Monday, July 25, 2011

Cannibal Burger a.k.a. Steak Tartare

While working on my Mom’s recipes, I suddenly realized that I had to include her recipe for “Cannibal Burger.” My father and his family just loved this raw meat appetizer. Later in life while on the road, I discovered “Steak Tartare.” The only difference between the two was that the “Steak Tartare” was made with tenderloin and “Cannibal Burger” was made in our house with round steak
Today, eating raw meat or uncooked eggs is a risky idea and should be avoided. I’m talking the 1960s and early 1970s when almost every grocer had a butcher on- site. The meat was from the local stockyards (Chicago) and about as fresh as you could get anywhere in the country. 
 To complete Mom’s recipe, I had to actually make the “Cannibal Burger” so that I could take pictures of the recipe process. This was one of those bottom of the pile recipes that just kept coming to the top. Now at that time, I had become a big fan of Jaime Oliver and his “Food Revolution” TV series and had just seen an episode on something called “Pink Slime.” After watching this show, the chances of me actually eating Mom’s “Cannibal Burger” were dwindling fast. 
I decided to do some research on the subject. Just type in the words “pink slime” into your web browser and you will be amazed. Better yet, go to Jaime Oliver’s site and sign up for his Food Revolution if you care about the food we eat, or our children eat. I did!         
As I said before, in the good old day’s butchers would trim and pack meat all day at their stores. At the end of the day they would make ground beef, hamburgers, mock chicken legs, and chopped sirloin steaks. It was amazing that the ground meat flavor was better on some days than on others. The butchers might be cutting Porterhouse, T-Bone’s, or Strip Steaks on one day, and less expensive cuts another. Often butchers would tell customers that they had some “really great hamburger today” and they were right. On other days they might be trimming less flavorful cuts and you could taste it in the ground beef. 
I decided to talk to some local butchers to find out where, oh where their ground beef came from, or if they knew what additives, if any, were in it. I asked one local butcher from a large grocery chain if the ground beef or sirloin was made in-house, or if it came in from outside sources. To my amazement he took me to the refrigerated case and picked up a package of ground sirloin. The sirloin was on a more expensive white plastic tray. That means the meat is from an outside source. He picked up another tray and the meat was on a foam tray. He told me that this ground sirloin was made from trimmings that they made in house. I asked one simple question— “Which one would you eat?” He threw the expensively packed sirloin back into the case and handed me the in-house made sirloin.
I couldn’t stop there. I called our local, family owned small grocery chain and spoke directly with the butcher. I told him that I was making Steak Tartare and wanted to know where their ground meat came from. His answer, “we make it ourselves.” I asked if he would eat raw meat from his store and was told yes. He did however go on to tell me how much raw meat they sold for this purpose when Steak Tartare was fashionable, and considered safe to eat. Now the disclaimer was that to limit the possibility of getting sick, I should call them in the morning and they would cut it and grind it fresh. I had decided!
My Dad would go to the butcher and pick out a great looking round steak, asked him to cut off all of the fat and grind it not once, not twice, but three times to get the proper consistency. Remember he wasn’t using tenderloin. He was making “Cannibal Burger,” or “Raw Dog.”
The next day I ordered the meat as directed and went to the store. I picked up some onions (I used scallions), pasteurized eggs (I wasn’t taking any chances), Rosen’s rye bread and finally the ice-cold meat. With my supplies in hand I went home to prepare Mom’s “Cannibal Burger.”
Before proceeding any further, I must tell you that when my Mom made this the adults just loved it. We watched as they consumed the raw meat, hoping they would not eat it all. Let me explain, if they didn't eat it all, Mom would spread butter on a slice of rye bread and then spread a thin layer of Tartare on top of the butter. The smear of butter kept the meat juices from sinking into the bread. She placed the Tartare on rye slices under the broiler and cooked them to medium rare. We just loved it this way. 
So, upon arriving at home, I placed the meat directly into the refrigerator and a mixing bowl into the freezer while I pre-prepped my ingredients. 
Kid size portions
I then called my wife to tell her what I was about to do and if for any reason I got sick, she would know what to tell the doctors in the ER if I had to go. After preparing the meat according to the recipe, I mounted the egg on top for the picture and added some capers. Mom mixed the egg into the meat and never on top, and I don’t think she ever had capers. I wanted a good photograph. When I sent the recipe to my sister for an edit she called and asked me if Mom ever put capers on the “Cannibal Burger.” With the pictures out of the way, I spread some butter on the rye bread, followed by some of the meat and finally more pepper. Throwing caution to the wind I took my first bite. I think today they say “OMG,” and it was. Not being completely reckless, I then buttered a second piece of rye, smeared some of the beef on it and placed it under the broiler. The butter acts as a barrier to keep the raw beef juice from saturating the bread. This is the memory I was looking for. A small taste of my childhood. Today I think that I would serve it broiled as an appetizer. 
Much to my amazement many restaurants still serve Tartare today. Mostly they serve Tuna Tartare, but some still serve Steak Tartare.  

© Tmelle 1998-2011

1 comment:

sleuth1 said...

mmmm.... I remember my mom making this too! I'm fortunate to have access to locally-sourced ASH-free meat. I'll have to make some this weekend.