Before moving to France, I had heard of steak tartare but it wasn’t something I was familiar with and I had definitely never tasted it. Steak tartare, also called beef tartare, was not a common meal growing up in my suburban New Jersey household and sounded like something fancy and foreign to my ear. Then, I moved to France and learned all about classic French steak tartare and French mealtime habits. My father-in-law eats it regularly and in France, beef tartare is quite common and an easy-to-make meal. So what is steak tartare and how do the French eat it? That’s what we’re talking about in today’s post!
What is beef tartare?
First, the terms steak and beef tartare are used interchangeably, although before moving to France, I’d hear beef tartare more often in English. In French, I feel like steak tartare is more commonly used.
In any case, this classic French dish dates back to 19th century France. Tartare in general goes even further back and was originally a horsemeat dish with Mongol origins. These days, it’s traditionally made with finely chopped raw beef or steak and takes the shape of a hamburger. This circular patty of raw meat is often served with a raw egg yolk on top along with various seasonings and garnishes such as onions, capers, and mustard that get mixed in.
Beef tartare is sometimes served as an appetizer, but in France it’s often the main meal, especially at lunch. You’ll see it on restaurant menus and as a dish people serve in their homes.
Enjoy your steak tartare with a side of potato chips, fries, or toast (or anything else that’s crunchy) so that you can scoop up all the tasty morsels without making too much of a mess on your plate.
Some people believe that the classic dish as we enjoy it today originated in Germany and was brought to France by German soldiers during World War I, while others say it was invented in England during medieval times when people enjoyed eating raw meat after being struck down by illness.
Regardless of where its roots lie, steak tartare is a love it or hate it dish so you have to try it at least once and decide for yourself!
Is steak tartare safe to eat?
Now for the most popular question about eating steak tartare. How is beef tartare safe? Beef tartare is not only safe to eat when prepared properly, but it’s also delicious. However, if you want your beef tartare to be as safe and healthy as possible, there are a few precautions you should take ahead of time.
First, the most important thing is to make sure you’re getting high-quality tartare meat. It’s best to get your tartare meat directly from the butcher the same day you plan on eating it. That way you’re getting the freshest and best-tasting steak tartare possible and reducing the risk of foodborne illness that comes with eating raw meat.
Keep in mind that steak tartare meat is different than just eating a raw hamburger. It’s higher quality.
This isn’t just about freshness. The quality of the meat will also affect its texture and taste. Make sure you tell your butcher that it’ll be consumed raw so that way you’ll be given the best steak tartare meat.
One thing to avoid is buying prepackaged hamburger patties from the grocery store and using them as steak tartare patties. Industrially prepared hamburger meat is not going to be as fresh. The bigger issue is that in a factory, you’re going to have meat coming from a variety of sources, not necessarily the same animal, which increases the chance of contamination.
This is all the more reason to seek out a quality butcher where you can watch him or her grind up the best piece of meat available right in front of you.
Serve your steak tartare slightly chilled or at room temperature but definitely not freezing cold right out of the fridge or after it’s been left on the counter for too long. My preference is to eat it slightly chilled.
True story: One of my top three worst bouts of food poisoning was after eating a cooked steak in a Paris restaurant on my last night of vacation back in 2008. I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say I didn’t think I’d make the plane the next morning. Raw doesn’t automatically mean unsafe and vice versa, cooked doesn’t always equal safe.
Beef tartare ingredients
Here’s what’s in a French steak tartare recipe.
Quality raw beef: Get your meat directly from the butcher. It can be ground steak (most common) or chopped into tiny pieces.
Tartar sauce: The best tartar sauce is homemade. It can be either a vinaigrette or mayonnaise base, but most commonly it is made from olive oil, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, dill, and capers. Some recipes also include shallots and parsley for added flavor. You can also buy tartare sauce if homemade isn’t in the cards. Some people add extra Worcestershire sauce to the tartare for extra flavor.
Capers: These salty little pickles are often used to provide contrast to tartare’s rich flavors in addition to adding an acidic note that cuts through the meat’s richness.
Shallots: These small bulbs add a subtle onion flavor that helps balance out tartare’s other intensely flavorful ingredients. Some people use onions instead.
Egg yolk: Beef tartare is commonly served with a raw chicken or quail egg on top. The aforementioned capers and shallots can be served on the side and mixed in as you start to eat or mixed into the meat directly before it hits your plate.
Beef tartare variations
While beef tartare is a traditional French dish, there’s always room for twists on the traditional French steak tartare recipe. The typical presentation is a mound of finely chopped lean beef, with capers, shallots and topped off with an egg yolk.
The meat is served with a variety of extras capers, onions, and cornichons. The dish’s seasoning may include salt, pepper, breadcrumbs, chives, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, horseradish cream sauce, or eve vinaigrette salad dressing.
As I’m writing this, Tom just chimed in to say that as a kid, he’d add some shredded cheese to his steak tartare to give it a little extra flavor. He still does it today! Like French raclette, the beauty of steak tartare is that you can make it the way you like it. Hate capers? Don’t use them. Love cheese? Add some like Tom does.
Another way French people eat beef tartare is by doing an aller-retour in a pan before eating it. They’ll heat up a pan and quickly cook each side of the patty for just 10 seconds before serving it. That way it gets a quick char on each face of the patty but it’s still completely raw inside.
Other popular variations on the classic steak tartare recipe include tuna tartare, salmon tartare, and chicken tartare.
Have you tried steak tartare in France? What did you think?
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