Earlier this week, while tooling around on the Book of the Faces, I noticed that my friend Pascal posted photos of something he called “Operation Tartare.” Those less Parisian or simply less dramatically inclined than he might have simply called it “lunch.”
At least, that’s what I planned to call it.
I was suddenly overcome with the desire to ingest raw meat and egg, just like Pascal because he’s always been much cooler than I am. And I liked the idea of making this dish by myself and for myself. I thought it might make me feel like some kind of food daredevil. Kind of like Andrew Zimmern, but with hair and without a travel budget.
If I had had the time, energy, and guts to take down a cow, I might have, but this is lunch we’re talking about. I only had an hour I was willing to give over to this sudden craving. I didn’t even consider coaxing an ultra-fresh egg from a chicken’s cloaca. Maybe next time.
I was careful about the meat I purchased. I explained to the butcher what I was planning to do with it and she was kind enough to cut me a fresh, center piece of tenderloin. She wished me luck. I made a quick move over to the eggs, grabbed a baguette, and headed for the checkout line. Everything else I needed I had at home. I was in and out of the store in 10 minutes. Delightful.
When I returned home, I tossed the beef into the refrigerator, pulled out an already clean cutting board and scrubbed it again with hot, soapy water and a fresh sponge. The idea of giving myself a side order of e. coli seemed oddly unappetizing. So was the thought of salmonella from raw egg.
My desire for raw meat, however, was stronger than my fear of foodborne illness. Ruling out pregnancy as a possible reason for this urge, I made my lunch.
And it was absolutely delicious.
After doing the washing up, I read a tweet from another friend, who is not at all French, stating that 38,700 pounds of ground beef had just been recalled from California and New York for possible E. Coli contamination.
I did a little google search to refresh my memory as to what this little bacterium with business-like name could do to me:
ESCHERICHIA COLI O157:H7
Disease: Hemorrhagic colitis
Source: Serotype 0157:H7 toxin contracted by drinking water which contains raw sewage (usually during travel). Also, can occur in raw or rare ground beef and unpasteurized milk.
Symptoms (after eating): Onset: 3-4 days; severe abdominal cramps followed by diarrhea (often bloody), nausea, vomiting, fever lasting to 10 days. May require hospitalization. Possible complication-Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), a urinary tract infection capable of causing kidney failure in children.
No thank you.
I reminded myself that I was eating organic beef that I chopped myself on a clean surface with well-manicured hands, not factory-ground burger fodder. I calmed myself.
“3 to 4 days, I thought. That means I can finish up the work week without vomiting on my guests.” It was a most reassuring time delay, given the fact that I work in a restaurant. I could have my stomach cramps, fever, and other unpleasantness in the privacy of my own home over the weekend.
It’s been three days since my lunch. I am now entering the window of symptom onset for E. Coli. I’ll let you know how I do. Happily, I’m well out of the salmonella woods– onset happens between 6 and 48 hours.
Remind me to write Pascal and ask him how he’s doing.
If you are one of those people who wish to believe that this dish was inspired by the sight of Tatar horsemen placing pieces of meat under their saddles to tenderize it because they couldn’t find the time to stop and do it properly what with their hectic nomadism and all, you would be in the wrong. The Tatars did, in fact, placed meat under their saddles, but it was to help heal and guard against saddle sores for their poor, overworked horses.
Sweat-soaked, sore-healing meat. Sounds delicious.
In Europe, France* and Europe, Belgium, the dish is sometimes referred to as steak américain. Why this moniker, I can’t be absolutely certain but, given the fact that it’s usually served in the same shape as an uncooked hamburger patty with a side of fries…
Don’t quote me on that. It’s pure conjecture.
I recommend getting your beef directly from a butcher, if that is at all possible. Tell him or her what you’re going to make, so you have someone to blame should things go horribly wrong for you.
Serves 2 to 4 hungry horsemen
1 pound beef tenderloin, trimmed of silver skin, fat, horns, cow bell, and sinew.
Worcestershire sauce, as much as you like
Tabasco or other hot sauce, as much as you need
Salt and pepper to taste
2 eggs, as fresh as possible.
Cornichons, anchovies, minced red onion, Dijon mustard, capers, the telephone number of your nearest emergency room, Tums, crusty bread.
1. On an unimpeachably clean cutting board, mince your meat. Place in a pristine glass or ceramic bowl.
2. Add Worcestershire sauce, pepper sauce, salt and pepper. Mix gently, forming into two patties comme les Hambourgeois. Place each patty on a chilled plate and make a bit of a depression in the center of each.
3. Gently crack your eggs and remove the yolks, which will hopefully remain whole. Place one yolk in each of the meat depressions.
4. Serve with your desired accompaniments.
5. To consume, say your prayers and hope that you remembered to wash your hands with hot, soapy water. Next, break the yolk and let it ooze all over the meat, being careful not to think too much about the poor Tatar horses’ saddle sores.
6. Sprinkle your desired condiments over this fine mess and mix to combine. Spread on pieces of crusty bread that are torn, not delicately sliced, or just eat with your hands and make manly grunting noises (women are especially encouraged to do this).
7. Stay within 50 feet of an unoccupied restroom for the next 3 to 4 days, just to be on the safe side.
* If you don’t know what I’m talking about here, I’m sorry, but I can’t marry you. If you choose to watch the video, fast forward to 7:50. Thank you ever so.