highly marbled that it makes our USDA scale of select, choice and prime seem primitive. Some call it white beef because a Wagyu steak looks like a slab of white speckled with red. I call it beef butter because it is a thing unto itself, like foie gras.
To make a Tartare of ground Wagyu is to eat beef butter highly seasoned by spices yet smoothed by the richness of mayonnaise. By choosing a source you can trust, you can banish fear and guarantee pleasure, knowing you’re going to get maximum bang for whatever bucks you pay.
Wagyu Steak Tartare
From Raising Steaks: The Life and Times of American Beef by Betty Fussell (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008).
* 1½ pounds American Kobe sirloin, finely chopped
* 3 anchovy fillets, chopped
* 1 tablespoon chopped onion
* 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
* 2 tablespoons chopped parsley leaves
* 1 large egg yolk
* 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
* 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
* 1 teaspoon cognac
* 2 tablespoons olive oil
* ½ teaspoon black pepper
* Tabasco to taste
* Toast points
With a sharp knife, chop the meat as fine as you can and then chop again. (A processor will turn this beef to mush.) Next chop the anchovies, onion, capers, and parsley until they are uniform in size. In a large bowl beat the egg yolk with the mustard, Worcestershire, and cognac. Gradually beat in the olive oil until the mixture thickens. Add pepper and Tabasco. Add the meat and chopped ingredients and mix well but very gently with your hands to keep the meat light and air-filled. Form gently into four to six patties and top each with a toast point set upright. Yield: 4 servings.
A few online sources: snakeriverfarms.com, preferredmeats.com, lobels.com, debragga.com, heritagefoods.com, ranchfoodsdirect, com, lacensebeef.com, lasatergrasslandsbeef.com, eatwild.com.