Thank you Great Khan for this sublime steak tartare! His riders gave us a recipe that helped to extend his empire to Asia and Europe and that finally conquered the breeze of Paris in the 20th century. Despite the evidence, it is not yet clear that the Tartars were the creators of this fabulous dish. We take a walk through its fascinating history and we tell you the different theses about the origin of this raw and tasty meat that is considered the precursor of the hamburger.
If you have not had a bite, do not hesitate. Few dishes summarize the good work of a chef such as steak tartare. Its apparent simplicity hides an extreme difficulty at the time of elaborating it. A doing that has been perpetuated in history for 800 years. It consists of high quality raw meat, finely chopped onion, freshly ground black pepper, Wolcestershire sauce and as an optional garnish, the yolk of an egg. But how have we arrived at this sophisticated recipe? Let’s travel to the steppes of Asia to understand it.
A Culinary Treasure on Horseback
In 1206, a leader unifies the tribes of Mongolia under his power. His name was Genghis Khan. Under his command, the Mongols initiated one of the most extensive empires in history, a domain that was based on the magnificent expertise of its riders. The Tartars were part of this great empire, in the central and northern part of the Asian continent. They were riding masters and fearsome warriors, the special forces of the Khan. Their long days did not allow them to spend the night or eat sitting peacefully. Therefore, they were designed to preserve and consume raw meat.
The first written reference to this trend leads us to China and Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis, who dominated China and Mongolia during the thirteenth century. In his books about his fascinating trips to Asia, Marco Polo narrated the local customs, in many cases imposed by the Mongol invaders of which the Great Khan would be the last exponent.
In his Book of Wonders, he devotes an episode to the Caragian region, dominated by Esentemur, a leader son of the Khan. In it he describes how the humble social classes prepared the raw liver of chickens, lambs and buffalos. Although, the real tartare was devoured with passion by the nobles who stayed with the tastiest parts of the animal to flavor it with garlic sauce and spices.
Another of the theories that have appeared on the origin of the tartare is the earthly paradise of the French Polynesia. In these islands of the Pacific, the tradition of eating raw meat is similar to the tartare of the Khan which has existed since ancient times. Although it is difficult to connect it with the European custom of eating raw meat that the Mongols started, it is likely that the steak tartar is Polynesian and landed in Europe.
From the Steppe to the Table
The book of Levasseur Description d l ‘Ukraine recreates the foodies customs of the Cossacks of Zaporophia. The dominant people of the steppes of Asia transported and ate their meat quickly. This was a way to anticipate the enemy. This was the first fast food in history and had a clear military component.
The book also discusses its development. The horsemen cut the meat with two fingers of thickness, they sat on one side and placed it under their saddle. After two hours they repeated the operation. In this way they were able to cleanse the blood of the flesh, to emblance it and to spice it without getting off the horse or to light a bonfire that could give them away in the middle of the immensity of Asia.
However, the historical association, The Medieval History of Cambridge, contradicted it in 1924. For researchers, they do not make sure that the animal’s man is quite complicated. They believe that the meat is under the saddle to cure the horse.
Other theories link the steak tartare with the consumption of horse meat. This custom was very ingrained in France until the church forbade it during the Middle Ages. However, the habit of eating horsemeat recovered due to the shortage of food in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Something that has remained in France to this day.
The Grandfather of the Hamburger
The recipe survived and arrived in Hamburg by sailors who start using minced meat in the style of the ancient Mongols. Although they end up cooking it, their creation ended up being called the hamburger.
The precursor of the burger conquered the west by the hand of Jules Verne and his novel of 1875, Miguel Strogoff, the czar’s mail. It echoed the tartare recipe and created a satisfying demand in the best bistros in Paris. One of them, the most iconic, located on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower, is the Jules Verne. Alejandro Dumas also included it in his book The Count of Montecristo and Honore de Balzac wrote about steak tartare shortly after.
The Love of Paris for Raw Meat
The dish becomes the star of the French capital and is widely recommended by the leading chefs of the best hotels and by the butchers of the city at the beginning of the 20th century. Paris is currently living a period of internationalization of its stoves and explores recipes around the world.
The tartare is called at that time, BeefSteak to the Americaine. It is curious that the dish did not reach the American market until the 1950s, but in Paris imported more attractive naming than its origin.
The first recipe for steak tartare appeared in 1938 when Prosper Montagné included it in the bible of gastronomy, the Larousse Gastronomique encyclopedia. Another similar dish has attracted the attention of diners with a fascinating history and many parallels with the steak tartare. It is called the kibbeh nayre, a dish native to Lebanon and Syria. It has become popular in Argentina and Uruguay due to immigration from the Middle East in the area.
Places like the aforementioned Jules Verne, the kistch bistro Parisian Bar des Theaters or its neighbor Les Fines Guelues, the Buenos Aires La Cabaña and Casa Cruz, the Valencian Auska Barra, the New Yorker and jazzman Sardi’s, Estela, also in NYC, or the sublime ones, Princess Victoria, Bird of Smithfield and London’s Brasserie Blanc Chancery Lane are some of the top places where this thousand-year-old wonder can be savored. Since its inception on the mounts of the Tartars has traveled a fascinating path to your table. The Khan’s greatest legacy awaits you in the finest restaurants.
In Madrid you can taste it at: A Barra, Skull Street, Albora, Ondarreta, 4 of 8, Lavaca, La Tasquería.
In Austin you can taste it at: III Forks, Justine’s Brasserie, Emmer & Rye.
- Magical ingredients used in Auska Barra – 3 Michelin stars
- Big beef (50% sirloin and top loin chop)
- 5 grams of old-fashioned mustard or grain (preferably Pommery)
- 15 grams of finely chopped tender onion
- 5 grams of very thin chopped vinegar capers
- 15 grams of soft olive oil
- 15 grams of extra virgin olive oil
- 20g of egg yolk
- Perrins sauce drops
- drops of Tabasco
- Salt and pepper
Remember that you can also prepare the Tuna Steak Tartar
250 grs. of clean fresh tuna
1 ripe avocado
1 ripe big tomato
Rustic type bread to toast and accompany the tartar
For the dressing:
- A few drops of lime juice
- 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon of virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon mustard in grain
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper