Juan and I just had one of the most exotic culinary experiences this weekend.
Let me tell you how it all began..
About a month ago, Juan and I met up with a couple from the Czech Republic, Wiwienne and Michal, friends of our mutual friend, Rob.
Rob had told us about Wiw and Michal’s plans to move to Buenos Aires from Sydney and we were excited to be meeting them. New friends are always welcome, and we love playing hosts to fellow foreigners in Buenos Aires.
After our initial first meet up over a meal at Don Julio, a famous parilla in the posh Palermo neighborhood, where we hit off really well, we arranged to rollerblade at Palermo Woods last weekend. After an hour of blading and warm, golden autumn sunshine, we settled for lunch at another parilla in Palermo, and did a good amount of chatting and eating.
Somewhere in between, the conversation steered towards how good beef was in Argentina, and Wiw wondered aloud why, in a country whose beef has achieved global recognition, the menu never served steak tartare.
Juan and I had no answer to that. Mainly, because it was the first time we had heard of it. Wiw and Michal later explained to us that steak tartare was essentially made from finely chopped or minced raw beef (or horse meat), often served with onions, capers and seasonings, sometimes with a raw egg yolk, and often on rye bread. Historically speaking, the legend is that the dish is named after the Tatar people in Central Asia who ate raw meat as they rode their horses. It was made famous in France where they marinade the meat in wine and spices then chill it.
And the next thing we knew, Wiw and Michal had invited us over to see their new loft and have a dinner of steak tartare (the beef version). Juan and I weren’t sure exactly how enthusiastic to be about eating something so raw.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve always been keen on trying new cuisines, being exposed to different cultures since I was young. But raw beef, with raw yolks sounded a bit toooo exotic.
Still, I was psyched up for this dinner – it’s been a long while since we had the anticipation of eating something extraordinary, completely novel and which even stirred up some extent of fear in our hearts (and stomachs).
So despite our doubts and apprehension about eating raw meat (which sounds so incredibly carnivorous), we accepted their invitation, and as Saturday night drew nearer, we got even more excited – me out of enthusiasm, and Juan out of fear.
When we finally arrived at their beautiful apartment at 7.30pm, early for dinner by Argentine standards, but a good time to have a look at how steak tartare is prepared, we were greeted by a candlelit table with an entree and beautiful glasses of red malbec wine.
The starter was made of sliced vegetables (including carrots, cucumber, mushrooms, celery and red bell peppers) paired with an absolutely to-die-for garlic cream (really a concoction of cream cheese mixed with some milk and chopped garlic). Snacking on the appetizers and the amazing garlic cream, together with beautiful glasses of red malbec wine, we soon got into the mood, as Wiw and Michal started getting ready to prepare our main course.
They’d spent the afternoon going grocery-shopping, and the main ingredient was beef tenderloin. Not too much, just around 150g per person, with all fats stripped away.
Michal first washed the beef (in case of any external germs), and using their super-sharp, brand-new kitchen knife, he started shredding the meat into thin red threads, after which he chopped the meat with a force only possible from a guy as tall as he was (he is about 1.90m tall).
With the meat all prepared, he chopped up red onions in rings, which were to be used decoration on the plates, to hold the other ingredients.
The other ingredients (according to a Swedish recipe) included yellow mustard, and more red onions, capers, beetroot, pickles, all diced to perfection. Later, with these ingredients forming an external circle, Wiw and Michal arranged the meat in the middle of the plates, leaving a small crater where they eventually located the raw egg yolks.
It was truly a sight to behold.
It was art on a plate.
I’ll tell you a secret – during the entire course of the preparation, while I was busy peering over Wiw and Michal’s shoulders and watching them chefs in action, I think Juan was breaking out in cold sweat, while trying to act cool, calming his fears with as much wine as he could possibly drink on an empty stomach.
Of course, we were meant to eat the meat, mixed up with all these ingredients, together, over oven-toasted bread frothed with garlic on the side.
I have to be honest – eaten like that, over fresh, warm bread, the raw, chopped up meat actually tasted alot nicer than Juan and I had originally anticipated.
It was sort of like eating pate, or maybe even raw tuna, intertwined with crunchy red onion bits, sweetened by the maroon beetroots, and spiced up by the sourness of pickled cucumbers and vinegared capers.
Trust me, it was really, really good. Don’t believe me still? You’ll have to try it to believe it. Thank you Wiw & Michal for opening up our culinary world!!
STEAK TARTARE (Serves 4 hungry people)
Adapted from Wiwienne & Michal’s recipe
1) 600g of beef tenderloin (or 150g per person), shredded and chopped by hand to as small pieces as possible
2) 4 egg yolks (whole, not broken)
3) 4 large red onions, to form 20 rings and 1/2 cup of diced onions
4) 1/2 cup of diced pickles
5) 1/2 cup of capers
6) 1/2 cup of diced beetroot
7) 4 tablespoons of yellow mustard
8) 16 slices of whole wheat bread
9) 4 garlic cloves, peeled
1) Shred and chop beef tenderloin after removing all fats
2) Cut red onions to get 20 rings, and dice the rest of onions, pickles, and beetroot
3) Arrange 5 onion rings at the circumference of each plate, forming an external circle
4) Place diced pickles, onions, capers, beetroot and mustard in each ring
5) Divide shredded meat into four equal portions, and form a circle of meat in the middle of the plate
6) Create a small crater in the middle of the meat, and place a whole egg yolk in the crater
7) Spread some olive oil over the whole wheat bread slices and toast them in the oven
8) Once bread slices are toasted, rub the bread with raw garlic cloves
9) Mix the meat with the egg yolk and other ingredients of choice, adding salt to taste
10) Spread meat mixture over toasted bread and enjoy!