your enjoyment from helmut's diaries...
...consists of raw fillet of
beef. The meat is chopped in
the kitchen with a knife. And, at restaurants where they have trained wait staff, the
Steak Tartar is prepared at the table.
Steak tartar (a la tartare) is one of my favorites and
can be found in a small number of fine restaurants where this delicatessy is served table
It consists of raw fillet of beef. The meat is chopped
in the kitchen with a knife. And, at restaurants where they have trained wait staff, the
Steak Tartar leaves the kitchen unprepared on a platter. Surrounded by the greens
butter lettuce the meat takes up the middle of the plate. The fresh-red, fine-chopped
fillet is topped with a whole raw egg yolk. Individual small cups filled with chopped
onions, pickles and capers are sitting to be used on the greens next to the meat.
Additional condiments are set up on a separate
tray. There are
mustard, virgin olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, cayenne and regular pepper.
I present the garnished platter
to my guest at the
table. I wait for comments or approval. It is an impressive display:
The chopped-steak, topped with a raw egg-yolk and the different ingredients placed around
it. Thereafter I set the show-platter onto a service-table. Here I prepare the steak
tartar under the guests' watchful eyes and to my customer's specifications.
I lift the meat onto a large dinner plate, including
the egg. Next I fold the egg-yolk into the meat, using two large forks. Before
adding anything I ask the guest whose order it is: "Do you like onions?"
"How much?" "Do you like cornichons?" "A
little?" "A lot?" "Capers?" "A
smidgen?" "A spoonful?" Then I add little amounts of onions, pickles
and capers according to the guest's wish. The questions serve a dual-purpose, namely to
mix the tartar to the customer's taste as well as getting all guests at the table involved
into the table-side-food-preparation.
The guest's instructions are part of the show; here he
gets to direct the creation of his own meal. I spice it to his taste with a dash of
Worcestershire sauce. If he likes it hot, I use some cayenne too. The two large forks, one
in each hand, make the mashing, mixing and folding easy. A splash of extra virgin olive
oil comes in handy to make the mixture more smooth. A teaspoon full with mustard adds
flavor too. All blended together the steak tartare is not only a rich delicate appetizer
but for many an appetizing meal in itself. I reshape the meat into the shape of a steak
before placing the same back onto the bed of lettuce.
Ready to be savored, I set the prepared
steak tartare platter in front of the guest, who had ordered it. With steak tartar some
restaurants offer various types of bread. We serve toasted Italian sourdough with
whole-grain mustard butter to complement the steak tartare's taste. I leave it up to the
guest to make his own little snacks ready from the chopped steak. I let him put the
desired amounts of meat onto each individual slice of toasted bread.
Bite size pieces of bread layered with whole-grain
mustard butter and topped with the steak tartare make great open face sandwiches or hors
d'oeuvres for a whole group of people.
If my guests are curios about the name
"steak tartare" and provided I have the time, I tell them all what I had been
told about the Tartars, over the years in different restaurants. Like this one night with
a table of six. I have nothing else to do.
This is my only table. They order one
steak tartare, and five other appetizers. The women have salads for their main meals and
the men want fish. These six prefer a light meal as dinner, so they say. Being asked about
the Steak Tartar's origin, I am glad to entertain them with what little I know.
"Tartars! We also call them the Mongolian tribes .
. . " Their appearance was not at all what we call Mongoloid, Asiatic. Drawings of
the tartars look more like the Russian Cossacks or the Turks. In the fifth century, the
Tartars were well known in Western Europe.
"I was told that the name tartar originated from
the people's scared voices, the announcing of the arrival of the horsemen, the sound of
many horses and the distinct trrrrtrrrrr of the hoofs on the ground." "People of
all ages whispered in fear trrrttrrrs'!" Knowing they could not outrun
the barbarians, "trrrtrrr" meant possible horror and often loss of life.
"Trrrtrrr" became a regular word in the people's vocabulary, soon pronounced
"Tar-tar." Everybody who lived between Tibet, and the east, and Italy, to the
west, knew the meaning of "Tartar."
Few of the people in the invaded countries understood
and spoke the horsemen's language. Even fewer was the number who knew the difference
between the one and the other Mongolian tribe. Common people did not know if these fast
moving men on horseback were Turks, Mongolians, Avars, Huns, Ephthalites or Hephthalites,
who marauded their villages. Yet none of the surviving victims was ever going to forget
the trrrrtrrrr sound of the galloping horses, drumming the soil, announcing the armies who
moved faster than anything then known to humankind.
"I read somewhere that the Emperor of the western
Roman Empire, scared, paid annual protection tributes to these nomadic races, so
they would avoid the flourishing western cities."
Nomadic races united under Attila the
Hun, came from as far as the great walls of China to Germany, Italy and France in a time
when the fastest transportation was on horses back.
Here I take a break, check on my orders
in the kitchen and come back to continue with the saga.
"Attila's men ate raw lean meat cuts which being
placed under their saddles were tenderized for as long as a day's ride." At
meal time they added spices to their tender raw meat.
From history books we know that these
men burned many calories while touring the countryside of Europe as fast as their horses
would carry them. Occasionally Attila's men interrupted their sightseeing and went
souvenir hunting. Such always included plunder. Women had little choice but to be willing
to entertain the men. Thus types of incidents created many legends. One was of Saint
Ursula. The story goes that she, a British princess, was the leader of a group of maidens,
who according to the legend, went from Britain to Rome. The date of their falling into the
Hun's hands varies as between the year 250 and 400. The number of women deviates too from
a few hundred to 11,000. The legend describes them as virgin companions who fell into the
Huns' hands near the Lower Rhine. Furthermore it is said that all but a few women were
massacred by the Huns. A church was erected in Cologne in their honor. St. Ursula is said
to be a martyr and she is the patron saint of the Ursuline nuns (founded 1544).
