Monday, February 11, 2008

Steak Tartare

I would gladly die of E. Coli, as long as the raw beef it was chilling in was supreme. I love things served raw. Clearly. I mean uni shooters, come on. I love carpaccio, I love sashimi and oysters on the half shell, but my deep emotional bond with steak tartare has driven this whole thing I do like few other dishes. Savory beef mousse with lil bits of delightfulness. You barely have to chew it; just let it melt in your mouth. It’s like rib-eye’s gay cousin. And maybe, just maybe, if you’ve prayed to the steak tartare gods recently, it’ll arrive with a raw quail egg on top.

Steak tartare originates, barbaric as it seems, as meat tenderizing under the saddle of a soldier’s horse for long journeys. Not the most hygienic start to a dish that already turns some off for being… well, straight up raw meat, but it gets better. For many years, those favorite people of mine for some reason, the French, used horse meat in their variation. P.S. if you see a sign with a horse dangling from any restaurant in a foreign country, you must specify that you would like cow, as horse is going to be the default in any of these establishments. I don’t want to talk about it.

A lot of countries boast a chopped raw meat dish on their national menus, especially Eastern and Western Europe. I remember as a little kid watching my mom make meatloaf, meatballs, stuffed cabbage filling, hooking out a gob of raw meat out of the bowl and, my goodness, consuming it with obvious enjoyment. “You wanna try?” she’d coax, always the new-flavor pusher. “Ew mom, you’re going to get sick,” I’d reply.

A couple of trips to Europe in my early and mid-teens and my raw beef phobia morphed into an obsession with what I could ingest raw and not die. Or maybe die. An ominously (delicious) rare lamb kebab at a snack stand in Marrakech’s famed medina transmitted quite the amoeba clan once. After two days in the hospital, I inhaled a large portion of steak tartare during our Paris layover despite strict instructions from the doctor to stay on clear liquids and bland foods for a week. I claimed I couldn’t understand his accent and thought he said, “you’re good to go– the worse the idea seems, the better you’ll feel.” I might have had frog’s legs that night too. And crème brulee. And… wine. Lots. Needless to say, I showed up back in the States in a right bad state and my pediatrician of all people asked me what exactly I was trying to do to myself. By the way, it’s very embarrassing to go to your pediatrician at fifteen and deal with a little kid asking you, big girl, where does it hurt? My stomach, kid. My stomach. So use good quality beef that isn’t rare lamb from a grill in the dust in Morocco is the moral of this.

If you can chop an onion, you can probably make steak tartare. If you’ve ever added a little bit of ketchup or Worcestershire sauce to anything, tartare is right around the corner. Heck, if you’re famous for screwing up steak, get famous for not cooking it in the least.

Thanks to St. Bourdain of Food for this recipe, which serves 6

1 1/4 lb. of the freshest, most beautiful sirloin in the world
2 egg yolks
4 anchovy filets
2 Tsp ketchup
2 Tsp dijon mustard
1 Tsp Worcestershire sauce
4 Tbs soybean or corn oil
A few good shakes of Tabasco
1 small onion, chopped
2 oz. each of drained capers and cornichons
giant handful of finely chopped parsley
Toast points (fancy for toast cut into four triangles)
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Put a plate in the freezer. You'll need it eventually.

First, take care of that lovely piece of beef. Trim off any large visible regions of fat and toss em out.

Slice all the beef into 1/2 to 1/4-inch slices, then gather them up in a pile and slice them the other way. You'll end up with fine cubes of meat that look like this.

Keep that bowl in the fridge while you make the other part, which looks even more attractive.

Finely chop four anchovy filets. I know, they're greasy and they smell, but thank the Caesar salad gods that someone figured out how to use them, because I guarantee if you've ever eaten at an Italian, Greek, Thai, Vietnamese, French, Korean, or Spanish restaurant or eaten anything with Worcestershire sauce (including this recipe) you have consumed anchovies and probably loved em. So chop.

Separate the whites and yolks of your eggs like so, using the shell to catch the yolk and drain out the white. Save the whites for breakfast, they'll keep nicely in a bowl for a few days, or freeze them in ice cube trays and they'll last 3 months or so.

Whisk the yolks with the mustard and anchovies in a large bowl.

Add the ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco (if less is good, more is better), and freshly ground pepper. Whisk some more. Add the oil. Whisk once again.

Drain the capers, and really examine the little buggers before you send them off. They're beautiful, all speckly and pickled and they open up when you squeeze them a little. Okay, enough playing with the capers, toss em in. Speaking of playing with capers, throw a small handful into almost any pasta dish in the last steps for a milder anchovy effect.

