How to eat Steak Tartare (a French local’s guide)

Find out how to eat the classic French steak tartare. From how it is served in France, the etiquette, the accompaniments, the wine, and more.
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Tartare de filet de boeuf or tartare de boeuf is a French delicacy that spans the centuries. It is basically the raw version of steak ground into fine pieces.

The word comes from a caricature of the “Tartars” referencing the Mongols in the 13th century who were known to eat raw meat. Initially, it was believed to have horse meat, although these days the French stick to beef!

These days tartare is a French culinary term, referring to a number of dishes served raw, rather than cooked. A steak tartare is the raw meat served with the dish, topped off with egg yolk, fresh seasonings and herbs. It’s not only tasty but as you can imagine, high in protein and low in carbs. (And it has nothing to do with that sauce tartare.)

If you are not a fan of dishes with raw beef, this one may be difficult to appreciate. But with the right cut of meat and good toppings it can certainly a gastronomical delight. Like with its cousin, the carpaccio it is its simplicity that makes it so well loved. So with that, let’s get to how the French serve and eat beef tartare, shall we? Allons-y!

How beef tartare is served

The traditional steak tartare is usually served in a round mold shape, as shown in the picture above. Often time there is a raw egg added to the top, but this is not always the case.

It can be served as an appetizer or starter, but in France it is usually considered a main dish, to be served with a side salad and fries, or potatoes. It is considered a lighter meal, and is often served at lunchtime in France.

A small assortment of capers, pickles, Worcestershire sauce, tabasco, and chopped up coriander (or parsley) is also usually served alongside for the diner to adjust the tartare to his/her personal taste.

Is it safe to eat?

Yes, beef tartare has been eaten in France for centuries, and it is a very popular dish in the country.

You should probably not eat it if you are pregnant however, as there is a risk of listeria with uncooked meat.

Can you get food poisoning?

Now even if you are not pregnant, you can get food poisoning from a beef tartare gone bad. Often time you may see a lightly cooked version called a tartare poele or tartare aller-retour on a restaurant menu, which may seem like a good idea since it is lightly cooked.

However, I have noticed that the risk of food poisoning may be higher because the tartare used may slightly older since it is no longer presented as red but a lightly cooked brown.

This of course doesn’t include all restaurants. But from personal experience (which lasted 24 hours), I now avoid tartare which is lightly cooked! Fresh or I’m ordering some other dish, is my motto.

Ordering at a restaurant

Beyond the tartare aller-retour (lightly cooked steak tartar), you can find many varieties of this classic dish on restaurant menus. And it doesn’t all have to be beef.

Tuna and salmon tartares have become very popular now, along with other seafood like coquilles st. jacques (scallops). These are usually served as starters however, not as the plat principal (main dish).

There are also vegetable and fruit based tartares that are popularly served as starters or desserts, if you don’t want beef.

If you are sticking to beef tartare, there are also many creative versions out there, made by the best French chefs in the world. Some popular recipes of steak tartare are:

  • Tartare de boeuf à l’italienne – with basil leaves, capers and lemon
  • Tartare de boeuf à la brousse – provençale recipe with brousse cheese
  • Tartare de boeuf au basilic et au parmesan – with basil leaves and parmesan cheese
  • Tartare de bœuf à la tomme de brebis – with goat cheese
  • Steak tartare aux cornichons – with pickles

Because of its versatility, the tartare acts as a blank canvas where other ingredients are easily paired with it to create a unique concoction.

The classic tartare however, is still the one with the raw egg on it. When eating, mix the egg into the raw beef and add any condiments or sauces like Worcestershire or tabasco into the mix and eat.

Note, tartare is not meant to be eaten with any other carbohydrate like bread, in the way a pâté or foie gras might be. Each bite of tartare should only include the meat as it is presented. You can read more about French dining etiquette here.

Buying it at a butcher’s shop

You may think of a steak tartare as a dish exclusive to restaurants, but it’s actually a lot simpler to make at home than you might imagine. Many fine butchers will be able to provide you with the right type of beef, and there are several recipes online to follow.

Because a good boeuf tartare involves raw meat, you will want to make sure you are buying it at a reputable butcher shop that is going to provide a quality cut of meat.

A high-end food stores like Whole Foods may also be able to provide a beef tartare, ask the in-store butcher if this is something that is available for purchase.

Frequently asked questions

What to eat with it?

cutlery

Steak tartare is usually served with small potatoes or french fries, along with a small salad mixed with vinaigrette.

What drinks to have with it?

wine glass illustration

Steak tartare pairs well with red wine like a Côtes du Rhône Villages, a red from Burgundy, or a Beaujolais.
For white wine, try a Alsace Pinot Gris or Bandol Blanc (Provence).

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If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read more about other popular French dishes. A bientôt!

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