WHEN James Beard was first living in England at age 18, he ordered tartar steak in a German deli called Appendrot, he said, though he didn't know what it was. The waiter brought, to his surprise, raw chopped meat with condiments all around it, and Beard didn't know whether it was a joke or the waiter was going to cook it tableside. Perhaps spotting his confusion, the waiter offered to prepare the meat for him, thus demonstrating that it was to be eaten raw. And Beard both saved face and discovered a dish he has loved ever since.
But tastes change, and so has Beard's recipe for tartar steak over the years, reflecting as well the changing style of American cookbooks. 1940
An eight-line recipe for Tartar Balls seasoned the meat with only salt, pepper, garlic and onion; Raw Beef Paste included egg, capers and chives. 1949
The recipe had grown to 10 lines but still included vague directions: "dress with" onions, egg, salt, pepper, capers, mustard. No amounts given. 1959
The mustard was now dry, the mixture enriched with garlic, worcestershire sauce and parsley. 1965
Growing more detailed, Beard specified that the beef should be ground just before using, and told exactly how to mix and with what utensils. The seasoning repertoire was expanded to include anchovies, Tabasco, dijon mustard, chives and cognac. All this took 17 lines. 1972
The description grew longer, specifying using two knives to work the meat. 1974
A departure: rosemary as a garnish. 1977
The pinnacle of culinary precision. Chop the meat yourself, Beard directed, especially since you were likely to have a food processor to do it. And the instructions took a whole page, 33 lines. No longer were rye and pumpernickel the accompaniments of choice, but toast fingers. Garlic was dropped, but for two pounds of meat, 1/3 cup of cognac was suggested. 1981
Four years ago Beard wrote, "Almost everyone knows the delights of steak tartare." So in "The New James Beard," with innumerable beef recipes, including testicles, heart and marrow, he left out the dish altogether.