Chop your cornichons into small pieces and stir into the dressing with the onions and parsley.

It'll look like this, not great.

Now, add either the bowl of meat to the dressing or the bowl of dressing to the meat, and DIVE IN WITH BOTH HANDS FOR A CHANGE! Squish.

I could not for the life of me find a ring mold, a circle of metal or plastic similar to a cookie or biscuit cutter. I even looked for cookie and biscuit cutters and couldn't find one either. Granted, I kind of live in the ghetto where people don't need no ring molds, bitches, but I then realized the sawed-off top of a cup would probably work nicely. Trim it so that it's even all the way around, and definitely make sure there are no little plastic or styrofoam thingies hanging off. Better yet, find yourself some sort of ring mold.

This next part is pleasantly similar to making a sandcastle of raw meat. Actually, it is making a sandcastle of raw meat. Place the ring mold on the now chilled plate and load with the steak mixture.

Pack it in tight, but don't compress too hard. Slowly remove the ring, gently twisting from side to side to loosen it, then garnish with a sprig or two of parsley (and a quail egg cracked on top if you're so inclined. I am, but certain people are tired of me using raw eggs like they're not raw eggs and then making everybody eat them. Next time, though.)

Serve immediately with the toast points, or on crackers.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Baked: Eggs

To give you an idea of how desperately attached we are to eggs, here is a brief list of foods that would really suck without them.

Birthday cake, quiche, custard (we’re talking flan, crème brulee, frozen, in tart form, no custard whatsoever), French toast, pasta carbonara, meatballs, pudding, mousse, caesar salad, soufflés, 90% of cookies, pancakes, things one would dunk in egg and roll in whatever, you get the point. There is no wonderful food without eggs. Someday I’ll start a blog where I just wax poetic about the self-imposed dietary restrictions of vegans and how..just… god, I hate vegans.

But I love eggs. And I love goat cheese. And even vegans love crunchy bacon, they’re just on some internalized angst trip that they’re taking out on food for some reason and will hopefully get over in a couple of years.

This dish, e-z as the rest of them, is actually easier than making scrambled eggs. So very many things can go wrong when you’re making scrambled eggs. Curd too big, inside too runny, final product kind of just wrong. Or fried, they’re even worse. God forbid you don’t start with enough butter. All those little fried thingies that stay behind. I mean really stay behind. I mean soak the pan all day and still can’t get rid of ‘em stay behind. Boiled, oh, now there’s an adventure. Too fresh, you can’t peel the little devils. Too old, you get that lame ring around the yolk. Just right, still smell anyway. In this day and age, however, you can make boiled eggs slightly more interesting. And poached– I wish I could just poach an egg and be done with it. None of this vinegar debate, no stringy things making your poached eggs look like jellyfish, and no naked English muffins just hanging out on your plate waiting for their poached eggs and watching you ruin them, judging, judging.

Baked eggs, however, just need an oven. Don’t bother them. Just do this, and then pop this in the oven, and then leave them alone. They’re certainly the most anti-social of straight-up egg dishes, but it’s okay. They’re over-easygoing. I get one egg joke.

…I’m going to make some eggs now.

Goat cheese
Crunchy bacon
Thawed and squeezed frozen spinach
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

You can do this neatly with a pat of butter, or with heavily buttered fingers. Like mine. In any case, butter your ramekins. It’ll keep the egg from sticking to the side of the dish.

Take two slices of bacon for each ramekin and slice into half-inch pieces. Fry in a hot pan until crunchy. Drain the fat off on a plate with a few layers of paper towel.

Rinse the frozen spinach under cool water until thawed, about thirty seconds, then take a fistful and squeeze as hard as you can. A lot of water will come out.

It doesn’t matter if they just hang out looking like this until you need them.

Okay, you need them. Layer the bottom of the ramekin with spinach and lightly sprinkle with coarse salt.

Take the goat cheese out of the fridge. Goat cheese comes to room temperature fairly quickly and the warmer it gets, the harder it is to slice and stay round. Slice ¼ to 1/2 –inch rounds and place on top of spinach layer.

Sprinkle evenly with enough bacon so that you can’t see any spinach.

Crack an egg on top of the whole ordeal and stick in the oven.

Bake for 15-18 minutes or until white is set. Carefully remove the ramekin (ceramic gets SUPER DOUBLE BACKFLIP HOT, so definitely use an oven mitt), and add some freshly ground black pepper

Dig in. The goat cheese gets all fonduey and melts down into the spinach and up into the bacon and the yolk runs all over everything and it’s a few bites of flavor perfection that’s easier than flipping an omelet in a pan. And then cleaning omelet off the floor.