The best tartare dish I ever tasted was very recently, in Warsaw. It was made by a chef called Marek Kropielnicki, who, like me, grew up in Manchester as a second-generation Pole. He has now married and made Warsaw his home. Marek’s tartare was made with wild venison, from a female roe deer that he had hunted himself. The tartare was served on a bed of moss gathered from the Mazury region, with clouds of dried ice floating onto the table for added effect. It was quite spectacular. Marek’s advice was, of course, to use the best beef or venison that you can find – grass-fed, organic is best. Most people chop the meat finely, but Marek takes a knife and scrapes the fillet so that you get an incredibly fine, almost mousse-like texture, rather than small chunks. My friends Boz˙ena and Mariola, also ‘Manchester Poles’, remember their father, ‘Pan Andrzej’, making his tartare this way, too. His secret was to add a drop of oil from a tin of sardines or anchovies. Marek’s secret ingredient from modern-day Warsaw is lovage oil; he also adds chopped pickled mushrooms and gherkins. Lovage can be grown very easily in the garden, and the leaves add a wonderful, deep, savoury note to this oil. You can use this method to make other herb oils, for example using wild garlic leaves or chives: these will be too strong for the steak tartare, but would be delicious drizzled over a ‘kaszotto’ or grilled meat.
- Yield: 2 Servings
- 9 oz (250 g) organic, grass-fed beef fillet or venison fillet
- 2 pickled gherkins, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp pickled mushrooms, drained
- 1 red onion or shallot, very finely chopped
- ½ tsp nigella (black onion) seeds
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tsp lovage oil (see below), or oil from a tin of anchovy fillets, or cold-pressed avocado oil
- 1 tsp boiled, cooled water
- 2 fresh quail’s eggs
- 3½ oz (100 g) (a big handful) fresh lovage leaves, washed and dried
- 9 fl oz 1 cup (250 ml) grapeseed or vegetable oil
- Prepare the steak immediately before serving it, otherwise the meat will begin to oxidize and discolour.
- Very finely chop the steak into tiny cubes, or mince it, or scrape it with the edge of a knife along the fillet. Place it in a bowl. Add the gherkins, mushrooms and the red onion or shallot. Add the nigella seeds and season well with salt and pepper. Add the oil and the boiled, cooled water. Stir with a fork to combine well.
- To serve, place a chef’s ring on each plate. Spoon equal quantities of the steak into the rings, then remove the rings.
- Pour hot water over the quail’s eggs to remove any bacteria on the outside of the shell. Crack the eggs, separate the yolks from the whites and serve the yolk next to the steak tartare. To make your own lovage oil
- Put the lovage leaves into a high-powered blender, pour in the oil and blitz for 10 minutes. The oil will heat up slightly due to the friction in the blade.
- Place a piece of sterile gauze in a sieve over a bowl (or use a coffee filter paper) and pour the liquid into the sieve. Leave to drip through overnight. The result should be a clear, green oil. Transfer the oil into a plastic bottle and use on salads, over herrings or in this steak tartare.