The Neapolitan Touch: Paola’s Steak Tartare

October 12, 2017

This week’s instalment from Bar Machiavelli’s ‘capo’, Paola Toppi.

Steak tartare is having a bit of a revival in Sydney at the moment. Interestingly, it seems that a lot of restaurants are simply giving customers the ingredients and asking them to do a DIY version themselves. I’ve never done this, and don’t think I ever will. There is an art to the tartare; it’s not a case of just throwing everything together. In saying that, making steak tartare is a lot like riding a bike. If you’re taught properly how to put it together, you never forget it.

I was first taught to make it about 35 years ago at my mother’s restaurant, La Strada, by Ricky Spinelli, one of the greatest waiters I’ve ever worked with, a mentor, and still in fine form today aged in his 90s. Ricky taught me to make the tartare at the customer’s table as part of the old-world Gueridon service we had at La Strada, where we would finesse dishes a la minute according to the customer’s individual tastes.

Steak tartare is not a typical Italian dish. That sits fine with me, because Naples, where I was born, is an international, cosmopolitan city. The Neapolitans have at one time or another been ruled by Greeks, Romans, Sicilians, the Spanish and French, and always incorporated the best bits of other’s culture within their own, especially food. Sydney is a lot like Naples – a thriving, culturally diverse city nestled on the ‘bay’ – so here at Bar Machiavelli I similarly try to incorporate international food cultures and give it an Italian-Mediterranean twist.

How does this translate to our steak tartare? Well, I can’t give away all my secrets, but I will say that to give Bar Machiavelli a point of difference over other restaurants I always try to tweak one or two traditional ingredients to make it more Neapolitan (I believe our customers can tell the difference). I give our tartare a bit of an Italian touch with olive oil, which makes the dish creamier, softer and more moist than traditional ones. I add the usual gherkin, Worcestershire sauce, fresh baby parsley and capers, but use shallots instead of onions because they’re sweeter.

I put it together as a mild tartare and give customers an itsy-bitsy, tiny tabasco bottle in case they want it a little bit spicier. (You can ask me not to make it too spicy or have it extra spicy.) Importantly, we pasteurise the egg for four hours at 62 degrees, because it’s very important to have zero risk factor in this dish, particularly for pregnant women.

There you have it! Or you will soon… hope to see you in the restaurant.