A friend of mine is a classically trained chef, and she often invites me over to her house to eat whatever goodies she has concocted. A few years ago I asked her the cliché question that every chef is sick of answering: "What's your favorite food?"
I was expecting something exotic and packed with intense flavors, like roast quail with plum sauce. Or maybe something simple and beloved, like filet mignon or a chocolate soufflé. Instead, she looked at me like nothing had ever been more obvious, and said: "Steak tartare, of course."
While sushi may be romanticized by most eaters, other raw meats—such as tartare, carpaccio, and raw shellfish—are a little less common. But if you're not already eating them, then you should get started ASAP.
When my chef friend told me that tartare was her favorite dish, I was confused. I'd never tried it, but everything I knew about making steak was based around the fact that it was relatively flavorless without copious amounts of salt and fat, and a good sear.
My friend explained to me that real merit in steak tartare is not in the flavor, but in the mouth feel, which, it turns out, is as remarkable a texture as anything you'll ever try. And the same is true of raw oysters, raw clams, and one of my all-time favorites: rib-eye carpaccio. The texture of the raw meat is incomparable—and unbeatable.
The flavor sure isn't bad either. It's true that raw beef is pretty mild (though it has a nice gamey flavor), but it holds up well to really fun seasonings. And a raw oyster may not have the buttery, hearty flavor of oysters Rockefeller, but it does carry a perfect amount of brine, like the world's greatest olive.
There's a stigma that follows raw meat; most people think it's a food that is dangerous to consume. Thankfully, this isn't really the case. While it's true that the chance of parasites living in meat is higher if the meat is raw, nearly all meat-borne diseases are the result of poor meat quality or improper food care. If you buy good quality meat, and prepare it safely (more on that in a moment), the chance of getting sick from raw meat is very, very miniscule (that said, people with compromised immune systems should be careful with raw meat).
On the flip side, raw meat offers a lot of health benefits. It's healthy to consume some enzymes, which are killed off when meat is cooked (cooking also makes food harder to digest). Raw beef is high in Vitamin B, and some say it's beneficial for hormonal and reproductive health. Meanwhile, raw fish and oysters are packed with nutrients.
That said, there are meats to avoid or eat in moderation if you're eating raw. Poultry and pork should never be eaten raw, and larger fish should only be had in moderation when raw, as they contain higher levels of mercury.
There are a few things to keep in mind when preparing raw meat at home. The first is relatively obvious: the food should be as fresh as possible, and of the best quality. Purchase it from a butcher, and let them know you intend to eat it raw. Keep seafood on ice until you're ready to consume it, and keep beef refrigerated (and use it shortly after buying it).
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Never use ground beef raw, unless you grind it yourself. The reason for this is twofold: first, bacteria only forms on beef that is in contact with the air, so ground beef is far more vulnerable. And second, packaged ground beef is a mixture, meaning that you're likely consuming meat from dozens of different cows, thus greatly increasing your chance of encountering parasite-ridden meat.
Since bacteria only grows where meat meets air, you can trim the outer layer off of your beef if you want to feel extra safe.
Finally, consume the raw food quickly, or put it back in the fridge, or on ice. Don't leave it out in the sun, and then eat it later!
But above all, enjoy! Raw meat is one of the food world's greatest treasures.