Meat Tartares: Old skool, New school

What’s better than raw meat? Two raw meats, that’s what.

Chef C had the brilliant idea to do a traditional beef tartare, alongside a new-fangled Noma tartare. The Noma cookbook has a recipe for beef tartare (the restaurant sometimes serves musk-ox). Wanting to contrast the traditional beef with something a little more gamey, and thinking we wouldn’t find musk-ox, we thought venison would be a good compromise.

So, of course, I found musk-ox. But since it was frozen, and the butcher said (admiringly) that it was very gamey, we decided to go with venison.

The first order of business was to source the garnishes for the Noma tartare. Unfortunately, early winter in Toronto isn’t the best time to find wood sorrel, aka shamrocks, either in the back yard or at the local florist. While I obsessed over what micro-herb to use atop the tartare, Chef C very sensibly decided on… sorrel! Chiffonade of sorrel, to be precise.

She then made a tarragon emulsion: a whole whack of tarragon leaves (plucked labouriously from their stems) blenderized with grapeseed oil, shallot, garlic, apple balsamic vinegar, Ultratex 3, and a few tablespoons of a monster, hours-long sub-recipe: chicken glace… a chicken stock boiled down to a thick syrup-gel. Other garnishes for the venison tartare: butter-toasted rye breadcrumbs, microplaned horseradish “floss”, shallot rings, salt, juniper berry powder, and mustard oil.

Chef C subjected the venison to the full Noma treatment: instead of finely mincing it, she scraped it into strands by dragging a chef’s knife along the length of the tenderloin. And here is the finished product:

Meanwhile, your Bluebarry got to work on the beef tenderloin, mincing it into dice that were probably between 1/8 and 1/4 inch. Chef C decided on Anthony Bourdain’s steak tartare recipe, which includes too many garnishes to list. I was charged with mixing the garnishes into the minced meat, and around the 66% point, I thought better of adding any more.

One ring mold later, Chef C had the tartare on the plate:

Now, with added toast-points!

The diners’ verdict? A unanimous decision in favour of the beef tartare! The austere, new-school garnishes served with the venison were no match for the salty-sweet-umami explosion that was old-school steak tartare. Even accounting for the added flavour, though, everyone agreed that the farmed venison was somewhat watery and bland. (This included your Bluebarry, who refrained from tasting the beef version until giving the venison a good chance to shine.) The flavour of the pastured beef was prominent even through all of the garnishes, while the venison didn’t show up well despite its delicate treatment. Everyone seemed to agree that the beef version was perfectly seasoned, so if you’re tempted to use the Bourdain recipe, be wary of adding the full complement of seasonings. Similarly, the venison may have received too heavy a dose of mustard oil. The all-too-obvious moral of the story: Season lightly, and taste as you go… especially when it’s your first time making a dish.

Next time: we’ll try the musk-ox.

3 responses

  1. Um…perhaps you can fix my name in that last post? (damn you gravatar!)

    lol, Here’s your post:
    I just made the Les Halles tartare the other night! Was wondering if you found Bourdain’s Les Halle Cookbook version a little too caper-y? I think next time I’d definitely cut back on the capers, and maybe even coarsely chop them. There were a few too many caper-bombs in what was otherwise an awesomely satisfying dish.

    • Thanks for commenting, Ian! The caper question is an interesting one – partly a matter of taste, and partly a question of ingredients. You could certainly cut down on the amount of caper, and that might make the flavour of the meat come through a bit more cleanly. There’s also the matter of what type of capers to use: I find that the ones packaged in brine are sharper tasting than those packed in salt. The latter, after a 15 minute soak in water to rid them of the excess saltiness, have a more subtle, pure caper flavour – less like a pickle, and more like the flower bud that they are.

  2. I used the ones packed in brine, and I think they overwhelmed the dish a little. Once we picked out a number of them, the dish had much better balance, not just the meat, but the other ingredients came through in a much more integrated way. Just found your blog while Googling to see if perhaps there was an errata for the book that reduced the amount of capers. Will definitely be back – chances are you’re cooking just around the corner from me.

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