Eating raw meat is not as strange as it sounds in our roasted, stewed, grilled and skewered cooking culture. In our culinary heritage, it's way older than the BBQ. Of course, cooking is a great idea when the age and source of the meat is unknown, as in the reduced bin of the supermarket. Cook it well.
But this case was different: the lamb was raised locally on an organic farm, butchered in a small inspected facility, quickly frozen and delivered to my home just a few days prior. I trusted it.
I was cooking dinner with my friend Paula, of Lebanese heritage, who says it's traditional to eat lamb this way on the day the animal is slaughtered. In other words, to eat the best first. The dish is called kibbe nayya. To make it, minced lamb is mixed with cooked burghul (aka cracked wheat), lightly spiced with cinnamon and cumin, garnished with green onions and mint, drizzled with olive oil and scooped into pita bread. A cooked version is made by spreading the mixture into a dish and baking it. That's good, too.
Many cultures have a special dish made with raw meat of the best quality. The French have steak tartare (ground beef). Scandinavians make gravlax (salmon). South Americans have ceviche (fish and seafood). In Asia there are many raw meat recipes including koi soi in Thailand, a ground beef salad. I have not tried it, but I would.
There was a time when I was strictly a cooked meat eater. My steaks were well-done. That's how we did it growing up on the farm in rural Saskatchewan and the only way I knew. I have fond memories of grandma's roast beef cooked to dry and chew-worthy proportions, but I also recall that I loved the juicy fatty bits she left behind in the pan.
Somewhere in early adulthood I tried a medium-done steak and I liked it. I graduated to medium rare. Next thing I knew, I was ordering straight up rare to raw. I remember the moment of revelation: it was a steakhouse in Maple Creek, Sask., full of cowboys and their families, serving Alberta Angus beef. It was the most deliciously rare steak I had ever eaten. Seasoned only with salt and pepper, it was so much more flavourful and melt-in-your-mouth than the steaks of my childhood. With meat that good, it seemed a shame to cook it through.
I don't serve raw meat to my guests very often, and I would never push it on the squeamish. I find a happy medium in this version of Italian carpaccio, pronounced car-patch-o. It's seared on the outside, pink on the inside, thinly sliced and served cold.
Seared Steak Carpaccio
Choose a good cut of beef such as tenderloin or flat iron steak.
1 clove garlic
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 handful of mixed fresh herbs such as oregano, thyme, sage, rosemary and parsley
1-2 tbsp olive oil
2 beef steaks, no bone
Torn arugula leaves
Shaved parmesan cheese
Sliced bread such as baguette
Smash together the garlic, salt and peppercorns. Chop the herbs very finely. Taste and add more herbs as needed for a nice balance of flavours. Add to the garlic mixture. Drizzle in just enough olive oil to make a paste. Rub herb mixture onto both sides of the steak. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for a few hours to marinate.
Coat a cast iron pan thinly with oil. Heat on high. Add the meat and sear both sides, about 5-7 minutes per side. The meat will feel quite springy when pressed with a finger.
Cool, wrap and refrigerate until serving time. With a sharp knife, shave the beef across the grain in very thin slices. Arrange on a plate. Drizzle with olive oil. Scatter with arugula and shaved parmesan cheese. Serve with sliced baguette.
(This article first appeared in Grainews)