Ted Hopson of the Bellwether is one of L.A.'s favorite chefs. Luckily for us, he's not secretive about his kitchen tips and tricks. Here he shares some thoughts on preparing tartare — beef and otherwise — in very simplified terms. It's not as scary as you might think. Having said that, please buy high-quality meat and wash your hands a ton. And get creative!
Selecting the meat
“For choosing the kind of meat for a tartare, I first think about the dish I’m going to prepare. Beef is always a great go-to, but oftentimes I like to work with more pronounced flavors. In that case, I’ll go with lamb — in its raw state, it isn't gamey. If I want something very meaty, then I will go for buffalo, as it has a more rich flavor. When picking out the meat for a tartare, I look for something that is going to be lean. If I’m going to prepare a beef tartare, I like to use tenderloin tips. You can usually get these from a butcher, as they are the leftover ends of the beef tenderloin, which are the perfect texture for a tartare. If I’m going to prepare lamb, I like to get the shoulders. It takes a little more butchering, but the meat itself is quite lean.”
Preparing the meat
“I think people get nervous when it comes to the process of preparing the meat for a tartare, when in fact this is probably the easiest part of the process! You actually don't need any special equipment, just a knife and a cutting board. If you are using tenderloin tips, simply slice the beef into a piece around ¼ inch in thickness, then lay that down and slice it again into strips. Then, cut those strips into little cubes. If making the small dice is too tricky, you can also just rough cut it all — the goal is to make it small. The tenderloin is very soft, so it will be edible no matter what, and the great thing about using a lean cut is that you don't have to pull out sinew or fat, and 100% of it is usable. Once it is all chopped, be sure to put it in the fridge to chill down until ready to serve.”
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Flavoring the meat
“There are so many fun ways to serve tartare, and it can be anything from the very classic to contemporary. For a more traditional version, I simply mince some shallot, parsley, capers and cornichons, and mix it all with the beef. I then add some mustard, and top it with a egg yolk (or a quail egg yolk to keep it dainty and pretty). To prepare more modern versions, think about your favorite way to eat beef and then play around with those flavors. For example, I love Korean BBQ, so I took some of the fun flavors associated with the cuisine and made it into a tartare using Ssamjang, sesame, lettuce leaves, radish, garlic, shishito peppers and rice powder, all mixed together. The possibilities start to become endless! If you love ceviche, try making it with beef — it is just as amazing. I sometimes mix it with my favorite chimichurri sauce with some raw beef (or buffalo!) and serve it with plantain chips.”