I remember going to a French restaurant once, back when I was living in D.C. This place was pretty fancy and all the staff was actually French, so when I ordered my steak “rare” the friends I was with spoke up.
“Oh, you don’t want to do that here,” they told me. “If you get it ‘rare’ here then it will be fully raw in the middle. You should ask for ‘medium’ and that will be like a normal ‘rare.’”
“What?” I asked. “No, I’m pretty sure I want it ‘rare.’”
The waiter smiled, silently waiting for confirmation from me. I nodded up towards him, “rare,” I said again. My friends went on to order their steaks, both “medium-well.”
“You know,” I say to them, after they ordered. “When you ask for it prepared like that, they give you the worst cut of meat in the kitchen.”
They rolled their eyes at me.
“Whatever, Vampira,” my friend had said. “Just, don’t complain to us when yours comes out bloody.”
I definitely did not. When that filet mignon (this is filet de boeuf for les Francais) came and I cut into it and the middle was blue and cold, I couldn’t have been happier. My friends looked at it and shook their heads, ready to give me the “I told you so speech” but it was too late, I had already taken a huge bite.
“OH my god,” they said. “You are so gross, it isn’t even cooked.”
“I know,” I said, delighted. “It’s perfect!”
For years, I had been struggling to fully explain that when I say “rare” I mean “rare” – as in, wave a flame towards its general direction and then bring that sucker to me. Unfortunately, no one in the U.S. seemed to believe me (even my Father will argue this point with me…”you don’t want it that ‘rare,’” he’ll tell me as I ask him to pull my steak off the grill after 15 seconds…yeah Dad, I TOTES do).
The thing is, that essentially, I think it is a pity to cook meat at all, really; my friend was right, I am a bit of a Vampira and like my meat to just about talk to me. Luckily, my raw meat fixation seems to be something that France and I agree on. There is a plethora of raw meat options here, ranging from tartars to saucisson…you can even double your raw pleasure by adding raw eggs.
In the United States, it seems like the raw meat trend has just started taking off in recent years, due to the (super-awesome-I’m-so-excited-about-it) Foodie Revolution. When I was growing up, and even when I was at University, people were just not ingesting much raw meat. In fact, the only time in my U.S. life when I regularly ate it was at home. My Mother would pinch off a piece of ground beef*, salt it lightly and then hand it to us to eat. This was something that her Mother had done when she was little and, to me, it seemed perfectly normal, once I got older I realized it definitely wasn’t.
“Oh my god,” my friends would shriek. “What did you just do? Did you just eat a piece of raw ground beef? You. Are. Going. To. Die.”
It was always said very matter-of-factly. Raw meat = death. I mean, OBVI.
However, after a few more times of me doing this and, well…not-dying, my friends started to become curious and soon started trying it themselves (in fact, there is one friend who got obsessed and became as bad as me…you know who you are).
I pretty much think this is how a lot of the food we eat came about. Some dude would look at an artichoke or walnut and think, “I’m gonna eat that thing” and then everyone else would wait around to see whether or not it killed him. I even imagine, Cavemen foodies…something like this:
Two Cavemen enter an already crowded cave.
Caveman 1: Oh my, must we stay? It is so crowded.
Caveman 2: That is because it is the best. They do an amazing “hunk o’ meat over fire.”
Caveman 1 sighs.
Caveman 1: I still like mine raw, that’s all I’m saying.
Caveman 2: Oh come off it! We’ve finally gotten fire, we might as well use it! Live a little, old sport.
They sit down in an obliging corner and wait for their server.
Caveman 1: My goodness, they’re very bold, aren’t they?
He is looking at a group squatting next to them, eating mixed berries just as the Server arrives.
Caveman Server: Ah yes, a discerning eye you have, that is our “mass of mixed berries” that is new on the menu tonight.
Caveman 1: Isn’t that a little risky? I mean, shouldn’t they all be “checked.”
Caveman Server: Sir, I assure you, that everything in our establishment passes “the death test.” However…
He leans down and lowers his voice.
Caveman Server: If something a bit more “exotic” interests you, we have come across some new items that we are trying out this evening…something called a “rutabaga?”
Caveman 2: Are you saying you can get me stuff that hasn’t passed the “death test” yet?
The Caveman Server winks surreptitiously.
Caveman 2: Pally, come on, we gotta do it, please!
Caveman 1: No way! I only jive with “death test” approved cuisine.
Caveman 2: Oh, how you bore me. You have no appreciation for food, it is utterly wasted on you.
Caveman 1: That is not what you said when I took down a Mammoth 3 days ago.
Caveman 2: And then ate it raw, like some philistine!
Caveman 1: What is a philistine?
Caveman 2: I don’t know, they don’t exist yet but it is, most certainly, what you are.
Caveman 2 sighs and turns towards the Server with a knowing look that says, “Some people, you can’t take anywhere.” The Server smiles back.
Caveman Server: And what will Sirs be having?
Caveman 1: I would like the hunk ‘o meat…raw, please.
Caveman Server: The Chef does recommend this particular cut “a feu,” if you will.
Caveman 1: Thank you, but no. I like my meat the old fashioned way, raw, the way we were meant to eat it.
Caveman 2 rolls his eyes and then orders before turning back to his friend.
Caveman 2: You know, when you order it prepared like that they give you the worst cut in the kitchen.
* I am not recommending this practice with bargain basement, meat on sale. If you are going to eat raw meat, you should either grind it yourself at home or watch the butcher freshly grind it.