It’s hot out there. Checking in with friends and colleagues around the country this week, the weather forecast seemed like I was having déjà vu no matter where I was calling. Helena, Montana: 90° and dry. West Palm Beach, Florida: 93° and humid. St. Louis, Missouri: 92° and thunderstorms. Judging by what seems to be a universally sun burnt, heat zapped spirit, it seemed as though dinner plans for the weekend were something along the lines of if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen and into an air-conditioned restaurant.
As much as I love a good air-conditioned restaurant, there is nothing like eating in your own air-conditioned home, especially if you can “cook” dinner without ever having to light a burner. By cooking raw, at least this week, I am not referring to that new-age trend toward vegan gourmet restaurants that swear off ovens and stoves as well as animal fats. I am actually referring to the potential to eat both animal fats and various fish using no more tools than an extremely sharp knife and a cutting board.
Fish probably is the most widely experienced form of raw food now that sushi can be found everywhere from a Wal-Mart in Kansas City to equally land-locked, south of the border Mexico City. Thanks to sushi, the average person has most likely already had their first taste of fish in the raw even if it was only in the nearly ubiquitous form of a California roll. But beyond the contributions of the Japanese to raw cooking, we can look to two very different parts of the world, Scandinavia and Latin America, to find other examples of cooking fish without heat.
In both cases, fish is “cooked” not with heat but with acid. Pickling and curing fish from herring to salmon in a combination of salt and sugar and vinegars creates some of the most popular dishes in countries like Norway. A classic salmon dish known as gravlax involves curing salmon in a combination of salt, sugar and dill for over a day, then slicing it thin to eat either as a component of a salad or on its own with brown bread and mustard.
Looking to Latin America, fish is treated similarly to those much colder countries but the “cooking” process is more to order. Fish is treated with a combination of acids either from vinegar or citrus fruits. Left to sit for several minutes, the acids start to break down the proteins in the fish, giving the appearance of being cooked and creating the popular dish known as ceviche.
Beyond fish, there are a few members of the “meat” category that can forgo the fire. In France they have tartare and in Italy it is carpaccio to which tender butt-ends of beef often discover their fate. Either way, the presentation of raw beef is far from the barbarism is implies and is instead somewhat of an elegant delicacy. The best cut to use for such a venture is beef tenderloin, although in a pinch sirloin will also work. For tartare the beef is freshly ground, served with a display of capers, anchovies, finely chopped egg whites and yolks and served with toast points. Carpaccio is similar in that the plate is classically decorated with a combination of salty and acidic elements from capers to lemon juice. The beef, which can be frozen first to ease in cutting, is sliced paper thin and arranged on a platter. Shallots or thinly sliced onion are a good accompaniment along with optional arugula for some green contrast, truffle oil for richness, or a creamy horseradish sauce for a zip.
The heat may be rising outside but inside the kitchen it can be as cool as a Norwegian winter. You and the large, scary men of pro-wrestling may both like your beef raw. But keep your Monday Night Raw sophisticated, keep the oven off and leave the sweating to the men on TV.
Beef Carpaccio with Capered Goat Cheese Recipe
Ready in: under 30 minutes
* 1 pound beef tenderloin, frozen for at least 30 minutes
* 2 shallots
* 2 cups of baby arugula
* 4 ounces goat cheese, room temperature
* 1/4 cup capers, rinsed and drained
* 1 lemon
* 2 teaspoons truffle oil (optional)
* Coarse sea salt
* Black pepper
* 1 loaf French bread
Remove beef from freezer. Peel shallots and thinly slice. Wash and dry arugula. Combine goat cheese and capers in a small bowl. Cut lemon in quarters.
With an extremely sharp knife, slice beef across the grain in paper thin slices. If beef is not thin enough, it can be pounded out between two sheets of plastic wrap with a mallet or heavy pan until it is paper thin.
On a large platter, arrange beef in a single layer. Mound capered goat cheese in the center of the plate. Sprinkle with shallots. Mound arugula over cheese and beef. Drizzle plate with truffle oil (or olive oil if truffle is not available) and sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper. Arrange lemon wedges around the side.
To serve, use lemon if desired and eat beef with a bit of everything on the plate on some crusty bread.