The Co-pilot travels more than anyone I know. He travels internationally a few times a year for business, and another few times for pleasure. Not to mention all the domestic travelling he does. Despite all that, he seems to have a never ending supply of annual leave remaining and I have long suspected there is a well-developed part of his brain dedicated to plotting annual leave loopholes and wrangling frequent flyer point deals. His frequent absences used to really affect me, but over time, I’ve gotten used to it and found coping mechanisms. One scheme I came up with involved imposing a time limit on his days away. Namely, for every day over 2 weeks that he is away from home he forfeits 500 frequent flyer points to me. And it seems to be a good incentive plan as he hasn’t forfeited any points. Yet.
But, still he is often away and I find myself cooking for one. In these situations, elaborate effort didn’t ever seem worthwhile when there isn’t someone to enjoy your meal with. However now, more often than not, I’m using these occasions to indulge in the foods that I like: the ingredients or dishes that I adore but the Co-pilot loathes; the ingredients that I choose to eat alone or secretly in dark corners.
One dish that falls in this category is steak tartare. A few weeks ago, the Co-pilot and I were watching Rick Stein’s French Odyssey and dreaming of meandering summer holidays in the French countryside. We watched him re-create a number of mouth watering classic French dishes – but the one that captivated me and instantly had me plotting and planning for the next Co-pilot vacation cooking opportunity was the steak tartare.
Although widely associated with French cuisine, whether steak tartare is French in origin is debatable. The popular story that the dish was named after the Tartars, a nomadic Turkic peoples that were said to ride with raw meat under their saddles to tenderise the meat. Wiki suggests that the name is actually a nod to the humble tartar sauce, and versions of the dish served in France in the early 20th century, were called steak à l’Americaine and served with a dollop of tartar sauce on the side.
Origins aside, we watched as Rick Stein’s deft hands made light work of the ingredients and served up a rustic pile of glistening seasoned raw beef topped with a plump, taut egg yolk. It wasn’t long before the Co-pilot was away for business again, and I seized the opportunity to re-create the dish at home. The main ingredient in this dish is, not surprisingly, beef. And similarly obvious is the need for the use of excellent quality, tender beef in this dish. I certainly wasn’t prepared to take any chances when I’m about to consume a large amount of raw beef so, after work, I made a beeline to the David Jones Foodhall, an upmarket fresh and gourmet food providore in the Sydney CBD. There I sought the advice of the butcher and without hesitation he tipped his head to the Black Angus beef eye fillet. He promised it would deliver the tenderest beef, perfect for a tartare – and I’d bloody well hope so at $55AUD per kg!
The recipe I used to create the dish is a combination of the recipe Rick Stein used on his show, French Odyssey, and a recipe from Damien Pignolet, chef and owner of Bistro Moncur, because I loved the sound of adding anchovies for extra bite.
(Adapted from Rick Stein’s and Damien Pignolet’s recipes).
Ingredients (serves 2)
- 260g Southern Highland Black Angus aged beef eye fillet
- 4 tbsp cornichons, finely chopped
- 4 heaped tbsp French shallots, finely diced
- 4 tsp capers, rinsed and drained
- 4 anchovy fillets, minced
- 4 heaped tbsp flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 4 shakes of Tabasco sauce
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- baguette to serve
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees, slice the baguette into thin rounds, brush with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and bake for about 5 minutes until golden. Set aside these crostinis until needed.
- Keep the beef cold until ready to use and as you’re serving this raw, for hygiene reasons ensure you start with well washed hands or even gloves, use a very clean knife and chopping surface. Then using a sharp knife trim any fat or sinew off the eye fillet.
- Finely mince the beef using the knife. This is more labour intensive than putting the beef through a food processor but it provides the correct – almost rustic texture as you’re not after a paste.
- Combine all the chopped and diced ingredients, then the seasoning. The amounts are to taste but I’ve provided the amounts I ended up using (I found I needed more flavour than initially thought). Add the ingredients to the beef, then add in enough olive oil to moisten and bind the mixture together and mix thoroughly.
- Spoon half of the mixture onto a plate and shape into a heaped flat mound.
- Make a slight well in the top of the mound, drop the egg yolk in and serve immediately with a few crostini and preferably a glass of red wine.
It was certainly an impressive dish. And I have to be honest, I was just a little impressed with myself for deciding to make this dish for one. I broke the taut egg yolk and watched the viscous river of gold course its way down to the plate and then mixed the egg yolk through and took a bite.
It was good. The flavour of the aged beef sang. I was instantly thankful I’d spent the extra dollars on the quality cut. The other flavours acted to enhance but not mask the flavour of the beef. The tender, buttery texture of the minced beef marries perfectly with the rich, silky egg yolk; the crunchiness of the cornichons and shallots provides a stark contrast; their flavour combined with the salty vinegary capers to add a dimension of savoury piquancy and the parsley provides that subtle lift of herby freshness. I dug in with gusto. About halfway through I stopped and took stock of the scene. I am sitting at home, alone, and before me sits a large mound of raw meat, a raw egg and a healthy glass of red wine.
When did I develop so much testosterone?
At that point, the Co-pilot rang and I excitedly boasted about my brave “cooking” feat. The subdued tone on the other end suggested the Co-pilot was less than impressed. In fact, he frankly told me he found it weird and disturbing that I was eating a pile of raw meat on my own. At that point, I had to agree. I was weird and disturbed.
Compared to all the dishes I’ve cooked on my own, for my own enjoyment – this is one I think I’ve mentally re-categorised as a dish that requires the company of another. If only to convince yourself you’re not weird and disturbed. Luckily there were many other mouth watering French dishes I spied on Rick Stein’s show so the next opportunity to cook for one will no doubt involve more single person-friendly options. Perhaps I’ll skin some eels and fry them in garlic butter and parsley. Or perhaps snails in the traditional garlic butter or more inspired bolognaise sauce… Or perhaps I’ll retreat to the less confronting, more comforting slow-cook soups, casseroles and cassoulets and dream about long, leisurely holidays in Paris and the idyllic French countryside whilst it stews and wiles the night away.
*sigh* Oh one day I’ll visit you. I promise.
Happy Bastille Day to all the French! I wish I was in France now celebrating the day with you.by