The wonderfully eccentric T S Elliot proclaimed that “April is the cruellest month” in his exquisite poem ‘The Wasteland’; a perfectly acceptable remark when set against humanity.
For a food lover April, that regal month of Spring, is a daily heaven; the host to the wonderful British vegetables that sprout with alacrity, plump animals full of élan, and kitchen gardens awash with vicissitudes of colour.
I adore this aesthetic season full of spring lambs, sugar snaps, and afternoon lolls along the Thames. However, I also mark this green leaved period as the moment I can feasibly attack a favourite luncheon; Steak Tartare.
All the ingredients are best bought at a butcher or a farmers’ market, which are easier to perambulate in the sun; 1/2 kg beef fillet (tail end), a large banana shallot, mini capers, cornichons, parsley, dijon mustard, ketchup, English, tabasco, and Worcestershire sauce.
Having a local butcher who is aware that offering honest cuts of meat at agreeable prices is essential – and it helps a lot if you are a regular customer. They should be selling you the tail end the fillet to you at £10per kg rather than the ‘steakable’ centre cut medallions for £20per kg. The extra cost is marked by shape; the taste is exactly the same.
Ignore my usual advice which is to nip into the local for a snifter. The reason for this abstinence is that the meat must go straight into the fridge. Once home, the gastronome in you must get to work chopping the vegetables into as small a dice as yours skills allow (I keep the mini capers whole as they offer a pop of surprise saltiness). Leave your ingredients in separate piles on a plate. Once again, using a sharpened knife, dice the beef as small as you can – cover the unused beef with a wet Jay cloth.
Uncork the bottle – I would usually have light and elegant pinot noir with a lunchtime tartare. Like the wine, have breather, and, like the drunk, have a drink.
Decant the meat into a bowl and add the other ingredients spoon by spoon and then the sauces to your taste – always remember one can add but not take away. Once one has a sufficiently bound mix – I prefer to go easy on tabasco and ketchup but I perhaps indulge more on the dijon – the tartare should be devoured immediately.
A highlight of any trip to France is visiting the brasseries of Lyon or Paris and having a steak tartare mixed by a snooty French waiter at the table. Purely dependent on the company one can attempt this piece of showmanship or alternatively pop them into moulds in the kitchen, a la my picture. Either way it must be finished with a raw egg yolk, preferably a Yellow Ochre Italian egg.
Ideally I like to gobble mine up alone, with the onset of the Test match burbling away in the background.