Steak Tartare is a savoury dish made from raw beef that is ground or finely chopped. Occasionally unwary people order it, thinking it is steak with tartare sauce. Many people who do try it, don’t like it on account of the texture of the raw meat.
It is popular in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Switzerland, France and the Netherlands.
There are variations in how the meat is prepared. Better versions are made from meat that you mince yourself on the spot, being careful to remove all sinew. Some people grind the meat until it is almost a paste; others mince it more coarsely. Most modern versions, certainly, are minced up in a food processor.
In 20th century America, the cut of beef used was often tenderloin steak.
There are variations in how it is presented or accompanied.
In Belgium, it is called “filet américain” (aka “American fillet”) or “steak américain”, based presumably on its similarity to “hamburger,” and served as a main with French fries. The meat is mixed with a small amount of mayonnaise, seasoned with pepper and Worcestershire sauce, and put on a plate, moulded into the shape of a ball. A well is made in the middle of the ball of meat, and a raw egg cracked into it. It is then garnished with capers and chopped onion, and served with thin slivers of toasted baguette, cornichons, salad and fries.
In France, it is served Belgian-style. The Dutch tend to serve it as a sandwich topping, minus an egg.
In Slovakia, it is often served with toast first rubbed with a clove of garlic.
A Mexican take marinates the meat in lime juice, which can kill some but by no means all organisms.
In the southwest of Turkey, a similar dish called çið köfte is made from minced lean beef or lamb. It is seasoned with garlic, parsley, green onions, spices, tomato, puréed fresh pepper, and mixed with fine cracked wheat, then kneaded to a fine paste.
Venison Tartare and Salmon Tartare are also made.
Steak Tartare can also be served as a sandwich or toast spread.
Health concerns about eating uncooked minced beef (e.g. hamburger) have made the dish less popular. In fact, though, hamburger is not used — it starts from a whole piece of beef.
Steak Tartar was mentioned in 1894 by Charles Ranhofer in his book “The Epicurean” as a raw dish called “Hamburg Steak à la tartare.”
The Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary says the English term “Steak Tartare” dates back only to 1911.
In some older German cookbooks, it was referred to as “Rohe Beefsteak” (“raw beefsteak”.)
One theory as to the origin of the dish is that it appeared first in Russia and China, where Europeans encountered it. There, the Tartars (aka Mongols) of Central Asia, were said by popular belief to put pieces of raw meat until their saddles to tenderize it as they rode horses, and then eat it raw. The spices, some say, were added to disguise the taste and smell of horse sweat. There is, however, no actual historical evidence that the Mongols ate meat prepared in this way.
Undaunted, a variant theory goes on to elaborate that it was Germans who brought it back from China to the port of Hamburger (where it got named “hamburger.”) There is no evidence of this, though.
A vaguely similar dish was mentioned in 1810 in a book published in London by Oddy & Co., called “The Family Receipt-Book; or, Universal Repository etc.”: “Tartar Method of Preserving Meat: This described, by the respectable communicator, as a most excellent method of preserving meat, and making it tender, as well as improving its flavour. Put the meat in milk, and lay a weight on it; when the milk will become sour, but not putrid, and the flavour of the meat be much improved. This mode is not to be despised, either for its extreme simplicity, or because it is practised by the Tartars of the Crimea, with the exception of their eating horse flesh, which we may not, as they certainly do, think a dainty.”
Some say the dish was invented in Jules Verne’s books, but there is actually no mention of it in Jules Verne.
Many, though, think it is not an imported dish at all, but just a name given to a dish, like French fries, French roast coffee, or Belgian Buns. Note for instance that the French name of “filet américain” ascribes its origins to American methods (the allusion to hamburger.)
Doorduyn Y, de Jager C, van der Zwaluw W, Friesema I, Heuvelink A, de Boer E, and al. Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) O157 outbreak, The Netherlands, September – October 2005. Euro Surveill 2006;11(7):182-5. Available online: http://www.eurosurveillance.org/em/v11n07/1107-223.asp