On Weekend Edition Sunday this morning, a piece about (beef)steak tartare, “Chef Knows The Cows That Go Into ‘The Truth’ ” by Marie Cusick:

Lancaster County, Pa., is well known for its pastoral landscape, Amish community, and agricultural heritage. Despite this reputation, few local chefs have embraced the farm-to-table concept until recently.

A restaurant called John J. Jeffries, in Lancaster City, was among the first. Although the menu changes seasonally, customers can order the restaurant’s version of steak tartare year-round.

The restaurant titles its signature raw ground beef spread “The Truth,” and it’s the kind of dish you would only want to make from meat you trust. As the chef and co-owner of John J. Jeffries, Sean Cavanaugh likes to escape the kitchen and visit the local farms he relies on.

Thar’s a photo of beef tartare, with accompanying (cooked) egg in the background. From Wikipedia:

Steak tartare is a meat dish made from finely chopped or minced raw beef or horse meat. It is often served with onions, capers and seasonings (the latter typically incorporating fresh ground pepper and Worcestershire sauce), sometimes with a raw egg yolk, and often on rye bread.

The name is a shortening of the original “à la tartare” or “served with tartar sauce,” a dish popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The modern version of steak tartare with raw egg was first served in French restaurants early in the 20th century. What is now generally known as “steak tartare” was then called steack à l’Americaine. Steak tartare was a variation on that dish; the 1921 edition of Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire defines it as steack à l’Americaine made without egg yolk, served with tartar sauce on the side.

Over time, the distinction between steack à l’Americaine and its variant disappeared. The 1938 edition of Larousse Gastronomique describes steak tartare as raw ground beef served with a raw egg yolk, without any mention of tartar sauce.

Although the word ‘tartare’ presumably refers to the Tatar or Tartar people of Central Asia, and there are many fanciful stories connecting steak tartare with them, steak tartare is not related to Tatar cuisine.

Clearly, you want the best, freshest, and safest beef for the dish.

Eating raw meat is associated with masculinity: feral, aggressive carnivorousness. From Die Dreigroschenoper, the “Kanonen-Song”:

Soldaten wohnen auf den Kanonen von Cap bis Couch Behar.
Wenn es mal regnete und es begegnete
Ihnen ‘ne neue Rasse, ‘ne braune oder blasse,
Dann machen sie vielleicht daraus ihr Beefsteak Tartar.

In the Marc Blitztstein translation:

Soldiers live under
The cannon’s thunder
From Sind to Cooch Behar
Moving from place to place
When they come face to face
With a different breed of fellow
Whose skins are black or yellow
They quick as winking chop him into
Beefsteak tartar

Well made, it is in fact subtle and delicious, not at all like ripping flesh from the bones of animals.

7 Responses to “tartare”

  1. Victor Steinbok Says:

    I’ve mentioned this previously, but Dutch cuisine has preserved the distinction between “Filet Americain” and “Tartaar”. The former tends to be finer ground, virtually pulverized sandwich spread that you can find in multiple varieties in any supermarket. At Albert Heijn I’ve seen four to six (or more) varieties of Filet Americain (plain, capers, onions, egg, hot pepper, black pepper, etc.) and Tartaar side by side in the deli display case (and have had them all at one point or another). An additional delicacy is Amsterdamse Ossenworst (usually without the geographical descriptor), which is a spiced tartare in soft sausage form. Last variation is Belgian highly spiced mix Martino. Dutch Wiki has a fairly brief description:
    Martino is discussed here:
    And ossenworst here:

    As for the Tatars, their traditional diet of choice includes virtually no beef to speak of, but horsemeat, lamb/mutton and an occasional goat. Most sausage is/was made with horsemeat and offal. The originally nomadic culture also has a distinct preference for overcooking meat rather than eating it raw, so the spurious association is hardly justified by culinary tradition. A better explanation might be that eating raw meat might have been somehow considered bordering on savagery and what better model for the Savage than Ghengis Khan and the Golden Horde. Not sure how that might translate to an inspiration for tartar sauce or its US association with fish (no fish in traditional diet either).

  2. tarator | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] material for my postings on steak tartare and tartar sauce led me to another foodstuff, tarator, that sounds like it has a connection to […]

  3. arnold zwicky Says:

    Several people have noted that there is also tuna tartare, similar to steak tartare in preparation. Indeed, any fish that works for sashimi could be tartared: hamachi (yellowtail) and salmon, in particular.

  4. Luc Baronian Says:

    Chi Kufta is a similar Armenian/Turkish dish, very yummy around the holidays, and apparently associated with the town of one of my two Armenian great-grandfathers (the only one I knew as a child):

  5. More raw protein | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] up on steak tartare, finely chopped raw beef, I turn to the related case of carpaccio, very thinly sliced raw beef; and […]

  6. John Says:

    Arabs have Kibbeh Nayeh, raw lamb pulverized with moistened bulghur wheat (in 2:1 or 3:1 proportions) and onion. Usually it’s served with mint leaves and lemon slices.

  7. Miscellany for 9/19/13 | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] September 15th piece in the New York Times Magazine, on tartare (discussed on this blog here), “Rescuing Tartare From the Stuffy, Old […]

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