Beef Tartare Tostadas

I've given up wishing I ate better than I actually ate as a child. I wasn't one of those kids who ate sushi and loves prosciutto. I was a child of the 90's, living for chex mix, nacho cheese doritos, and Mexican food, except if it involved anything I thought was gross, like tongue, tripe, or octopus. Needless to say, I had never eaten raw beef before I showed up on a Tuscan butcher's doorstep in 2009. So, I was not super excited to try it since, as an American, I have a cultural fear of eating raw beef. I say this because the entire nine months that I worked at Dario's restaurants, not one German, Brit, Frenchman, Russian, or Brazilian flinched at the words raw beef the way we Americans did. The USDA should have to pay us retribution money for the cultural damage they've done with their campaign against eating undercooked meat. 

As it turns out, raw beef is delicious and, even better, you can totally make it at home. In Italy, Dario (the Tuscan butcher) mixes it with lots of lemon, parsley, garlic, and other spices, and it's a revelation- bright, clean, and refreshing. I'd never imagined tartare could be like that. I learned that it's a result of three things, really: technique, meat cut, and meat quality.

Technique: Eventually I'll get a video up here to show you exactly how this is done, suffice to say that you should follow the instructions in the recipe exactly. You'll need a jaccard, a mini meat cuber basically, which is a piece of equipment most people don't have at home. Please order one on Amazon before you try the recipe. Do not use store-bought ground beef.

Meat Cut: I've seen tartare made with all kinds of things in restaurants, from beef tenderloin to beef hangar steak. It's all a big, ridiculous waste of time. The number of chefs who think tenderloin is still the best for tartare kind of astounds me, since that particular cut is very tender and has a tendency to turn mushy when chopped up finely. Why waste the most tender cut on the animal just to mash it all up? I use round of any kind, but preferably eye of round. The round, to put it simply, is the leg meat which, in beef, is quite lean. Leanness matters in tartare since no one wants to eat cubed up cold fat. Don't put other people through that; don't put yourself through that. Get an eye of round, a top round, or (last choice), a bottom round, and make sure all the external fat is trimmed from it. 

Meat Quality: I could write a small pamphlet on things to consider when buying beef for tartare. But, I think my audience would be limited so I'm going to try to break it down. Try not to buy frozen. Don't buy ground. Buy from a butcher, not the store. Preferably, buy from a good butcher who cuts meat in house and can tell you where the beef came from, where it's slaughtered, and when it got into his or her shop. Or, buy direct from a rancher whose product is handled at a USDA inspected facility. 

Okay, now that you know that, let's talk about the recipe. Obviously, this isn't how we ate beef tartare in Italy. But I was thinking that I wanted to try the original recipe with a Mexican twist, limes instead of lemons, cilantro instead of parsley. It's the Mexican in me; I just love those flavors. Then it occurred to me that the crispy fried tostada would be the perfect vessel for the tartare and, also, would make it a little less intimidating to try the raw beef. Everyone loves this when they try it, trust me, they're amazed at how refreshing and light it is. This dish is perfect for summer entertaining, as it can be made in advance and with very little cooking involved. So, without further ado, here's the recipe. 

Beef Tartare Tostadas

Ingredients:

  • 12 mini corn tortillas
  • 1 cup plain high heat oil for frying, like canola
  • 1 avocado, pitted and sliced thinly
  • 1 small white onion, finely minced
  • 1/2 pint small cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro & a handful of whole cilantro leaves
  • 1 lb beef eye of round, top round, or bottom round, cleaned of all fat 
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • One lime zested and juiced
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 clove of garlic, pasted
  • Small, tiny pinch of cayenne
  • 1 tsp salt, plus more to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Instructions:

  1. Put the meat on a clean cutting board. Using the jaccard, begin to tenderize the meat by laying it flat on your cutting board and pushing the flat surface of the jaccard down into the meat. At first, it will seem that your efforts don’t make any difference. However, within a minute or two, you’ll see that the meat starts to break down, and becomes easier to work. Turn the meat over and continue pounding. When you can, fold the meat over onto itself and continue pounding with the Jaccard, turning the meat and folding it as necessary to chop it evenly. I test the meat for doneness by poking my finger into it. When I feel no resistance and my finger easily reaches the cutting board below, the meat is chopped finely enough. Remember, we’re not trying to grind it here.
  2. It’s important that you try to do this work relatively quickly so that you minimize the amount of time the meat spends at room temperature. Chopping meat finely, or grinding it, increases the temperature of the meat through friction, and you want it to stay cold. So, if you need to stop what you’re doing for whatever reason, put the beef in the fridge until you’re ready to continue. When you’ve finished, put the beef back in the fridge until you’re ready to season.
  3. Add the lime zest, lime juice, chopped cilantro, garlic, paprika, salt, and pepper into the bowl with the meat and use your hands to mix well. Take a tiny taste to check that the seasoning is right, you may need to add more salt or more lime. Chill while you make the tostadas. 
  4. In a large, heavy skillet, heat up the one cup of oil until it shimmers and sputters when you flick a drop of water into it. Carefully fry the tortillas one at a time, cooking them until they're a light gold brown and crisp throughout. Drain on paper towels and season lightly with salt. Allow to cool. 
  5. Before you serve the tartare, put it on the cutting board one more time and chop it with a knife, making sure to cut through any parts that feel like they have resistance. Then, pile the tartare on a platter with the tostada shells, cherry tomatoes, avocado, cilantro, minced onion, and lime wedges on the side. Drizzle the whole thing with a little more extra virgin olive oil.

To assemble a tostada, pile the tartare on first, then top with onion, avocado, cherry tomatoes, and a few cilantro leaves.