Summer challenges us to come up with bright and fresh dishes that are simultaneously light and refreshing, yet pack a flavorful punch. After all, when temperatures soar, no one wants to greet guests with something heavy or hot, and sometimes even the trusty cheese board and crudités can start to feel over-done. Enter: steak tartare, the perfect appetizer for the season. Delicious and surprisingly simple to make, the starter requires only a trip to your local butcher shop and a few steps in the kitchen. Here, Caleb Hersch of Seven Hills Meat Co., a Virginia-based abattoir that works with livestock producers, restaurants, and local butchers, shares expert advice for making it at home.*
Befriend your butcher. Getting the right cut of meat is crucial to this dish. Hersch recommends looking for a lean piece that doesn’t have much sinew, such as top sirloin or eye of round (his preference). In addition to not needing much trimming, these cuts have the added bonus of being affordable—while you can certainly spring for a tenderloin, the flavor mostly comes out when it’s cooked. When in doubt, Hersch says, ask your local butcher for a recommendation.
Use your freezer for prep. Chill the meat in the freezer for 15 minutes before you slice it. This will cause it to harden, making it easier to cut and allowing for better consistency.
Go against the grain. Hersch recommends hand-cutting the meat. Using your favorite sharp knife, slice the meat into 1/4- to 1/8-inch slices against the grain. Then, dice the meat into individual pieces approximately the size of a pea. Put the diced meat into a chilled bowl and keep it uncovered in the refrigerator while you prepare your sauce.
Select your sauce style. Depending on your mood, and what else you’re serving, you’ll want to follow a more traditional recipe or try one with a bit of a kick. Hersch recommends this recipe from Colicchio & Sons via Food Republic or this version from Serious Eats for a classic take; for an Asian iteration, he recommends this recipe for Vietnamese steak tartare.
Be gentle. Once your sauce is ready, gently fold the meat in with a spoon. Though the dish can be prepared up to an hour in advance, Hersch recommends serving the dish soon after combining the meat and sauce.
Add crunch. You’ll want to serve your steak tartare on something with a good crunchy texture. Potato chips, a baguette, and radishes are among Hersch’s favorite options. Depending on the recipe, top with a quail egg or fresh herbs.
TSG Tip 163 and photograph provided by Caleb Hersch of Seven Hills Meat Co. in Charlottesville, Virginia.
*Note: Consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish, eggs, or unpasteurized milk may increase your risk of foodborne illness.