There’s a lot of steak tartare in this world, and there are many chefs who put all sorts of creative things in their tartare, often to delicious effect. I am not one of them. This tartare is classic, and I like it for its simplicity. Start this dish one day before you want to serve it to allow enough time to freeze the meat completely. Freezing makes it possible to slice the meat into perfectly clean, neat cubes without any mushing or tearing.
A final note: Buy a few more quail eggs than you plan to serve, as the yolks in one or two will inevitably break before serving. Quail eggs can be found at many Asian markets (and sometimes even at local farmers’ markets).
- Yield: 12 Servings
- 6 ounces beef tenderloin (preferably grass-fed)
- ¾ teaspoon finely minced shallot
- 1½ teaspoons rinsed and finely minced capers
- 1½ teaspoons finely minced cornichons
- 1½ teaspoons finely minced chives
- 3 slices quick brioche, each ⅓ inch thick
- 3 tablespoons butter, melted
- 12 quail eggs (plus a few extra for insurance)
- ¼ rounded teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1½ teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Freshly cracked black pepper, for serving
- Trim the meat of any excess fat or sinew. Wrap the whole 6-ounce piece tightly in plastic wrap and place in the freezer overnight, until fully frozen.
- Remove the meat from the freezer and let sit at room temperature for 20 to 25 minutes, until it is still frozen but can be sliced through cleanly with a knife. To cut it into a fine mince, slice the whole piece across the grain into ⅛-inch-thick slices. Stack the slices and cut the stack lengthwise into ⅛-inch-wide strips (julienne). Finally, cut the strips crosswise into little squares (mince). The pieces should be very small and uniform by the time you’re done. You have to work quickly, as the meat will warm up and become soft, making precise knife cuts more difficult.
- Place the meat in a small mixing bowl, add the shallot, capers, cornichons, and chives, and stir to mix evenly. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.
- About 45 minutes before serving, preheat the oven to 400°F. As soon as the oven is ready, cut off the crust from each brioche slice and cut each slice into four same-size squares. Using a pastry brush, generously coat both sides of the brioche squares with the butter and arrange the squares on a baking sheet. Bake for 7 to 8 minutes, turning the squares once at the midway point, until evenly browned. Let cool.
- Just before serving, crack all of the quail eggs into a small bowl. Remove the beef from the refrigerator, add the salt, ground pepper, and oil, and mix vigorously with a spoon. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.
- To serve, arrange the brioche toasts on a tray. Divide the meat into twelve ½-ounce portions (one per toast). Using your hands, form a small mound of meat on top of each toast and push your thumb in the center to form a well for the quail egg. Be sure to push deeply enough to create a definitive hollow for the yolk, as you don’t want it sliding off.
- Using your hands, carefully remove a yolk from the bowl of quail eggs, gently shake off any excess egg whites, and slide the yolk into the hollow on the beef mound. Repeat with remaining toasts. Finish with a pinch of cracked black pepper on top of each toast. Transfer to a serving platter and serve immediately.