May It Please the Palate: In the raw

By Nick Roumel

A first time visit to Montreal intrigued me. You have that old world/new world vibe going on, with the cobblestoned streets of Old Montreal contrasting with a booming, modern downtown.

Then there’s the internationally diverse population, and all those people speaking French.

I brilliantly exclaimed to my wife, “It’s like another country!” (She certainly didn’t marry me for my brains.)

Then there’s the food. Looking at menus, whether posted in the windows on our walks, browsing on line, or in the restaurants, reveals some common themes of the local cuisine.

For example, in New England (where we began our vacation after dropping youngest off at college), naturally it was lobster and oyster.

Closer to home, in da UP it’s going to be pasties and perch; downriver, the venerable muskrat.

Montreal had something unexpected. Appetizer menus, besides the more familiar Quebec cheese options and French onion soup, commonly featured both beef and salmon tartare.

For those unfamiliar with the term — and who may blithely believe that such things are meant to be cooked - tartare refers to raw chopped meat plopped on the plate with crackers or thin slices of toasted bread.

Oh sure, it will be gussied up with onions, capers and spices – and for the extra brave, anchovy or raw egg — but that meat will be raw, right off the bone.

And it is a delicacy, monsieur, merci beaucoup. So eat up, and here’s a napkin to blot that blood off your chin.

I first tried some salmon tartare. It’s like sushi, right? It was actually quite good, spiked with green onion and capers.

But the beef I ordered the next night was another matter.

I hadn’t tried such a thing in many years, not since tasting a classic Lebanese kibbe in Dearborn made with raw lamb and bulghur. (“Why’d you bite me, mister?” baaa’ed the little lamb?)

I thought I was ready, and indeed I ate some of it.

But I couldn’t help feeling tempted to ask the waiter to return it to the kitchen and have the chef throw that raw meatball on the grill, and return it on a bun with fromage and a side of pomme frites.

Yes, French fries are my favorite food in any language.

Here’s an adapted version of Emeril Lagasse’s beef tartare. Note how the ingredients mirror those of a classic Caesar salad. 

INGREDIENTS:
2 anchovy fillets
2 cloves of crushed garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon capers
1 egg
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 pound freshly ground beef tenderloin
1/4 cup minced shallots
4 tablespoons chopped hard-boiled egg whites
4 tablespoons chopped hard-boiled egg yolks
4 tablespoons red onions
4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
8 slices of white bread, crust removed and quartered, or thinly sliced baguette, tossed in olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper, and toasted (or romaine lettuce leaves)

DIRECTIONS:
In a small wooden mixing bowl, combine the anchovy, capers and garlic. Using the back of a fork, crush the two and form a paste. Add the egg and mustard. Whisk well.

Season with salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce. Whisk in the oil, to form an emulsion.

In a cold mixing bowl, combine the tenderloin and shallots.S eason with salt and pepper. Add the emulsion and mix well.

Form the tartare into 4 ounce rounds, about 1-inch thick. Place in the center of four cold plates.

Garnish each with chopped egg whites and yolks, red onion, and parsley. Serve with toasted bread or romaine lettuce leaves.

Of course, if you can’t stomach the thought of raw beef, toss it on the grill for a pretty good hamburger.

Now there’s something you can get without leaving the country!
———————
Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard, and Walker PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation.
He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor.
He occasionally updates his blog at http://mayitpleasethepalate.blogspot.com/.

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