The Food Almanac: Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Staff Writer
It's National Steak Tartare Day!
Wikimedia Commons/ Cyclone Bill

Steak tartare is raw ground beef mixed with onions, mustard, capers, seasonings, egg, Worcestershire sauce and a few other things at the whim of the maker. It is delicious.

This is the anniversary of something that made your blood run cold in 2001. Enough said. But only five years later on this date, a major American victory was won in Afghanistan, as its President Hamid Karzai cut the ribbon on a new Coca-Cola bottling plant.

In other memorable moments, today in 2005 the levee breach on the 17th Street Canal--responsible for the a large percentage of the flooding in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina--was finally closed permanently after only twelve days. All that was left was to drain the eighty percent of the city still flooded in depths measured by feet.

Namesakes Of Classic Dishes 
Today in 1930, the volcano on the Italian island of Stromboli, just north of Sicily, began throwing boulders weighing a ton or more some two miles. Stromboli is always smoking, and because of that there's an inside-out pizza named for it. The crust is folded over the usual pizza ingredients with a hole punched in the top. When it comes out of the oven, the hole has steam issuing from it, reminding anyone who knows Stromboli of its distinctive quality.

Namesakes Of Restaurants
Today is the birthday, in 1862, of William Sidney Porter, who wrote hundreds of short stories under the pen name O. Henry. Even though his main productive years were a hundred years ago, his name still has enough of a ring that a New Orleans chain of hamburger and seafood platter places has borrowed it, with only a slight punctuation change.

Today's Flavor
Today is National Steak Tartare Day. Steak tartare is raw ground beef mixed with onions, mustard, capers, seasonings, egg, Worcestershire sauce and a few other things at the whim of the maker. It is delicious. Best made with sirloin or round steak, the best steak tartare is chopped very finely by hand. Grinding it in a meat grinder not only gives it a less interesting texture, but introduces the greatest threat of contamination. Then it's mixed with the other ingredients on a cutting board, preferably tableside, in the view of the diner.

The name comes from a legend--probably not true--that the dish originated with the nomadic Tartar warriors, who put pieces of meat under their saddles as they rode, thereby smashing the meat into a paste. However, in France--where much more steak tartare is eaten than in this country--it's most often called steak Americaine. (Also steak cannibale.)

Steak tartare is one of those raw proteins that the fine type on menus warn you about, citing health risks. However, it's much safer to eat steak tartare than to drive a car. Still, as a result of those concerns, steak tartare has become very hard to find in restaurants. Which is a shame, because it's a great dish. Before the storm, the best in town was at Arnaud's, where the used the recipe made famous at New York's "21." In its golden years, the Sazerac in the Fairmont Hotel did a magnificent preparation of steak tartare, usually orchestrated by Tommy Andrade, who now owns Tommy's in the Warehouse District. Maybe we can get him to make it for us someday.

Tuna tartare has become much more common than the beef version. It's universal in sushi bars and found widely in contemporary restaurants of other kinds. Although most of the seasonings in the beef version are not used. It's mostly finely-chopped tuna, with maybe a little wasabi and soy sauce.

Although this isn't exactly steak tartare, for a long time the Camellia Grill had a sandwich of raw ground beef, onions, and raw egg called the Cannibal Special. It was the ultimate supper before a night of major imbibing.

Deft Dining Rule #1003
Never offer steak tartare to a dining companion. Let him or her ask you for it.

Music To Eat Shrimp By
Today is the birthday (1902) of Jimmie Davis, former Louisiana governor (twice), and composer of country songs. . . In 1967, jazz pianist and singer Harry Connick Jr. was born in New Orleans.

Edible Dictionary
tagliatelle [tah-ghlee-ah-TEL-eh], n.--A pasta shape made by slicing thin sheets of dough into long, wide (a quarter to a half-inch) ribbons, preferably by hand. The cutting of the pasta sheets is reflected in the pasta's name, from the Italian verb meaning to cut. Tagliatelle is something like fettuccine, but wider and longer. Its exact dimensions are literally cast in gold in a display case at the Bologna Chamber of Commerce. It's six millimeters wide by one millimeter thick.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Baker Island is a large, oak-leaf-shaped, mountainous island at the southern end of the Alaska Panhandle. It's part of the Tongass National Forest, a temperate rain forest with incredibly dense woods and undergrowth. If you got hungry there, you probably wouldn't be able to scare up any baked Alaska (there are no towns on the island), but berries are in tremendous abundance. It rains over 300 days a year there.

Food And Drink Namesakes
Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Brandywine in 1777, during the Revolutionary War. Brandywine is in Pennsylvania. There was neither brandy nor wine produced there. It was the biggest battle of the Revolution, but the British won. . . College track start Marty Liquori was born today in 1949. . . James Cutler, who really should have made or sold kitchen knives, was born today 1883. He became famous for the Cutler Mail Chute, still seen in old hotels, although not used in many of them anymore. . . David Roe, British professional snooker (billiards) player, shot his break today in 1965. . . Chiliboy Ralapelle, South African rugby player, hit the ground running today in 1986.

Words To Eat By
"A mother is a person who, seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie.”--Tenneva Jordan, American author who wrote mostly about motherhood.

Words To Drink By
"A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems."--Paul Erdos, mathematician.