Czech Food Classics: Tatarák
Tatarský biftek or tatarák, is the Czech version of steak tartare, a dish made of fresh, minced raw beef seasoned with salt, pepper and other ingredients. Although tatarák is not strictly a Czech meal, it enjoys huge popularity in Czechia and is one of the staples on the menus of many a pub or restaurant.
According to legend, steak tartar originated in 13th century Mongolia, where Tatar warriors would ride their horses with raw meat hidden under their saddles.
The modern version of beef tartare, as we know it today, was popularised in French restaurants in the 19th century. It was served under the name “À la tartare”, which means “served with tartar sauce”, but gradually, the word started to refer to the raw steak itself rather than to the sauce.
Today steak tartare is eaten all over the world, but, for reasons unknown, it is particularly popular in Czechia. Tatarák, as Czechs call it, is usually made of beef tenderloin, which is finely chopped or minced.
The meat is served in the shape of a burger, often with raw egg yolk on top, and a variety of other ingredients, such as finely chopped onions or Worcester sauce.
Sometimes it is served pre-mixed; other times, you get all of the ingredients on the side, so you can mix according to your own taste.
Roman Paulus, an award-winning Prague chef, says there are countless varieties of tatarák, but the basic rule is to have high-quality, fresh meat:
“I myself don’t like to use too many ingredients, just a little olive oil, some chopped capers, salt, pepper, and a little Tabasco, ideally the green one. You can also use some freshly chopped herbs, such as chives. Some people even add a little Cognac.
“Lately, people have been using mayonnaise instead of eggs, to give the steak a creamy consistency. You can also use French mustard or coarse grain mustard, but you definitely shouldn’t use all these ingredients at once!”
Tatarák is served with toasted rye-wheat bread, known as topinka, and a clove of garlic, grated on top of the toasted bread.
In the past, tatarák was made not only of beef, but also of horse meat. Today, lighter versions of the dish, made of fish meat, are also gaining popularity, says Roman Paulus:
“In case of tuna or salmon tartar steak, I prefer the Asian style. In place of olive oil, I would use sesame oil. Or maybe no oil at all, since the fish is quite fatty. We could also add a little soy sauce, sesame sauce, or maybe some wasabi. You don’t really need much more than that.”
Since tatarák is made of raw meat, you should always make sure it is absolutely fresh, or, if you eat it in a restaurant, stick to trusted ones. One thing is clear though - wherever you eat it, tatarák is best served with a glass or two of cold, freshly draughted beer.