This weekend is the 37th annual K-W Greek Fest, and…
It is an old and classic dish that frequently appears on menus in Waterloo Region: steak tartare.
It’s a raw dish and that freaks some people out; however, with knowledgeable chefs who know their product and where it comes from, I have little issue with eating it.
To be specific about its meaning, a tartare sauce is a classical cold mayonnaise-based sauce that features crushed hard-boiled egg, oil and chopped chives.
Tradition would also dictate that this was a dish often prepared with horsemeat and therein lies a pretty good food story: as the Mongol hordes rode throughout Asia nearly a thousand years ago, Tatars, as they were known (the “r” was inserted into their title later), were seen to be putting slices of meat underneath their saddles. Observers thought the trick was being done to tenderize the protein as they rode and before it was cooked and consumed.
That is a most unlikely truth. I can’t really imagine eating a chunk of meat saturated with a heady combination of saddle soap and horse’s sweat, can you? (Incidentally, the Catholic Church banned eating horsemeat in the Middle Ages — it returned to the French diet only during the Franco-Prussian War in the 1870s when beef was in short supply.)
Add to the myth the idea, generated in more modern times, that the Tatars were using the meat to help heal wounds on the horses (like putting a raw steak on your black eye) and you have a double improbability.
Eventually, a dish served à la tartare was salt and pepper-seasoned minced beef steak which was re-constructed to look like a steak again. It was served uncooked and crowned with a raw egg along with capers, chopped onion and parsley on the side (essentially like in the photo just above). The variations and permutations on the dish are legion … and I have found quite delicious too.
A number of Waterloo Region restaurants will prepare tartare and its raw cousin carpaccio from time to time, including the popular destination located on Lancaster Avenue in Kitchener’s Bridgeport neighbourhood: the marvellous Public Restaurant | Bar. Their tartare variation is served with pickled red onion, a red wine reduction and fried capers ($15).
Try it sometime. I only wish we could sample the equine version.[Top image: cyclonebill via Wikimedia Commons]