My mom was the only child of Manhattan-based painters. During her childhood they all spent a lot of time in Paris, where my grandparents’ painted and later my grandfather taught painting. She attended elementary and high school there—one of my favorite stories is how she was the only 1st grader in her school to bring milk, not wine and water like the rest of the elementary students for lunch—Ha!
Classic French cuisine has always been part of my mother’s cooking repertoire, with carrot salad starters, quiche and cheeses with intense aromas making up my childhood tableaux. Outside of France, French cuisine has a reputation as high class and fussy, but at its core are frugal ingredients waxed into art with technique. When I think back about how little money we had growing up and how my mother always made dinner seem wonderful with a limited budget, I am truly grateful. I am never surprised when we break for lunch or dinner on the farm and my mom has created something truly sophisticated from what she has on hand. This happened just the other day when she prepared steak tartare using our top round.
French food is highly pleasurable, and steak tartare is just that. It plays on one’s senses. It’s a bit dangerous, savory, robust, satisfyingly beefy with briny capers and juicy onions. My mother hand chops top round (London broil) and tosses it with olive oil, good French Dijon, capers, chopped onions (which we put on the side because my father is sensitive to them), salt and pepper. We also omitted the raw egg because our hens aren’t laying, as it’s the darkest part of the year, and we don’t trust other raw eggs. Instead we added a tad more olive oil. She placed it in a small mold, garnished it with chopped parsley and served it for lunch.
My Danish grandfather loved beef tartar, but his version included a raw egg on top of a mound of freshly chopped raw beef, with small bowls of onion, pepper, salt, capers, and minced onion as garnishes, which ensured that each bite would be different depending on your garnish. I saw a similar version in a German cookbook and once ordered a similar steak tartar presentation at a Polish restaurant. The French method is to pre-mix the tartar, which is delightful, but either way you will want to use a lean beef (that isn’t well marbled) like a top round or even a tenderloin.
Knowing where your beef comes from and the farmer that raised it is key to this dish because raw beef can be dangerous. One should never use ground beef for beoffe tartare that hasn’t been hand ground yourself. If you are nervous about parasites you can freeze the beef before you chop. Freezing beef or pork also kills potentially harmful parasites.