Historians say that the Huns turned really unfriendly,
at times outright vicious whenever the Roman Emperor was late paying the agreed upon
yearly protection money. At such times the Huns moved in and threatened to foreclose on
properties under their protection within the Roman Empire. They told me that the Huns were
outstanding warriors, fast moving through the land, with an energy level far above average
people, feared by all and admired for their strength by many.
I pour some more wine and ice water for my guest before
I carry on with the story. "People feared the Tartars but attributed their strength
to the energy source of raw meat and spices." Wanting to be much like the feared
Huns, people in western Europe first secretly but soon openly prepared food the way they
had seen the nomads do it. They tenderized meat and added spices.
"... and that's where the steak tartar as we know it today
"Weren't the Huns the ones, who not only pillaged
and raped but also destroyed much of Europe?" One guest asks me.
I am not sure. What I was told is that there was
another group of invaders, around the same time, the Vandals! The Vandals looted churches
and wrecked buildings, leaving nothing but chaos. They were a Germanic tribe who pursued
by the Huns, left their home on the Baltic and trekked toward the southwest. They went
through France and Spain then crossed over into North Africa at Gibraltar. In 439 AD the
Vandals took Carthage, the leading Roman city in North Africa. King Genseric established
an independent Vandal Kingdom. Sailing northward he conquered much Roman territory and
captured Rome in 455. History books describe the Vandals as malicious destroyers,
who followed Arianism a variant form of Christianity. They persecuted all orthodox
Christians and destroyed anything in their path. The Vandals were brought to justice in
533-536 by Belisarius under Emperor Justinian. All Vandals caught alive were made slaves
of the Romans. After that the Vandals disappeared from history. Their actions did not.
Still, today we call malicious destruction vandalism.
I say: "As to the little I know, the Tartars, the
nomadic races united under the Huns' leadership, had a different life-philosophy than the
Vandals . . . " Destruction of property did not rank high on the Hun's list if they
were punctually paid all the asked for tributes. Their list of demands was for items of
use and value to their nomadic lifestyle. They did not believe in settling down. Nor did
the Huns ever care for the burden of keeping castles provisioned and all the other
hardships of land ownership. They did not want wealth which they could not carry
with them. Huns preferred women and life stock. If they did not get what they asked for,
devastation followed. The Huns were quite capable to leave a bloody path and smoldering
buildings to proof their point.
The men united under Attila, were nomads who harassed
most of the Eastern European country side and part of the West, as well as Persia and
India. They operated much like the twentieth century's Mafia, collecting protection money
from the places they visited. Their abilities of warfare on horseback were unmatched. The
Roman Emperors feared these Huns, who were excellent mounted archers. They were fast
moving from place to place, much like today's tourists.
Huns were well known in China as early
as the 3rd century BC, which led to the erection of the Great Wall. Attila's men became
part of life in western Europe in the forth Century AD and were a constant threat till the
end of the fifth Century. Attila nicknamed Scourge of God was the most famous of the Hun's
"True we call the Tartars barbarians but also look
at the positive . . . "
They brought much influx of fresh blood into Europe.
Back then, inbreeding had become common in many villages. "...and not to forget: The
Huns brought with them a great dinner dish, the steak tartare."
I ask the one, eating the steak tartare "How is
it?" and get a mumbled "Exquisite!" followed by "You are right! I
already feel the endless energies from the beef and the egg." His wife, who tried
some, adds: "It's perfectly spiced and I think it's true, you are what you eat. This
is truly outstanding."
One man at the table says "Did you know this
Attila he died the way most men dream to die, in bed with his latest and last of his
numerous wives during their wedding night."
"How many wives did Attila have?" One woman
asks me. As truthful as I can be, I tell her "History books say he had many
wives..." One of these wives was the Western Roman Emperor's sister by name of
Honoria. She was handed by her scared brother over to Attila, to satisfy his wishes.
However, the nameless young woman who drained all life out of Attila in their wedding
night is certainly legendary. She is by far the most famous of his wives. Let us not
forget Attila was hated and feared by many in his own camp. He had no scruples to get
power and stay in power. He proved such many a times, like when he killed his elder
brother Bleda in a power play.
The man who indulges on the steak tartare says: "I
bet you, this wife of Attila's ate his share of the steak tartare." Somebody
else says: "He was getting too excited."
A woman kicking her husband's shin, mentions,
"Like most older men, and younger women. He couldn't get enough until he had had
enough" and she laughs.
The woman sitting at the end of the table for six asks,
"They all ate raw meat? They really did? Say, helmut, bring us another order, one,
for me and my husband, to share!"
* * *
NOTE! There is also a cold sauce which is named Tartar or
Tartare sauce. Its ingredients are olive oil & egg yolks (mayonnaise) with hard-boiled
eggs and chopped chives. I do not know the origin of the Tartar sauce and have seen it
made in different ways. Some places add pickles, others add onions to the basic mayonnaise
eggs and chives recipe.
Sauce tartar is usually served with fried fish.
* * *
Tales, Legends and History about
the Huns | Huns = Turk |