It might be controversial in some circles, but I absolutely love Steak Tartare. There’s something about raw meat that scratches a primal culinary itch every now and again. Italians have their own take on the dish from the region of Piemonte called carne cruda (meaning simply “raw meat”), which is variously styled alla piemontese, after the region, or all’albese, after the picturesque town of Alba.
In the usual Italian manner, the approach is utterly simple: finely minced best quality beef (or veal) is perfumed with olive oil, salt and pepper and a hint of garlic, then brightened with a few drops of lemon juice just before serving.
Carne cruda can be served as is, but it’s often dressed up with toppings: shavings of parmigiano-reggiano, thin slices of mushroom or, for really special occasions, shavings of the white truffles for which Alba is renowned. You can also garnish your carne cruda with tender greens, fresh herbs, tomato slices or even a drizzle of salsa verde if you like.
Whether you serve it plain or fancy, carne cruda makes for an elegant no cook antipasto or light main course. And although it’s sometimes considered an autumn and winter dish—since that’s when truffles and mushrooms are in season—I think it’s also perfectly lovely warm weather fare.
- 1 kilo (2 lbs) beef or veal filet, from a lean and tender cut (see Notes)
- A good drizzle of olive oil, q.b.
- salt and pepper, to taste
- a few drops of freshly squeeze lemon juice (or more to taste)
- 1 clove garlic
For the toppings (optional and all to taste):
- Shavings of parmigiano-reggiano
- Finely sliced mushroom caps
- Shavings of white truffle
For the garnish (optional):
- Arugula, watercress, microgreens or any other tender salad green
- Fresh herbs such as parsley or thyme, minced or left whole
- A drizzle of salsa verde
- Tomato slices
Take the beef and mince it as finely as you can manage with a sharp knife.
Season the minced beef generously with salt and pepper, mixing them into the beef using a fork that you’ve spiked with a garlic clove. Then mix in the olive oil, drizzling it over the beef little by little with the same garlic-festooned fork, until the meat glistens.
Just before serving, mix in the lemon juice, again using the same fork. Pick out and discard any bits of garlic that may have gotten mixed in with the beef.
Plate the beef and, if using, decorate with the topping of your choice. You can also decorate the plate with a garnish if you like.
Since you’re serving your beef raw, it is imperative that your beef be of the highest quality you can find and exquisite fresh. This is one dish that’s worth a trip to the butcher’s for. If you’re lucky enough to have a butcher reasonably nearby, that is.
Although it’s a bit of a bother, do take the time to mince your beef with a knife, preferably freshly sharpened. I like to cut the meat into paper-thin slices, then into strips, then into tiny dice. There’s also an ingenious Chinese method for mincing meat, which you can watch here. Resist the temptation to use a meat grinder, which produces a rather pasty texture. That’s fine for hamburgers or ragù alla bolognese. Here you want your beef to have a little chew. And whatever you do, don’t use store-bought chopped beef which, besides being made from less than sterling quality meat, is much too fatty and, worst of all, could well pose a health risk if eaten raw.
Recommended cuts for carne cruda
Italian recipes can be rather coy about the cut. They often simply call for polpa di manzo, or filet of beef, or filetto di Fassona Piemontese, the superb local veal. The latter is probably what you’ll be served if you try carne cruda on its home turf. When Italian recipes do specify the cut, traditionally it’s the coscia, actually a group of cuts taken from the rear end of the animal including the rump and round, while more modern recipes specify the tenderer filetto or tenderloin.
The main point is, the cut should be lean and free of connective tissue or gristle. And it should be reasonably tender. Think the kind of cut you might use for steak tartare. Many experts recommend tenderloin for its unbeatable tenderness, even if it tends to be on the bland side. I actually prefer top sirloin, if possible grass fed. It’s not only much less expensive than tenderloin, but it’s only slightly less tender while having a much beefier flavor. Unlike steak tartare, which you season with all sorts of piquant flavors from capers and anchovies and the like, carne cruda has minimal flavorings meant only to exalt the flavor of the beef, so you want your beef to be as flavorful as possible.
Sorry, you can’t make this one ahead…
Another other key point: This is not really a make ahead dish. For both culinary and sanitary reasons, it’s best to mince the beef shortly before serving. And although the late lamented Kyle Phillips’ recipe recommends letting the meat macerate for up to two hours, here’s one instance when I’ll have to disagree with Kyle. Every other recipe I know tells you to prepare the dish shortly before serving and to add the lemon juice at the very last moment. And they’re absolutely right, if you ask me. Otherwise, depending on how much you add, the lemon juice tends to “cook” the meat as it would fish for a ceviche or aguachile. Nice as those dishes are, I don’t find the effect so nice here. After 20 minutes or so, your beef will start to turn a rather unattractive gray. Plus, you’ll lose the fresh flavor that characterizes a well-made carne cruda.
For the same reasons, I only add a few drops of lemon juice to the meat, just enough to brighten its flavor. Some recipes, however, do call for as much as a whole lemon’s worth of juice. You decide… Or perhaps serve some lemon wedges on the side for those who like more acidity.
The most common variation is to serve carne cruda in paper-thin slices rather than minced, in which case prepare the oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper as a dressing and pour it over the slices. This version, it is said, was the inspiration for Harry Cipriani’s famous carpaccio.
Recipes for carne cruda are quite consistent about the main ingredients. The toppings are a nice way to vary the dish, as are the edible garnishes around the meat. You can plate it elegantly, using a ring, as pictured in this post, or simply pile it on informally.
Recipes do vary on how much garlic to add and how to add it. For maximum discretion, I’ve seen recipes that simply have you rub the mixing bowl with a garlic clove. At the other end of the spectrum, other recipes have you throw several cloves into the meat while you’re seasoning the meat, removing the cloves before serving. To my mind, the garlic-spiked-on-a-fork method in this recipe provides just the right balance, not too little, nor too much.
I saw one particularly intriguing recipe that calls for accompanying the carne cruda with a drizzle of salsa verde. That actually sounds really nice to me. Salsa verde makes everything taste delicious!
And taking inspiration from steak tartare, I’ve seen at least one recipe that calls for mixing capers and anchovies into your carne cruda and topping it with a raw egg yolk. But in my opinion, if you’re going to make tartare, then make that dish and call it a day.
Carne cruda all’albese
- 1 kilo 2 lbs beef filet, from a lean and tender cut
- A good drizzle of olive oil q.b.
- salt and pepper to taste
- a few drops of freshly squeeze lemon juice or more to taste
- 1 clove garlic
For the toppings (optional)
- shavings of parmigiano-reggiano
- finely sliced mushroom caps
- shavings of white truffle
For the garnish (optional)
- Arugula, watercress, microgreens or any other tender salad green
- tomatoes sliced or cut into wedges
- salsa verde
- Take the beef and mince it as finely as you can manage with a sharp knife. Proceed by cutting it into paper thin slices, then strips and finally into tiny dice, trimming off any stray fat or gristle as you go.
- Season the minced beef generously with salt and pepper, mixing them into the beef using a fork that has been spiked with a garlic clove. Then mix in the olive oil, drizzling it over the beef little by little with the same garlic-festooned fork, until the meat glistens.
- Just before serving, mix in the lemon juice, again using the same fork. Pick out and discard any bits of garlic that may have gotten mixed in with the beef.
- Plate the beef and, if using, decorate with the topping of your choice. You can also decorate the plate with a garnish if you like.
- Serve immediately.