The Tartars are the Turkic-speaking people of Europe and Asia, who mostly live in the central and southern parts of Russia, Ukraine, Poland and in Bulgaria, China, Kazakhstan, Romania, Turkey, and Uzbekistan. Most are direct descendants from the Volga Bulgars, who were conquered by the Mongol invasion of the 13th century. What the Tartars are most famous for, however, is their steak.
Being a hard-working, somewhat sturdy race, with little time to spare after a hard morning’s cattle ranching, the Tartars of old liked to eat on the move. In preparation for this mobile munching, they’d tenderise chunks of beef by placing them for several hours beneath their horse’s saddles, then eat the meat raw, adding a few spicy elements to brighten the flavour and (presumably) disguise the malodorous scent of nag sweat.
This culinary innovation became known over time as Steak Tartare, a meal loved and loathed in equal measure for its joyous disregard for health and safety – consumption of tartare made with contaminated ingredients can cause serious illness or death, while cooking will rid flesh of such harmful bacteria. It’s a lottery, and I’m about to buy a ticket. Once again I’m using Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall’s exemplary bible of meat for guidance, so I’m in good hands.
First up, the steak. It’s important to buy the highest quality beef, so I settle for a piece of organically-reared sirloin from my supermarket of choice, the excellent branch of Waitrose on Finchley Road, North London. Look: here it is.
First job is to trim the steak of fat and sinew, until I’m left with a piquant slab of splendidly lean cow.
In the absence of steed or saddle, I opt for my trusty Molineux, and a couple of seconds processing provide me with precisely the kind of texture required by the recipe.
Next up, I add the seasoning; salt, pepper, mustard, Worcestershire and Tabasco sauces, chopped parsley and shallot. I shape the results into a patty, make a dip in the middle, slip a raw egg yolk into it, and serve with home-made chips.
If I’m allowed to be self-congratulatory here, then I will – it’s my website, after all. The results are quite magnificent, a luscious fusion of flesh and fragrance, culinary black art on a cheap porcelain plate. What’s more, I’m writing this piece more than 24 hours after devouring every last morsel, and have experienced no ill-effects. If I’m to suffer permanent damage, it’ll be the long, agonising slide into insanity via Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease rather than the rapid contamination of the intestinal tract caused by the E. coli bacteria. Personally, however, I think I’ll be OK.
Ooh, and for desert I created my new culinary masterpiece: the hexagonal Eccles Cake.