Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, February 5, 2004


Page 15



Steak Tartare, Salisbury Steak: Kin of the Hamburger




First there was steak tartare.

Raw beef, as noted in a recent column, was consumed by the Tarters, a Turkish-Mongol tribe which controlled Russia in the 13th Century. Whether German sailors encountered it in Russian ports, or Russian sailors unveiled it in German ports, the Germans latched on to it. A cooked version became known as the Hamburg steak, which was to become a sandwich and an institution in the United States, denominated the “hamburger.”

Raw beef was consumed other than by the Tartars. Also in the 13th Century, Marco Polo, following his journeys, told of beef and other foods being devoured raw in China. It could well be that the same dish was eaten elsewhere and earlier. But it was the Tartars’ cuisine that was the ancestor of the Big Mac and led to the dish known as steak tartare (or tartar steak).

Steak tartare is not frequently found on menus. Two places where it’s appetizingly served are Knoll’s Black Forest in Santa Monica (German) and Gustaf Anders in Costa Mesa (Swedish).

I used to prepare it for the Christmas open house my wife and I held each year, but stopped making it. Only my cousin Mimi and I were eating it. And there’s no such thing as steak tartare leftovers. The mixture soon becomes brown and watery. I once tried cooking it and—I don’t know whether it was the anchovies, the capers, or what—I found it was not a good idea.

Standard ingredients added to freshly ground and very lean beef, aside from anchovies and capers, are raw egg yokes, minced onions, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, Tobasco sauce, Dijon mustard, and freshly ground pepper. I’ve found that adding onion dip mix perks up the batch.

In the summer of 1969, my wife and I were studying in London and frequented a restaurant at the Swiss Center where steak tartare was a specialty. Accompanying the dish was a shotglass containing rye, brandy or whiskey, which the patron would mix in. We particularly liked the addition of rye.

“Salisbury steak” is a name for beef patty, generally made with minced onions, served without a bun, and nearly always accompanied by brown gravy and mashed potatoes. Beyond that, it’s difficult to pin down just what a salisbury steak is, and how it differs, if at all, from a hamburger steak.

The dish takes its name from Dr. James H. Salisbury (1823-1905), a Civil War physician who was on the faculty of Rush Medical College in Chicago in the late 1890s. It was reportedly while he was practicing in Cleveland that he began prescribing for his patients a ground beef patty three times a day, taken with a large glass of hot water. This was intended to aid digestion and prevent disease. It became a fad diet of the 1880s-90s.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition (2000) defines “salisbury steak” as “[a] patty of ground beef mixed with eggs, milk, onions, and various seasonings and broiled, fried, or baked.” The Miriam Webster online dictionary describes it as “ground beef mixed with egg, milk, bread crumbs, and seasonings and formed into a large patty and cooked.”

But the original beef patty which Salisbury recommended was simpler. Here’s his own recipe from “The Relation of Alimentation and Disease” (1888):

“Eat the muscle pulp of lean beef made into cakes and broiled. This pulp should be as free as possible from connective or glue tissue, fat and cartilage....The pulp should not be pressed too firmly together before broiling, or it will taste livery. Simply press it sufficiently to hold it together. Make the cakes from half an inch to an inch thick. Broil slowly and moderately well over a fire free from blaze and smoke. When cooked, put it on a hot plate and season to taste with butter, pepper, salt; also use either Worcestershire or Halford sauce, mustard, horseradish or lemon juice on the meat if desired.”

(In case you haven’t heard of Halford sauce, it was “Halford Leicestershire Table Sauce,” advertised in the 1880s thusly: “The Most Perfect Relish of the Day. An absolute Remedy for Dyspepsia. Invaluable to all Good Cooks. A Nutritious Combination for Children. Invaluable for Soups, Hashes, Cold Meats, and Entrées.”)

During the World War I era when German names were avoided, some restaurants billed their hamburger as salisbury steak (or liberty steak).

Salisbury steak still appears on menus, but rarely. I first encountered the dish in a TV dinner in the late 1950s. and I see that it continues to be marketed by various manufacturers in frozen form.

Dishes like meatballs and meatloaf are not descended from the minced beef eaten by the Tarters. They were developed, independently, at various points on the globe.

Moreover—unlike hamburger, steak tartare and salisbury steak—they are not necessarily all-beef, and traditionally have not been.

Next week: a look at meatballs and spaghetti—a dish virtually unknown in Italy.


Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company


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