At this time of the year when Durban is hot and steamy here on the East Coast of South Africa, Fillet Americain or Steak Tartare as you probably know it; finds its primal way onto the dinner table in la casa Tripepi. When I met TrickyRicky back in the 70’s, the very idea of eating raw meat shocked this little English girl’s socks right off and I resisted even tasting the dish for many years. Funnily enough it was only when I expecting my son Daniele, that I found myself craving it and I have often marvelled at how it’s possible to crave something that you have never eaten? Very ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ if you ask
me! Perhaps I wanted to share in and understand the happiness that this dish seemed to bring to the family.
Before arriving in South Africa, the Tripepi family spent 10 years living in the Belgian Congo which is now called Zaire. My father-in-law, Salvatore Tripepi, known to the whole family as Nonno Toto, made his way there as a young man with two small children to work on his brother-in-law farm. One opportunity led to another and soon enough he had his own construction company and in time he made enough money to buy a coffee plantation, a shop and opened a brick factory.
Life in the Congo was typically Colonial and the community of Belgians and Italians entertained constantly which resulted in the Tripepi’s adopting a few Belgian dishes into their cooking arsenal. This particular Belgian dish was first introduced to them at a luncheon at the home of Madame Courboin who was Nonna’s best friend.
On researching the origins of this dish, I can confirm that Filet American is the Belgian version of the infamous and well-loved Steak Tartare, and is made with either minced beef or horse meat (perish the thought!). It is served in two different ways; firstly as a snack known as a ‘martino’ which is a slice of rye bread toasted and topped with anchovies in oil and then a thick layer of the Filet Americain on top and secondly, the Mme Courboin’s way, with Pommes a lumette and salad. I must try the rye bread and anchovy version! I love anchovies and just know that I would enjoy it this way!
This is one of those ‘emotion fuelling’ meals that all but reduces my dear TrickyRicky to tears of pure joy. His face lights up and his fingers reach immediately for his cell phone when I say the words Filet Americain; he invites his brother Renato over to share this dish with them. For TrickyRicky this highly spiced raw meat brings back the wonderful and happy memories of his childhood in Aba, of his two late brothers Mario and Sergio, of a time when he and his younger brother Renato played innocently in the African bush catching snakes and hunting insects, and of afternoons with his sisters playing records and dancing in the lounge.
This is very primal and sexy food I think and I have in the past, served heart shaped mounds of this topped with a raw egg to TrickyRicky for a romantic Valentine’s Day Dinner! Very raw-nchy! To great effect I may add too!
It is written that our sense of smell has the longest memory of all of our senses. I would agree with this as one whiff of a turkey in the oven catapults my mind through time where it joins hands with a host of other memories like touch, smell and sound. Isn’t food all-encompassing for it offers up so many sensory promises – sight, sounds, smell, taste and touch!
There is magic in food me thinks!
This is one of those dishes that should reflect your palate. The quantities of the flavourings below are merely a guideline. If you enjoy more spicy food then by all means increase the amount of Tabasco or Worcestershire sauce etc. TrickyRicky recently ate this oldie at Havana, one of Durban’s best aged meat restaurants. They added 1Tbs of a red pepper, onion and chilli relish to the basic ingredients as listed below and the result was absolutely delicious. I really enjoyed the crunchy texture it gave to the dish and the sweetness of the peppers was fabulous.
Many different cultures have their version of ‘raw meat’ dishes. I have eaten the Lebanese version of this dish Kebbeh, which is made with minced lamb, bulgur wheat and dressed with a minced chilli, garlic and olive oil dressing. Again, I absolutely loved it! So this is the kind of dish that you can make your own by playing around with the ingredients and make them your own.
700g beef fillet at room temperature, dry it off well and leave it out, covered for the day
100g drained capers
½medium red onion or shallot finely diced
1Tbs olive oil
½ lemon – juiced
2tsp Dijon or French mustard
5Tbs Worcestershire Sauce
1Tbs Tabasco Sauce
1 egg yolk
Salt & freshly ground Black Pepper
5ml – A squeeze of lemon
Trim of any fat or sinew on the outer edges of the fillet.
Slice the fillet up into 5 steaks. Flatten out using the back of your hand.
My kitchen assistant Tino-the-claw-Tripepi was on hand to polish off the off-cuts!
Sharpen you knife well and finely dice the steaks – it’s best to make cuts about 5mm apart across the whole steak, then turn your chopping board around and chop 5mm cuts diagonally across.
This way you get a really nice even tiny dice. It’s not a good idea to do this in a food processor as the blade action results in a paste which tends to be a little slimy and pasty, however, if you like it this way that is fine.
Place in a mixing bowl.
In a separate bowl whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, Worcester sauce and Tabasco sauce.
Add the capers, onion, salt and pepper and mix well.
Add this mixture to the meat with a fresh egg yolk
Mix this all together well and check for seasoning.
Allow this mixture to stand for about 20 minutes and then taste again –
I always find myself adding a little more of this or a little more of that to tweak the taste just before serving
Serve with freshly made REAL potato chips – the thinner the better. The traditional Pomme a lumette are ‘match-stick chips’ that are very fine. As the name suggests, they are as thin as match sticks and fried until crispy. So if you have exceptional knife skills or a special appliance that cuts out ‘match stick chips’ then make them and fry them until crispy and serve them well drained, hot and well sprinkled with salt.
It’s spring clean week this week in la casa Tripepi. Anything that has not been used or worn in the last 6 – 8 months is a gonna! Need to make some space for Santa’s goodies!
I have to confess – after writing this post throughout the day yesterday, ALL I could think about, and TrickyRicky too for that matter was Filet Americain! So off we popped to Havana Grill at the Suncoast Casino to indulge!
Filet Americain (Steak Tartare) It is served as a starter at a cost of R65 and comes with
minced garlic, chopped olive, chopped cornichons, chopped capers, diced red green and yellow peppers, chopped green chili, pepper relish, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco Sauce, black pepper and salt – with freshly toasted bread.
And TrickyRicky and I sighed, oohed and ahhhed our way through the meal with huge grins on our faces!
Don’t miss Episode 9 of DINNER DIVA’S
This Saturday Morning at 08.30am
Nina Timm of http://www.my-easy-cooking.com/
Kristy Snel of http://food-monger.com/
and little old ‘moi’ go for it in the Diva Kitchen.
The brief is as follows:
Prepare a FESTIVE or SPECIAL OCCASION meal for 4-8 people in 3 hours!
Hint : I went totally seafood and prepared a Bridal Rehearsal Dinner for 6 people!
If it could swim …. I cooked it!
See you then!
Christmas Gifts from your kitchen ….
Cranberry & Pistachio, Hazelnut, Coffee & Choc Chip Biscotti