A few weeks ago my family joined some friends of ours on their sailboat. I brought beef tenderloin that I cooked sous vide so that it would be easy for the boat owner Ron to quickly sear on his boat barbecue. He wasn’t familiar with the technique, being more of an outdoorsman than a cook, but I explained that sous vide could fit very well into his lifestyle as it’s essentially the least attention-demanding form of cooking around. Sous vide is perfect for sailing adventures or backpacking because you can precook things then all you need to do is quickly warm them on the camp stove prior to eating. Once he had grilled off the steaks and served them to us, he gushed with approval about the tenderness. He asked “so what do you call this again- steak ceviche?” which was met with self-important laughs from those of us in the peanut gallery. But damn, steak ceviche was a brilliant idea I couldn’t shake so decided to make.
Steak tartare exists in France, carne battuta in Italy, but you don’t typically see beef treated the same way as fish in countries where ceviche is popular. I have a fondness for raw, sanguine beef that stems back to my days in Italy eating carne battuta (which translates to “beaten meat”) at the many festivals that dot the Piemontese countryside during summer and fall. These festivals celebrate any number of things, from the sweet Brachetto wines on offer in the gastro-destination of Acqui Terme to the white truffles of Alba, but they all have commonalities such as pimped-out vintage cars, wine served straight from damigianas (giant glass casks) and troupes of flag-tossing marchers that overtake narrow streets and resemble aging high school flag teams.
I remember being at one such festival in Asti when it rained so hard it hailed and I felt more like I was at Glastonbury. Unfortunately I was in heels instead of Wellies. The only thing to do to ignore the rain was to continue filling our wine glasses at every booth. And to eat a salacious amount of raw, beaten beef smattered with lemon, olive oil and Parmigiano Reggiano. My taste for raw beef followed me back across the pond, and now I make carne battuta and steak tartare regularly. I don’t know why I’ve always limited myself to the traditional accompaniments- it’s not like every time I make a steak I only marinate it in A1, so why not experiment with steak in its raw form?
I am so glad I came to this realization because steak ceviche is up there with the best meals of the month. It didn’t hurt that I served it with deep-fried plantain matchsticks. Plantain fries have the ability to wet the panties of women who went through menopause 50 years ago. If people ate more plantain fries there would be less war. Vibrator salesmen would be forced to find new jobs because no one needs battery-operated penis doppelgangers when plantain fries are around. It’s almost embarrassing to eat this exquisitely-paired dish in front of other people because of the scandalous amount of carnal satisfaction it will give you. It’s something you want to eat alone, naked, in bed. But it’s worth trying to maintain decorum to eat it with others because everyone deserves to feel this good. Just concentrate on clamping down so you don’t make a pleasure-drunk fool of yourself.
I remember one scarring incident when I was about five and my parents were still married. We were staying in a skeevy Motel 6 in Salt Lake City and since my dad is cheap I was forced to sleep on the floor. He never claimed me at hotels, thinking he might have to pay an extra $5.00 for my bed when I was young and strong and the cigarette-burned carpeted-concrete floor would do. He always stayed in motor inn-type places where you could drive right up to the door because the reception attendees might see me if we had to walk by the front desk to get to the room. He would make me duck in the backseat while he registered, then my mother would carry me into the room wrapped in her winter coat as if I were a precious family heirloom floor lamp.
It was late and my parents imagined I was asleep since they had stuffed me full of Mormon-made McDonald’s food and made me run a lap around the Temple to tucker me out. My dad started to put the moves on my mom with smooth lines like “are you ready to take in all of this 14-incher, baby?” which I took to mean that he was going to shove a hot dog in her mouth but I quickly realized I was wrong because NOBODY makes noises like they started making just from eating a wiener. After a few minutes I couldn’t stand it and I coughed to let them know I was awake.
They were in the throes of some congress in which I’d only seen baboons partake on National Geographic when my cough caused a wave of mortification to flood the smelly hotel room. They could not be sure I was awake but they ceased their ministrations and I felt their seething shame.
Eating steak ceviche with plantain fries and then getting caught moaning like a banshee in deep, unquenchable rapture is on par with my parents’ experience in that motel room. So be careful. Maybe make sure no small children are around.
Steak Ceviche with Plantain Fries
Serves 4 as an appetizer
For the ceviche:
- 1.5 lb beef from a trusted butcher (I use filet mignon)
- Juice of three limes
- ¼ tsp grated lime zest
- ½ tsp finely-ground sea salt (do not use table or Kosher salt here- use a nice finishing salt)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 scallion, chopped fine
- 1 tsp small, sweet orange pepper, chopped fine
- 1 tsp small, sweet yellow pepper, chopped fine
- 1 tsp small, sweet red pepper, chopped fine
- 1 tsp chipotle in adobo, chopped fine
- 1 avocado, chopped into small cubes, but reserving 4 pretty slices for garnish
- 2 tsp cilantro, minced
- Trim the outer layer that has been exposed to oxygen off the filet. Be careful to remove this entire layer because it could have bacteria, however don’t cut so much off your steak that you’ll have nothing left. I typically wind up with about a pound of beef to work with once I’m done trimming. I like to fry the trimmed parts in lime and salt and serve it as a pre-appetizer before the actual ceviche.
- Once the steak is trimmed, chop it into uniform ¼” cubes and place it in a non-reactive bowl, such as ceramic or glass.
- Pour the lime juice, zest and salt over the steak and toss well.
- Add the remaining ingredients and toss further.
- Cover the ceviche and place it in the refrigerator for 45 minutes to 1/5 hours to deepen the flavor. Don’t go much longer than this for safety reasons.
For the plantain fries:
- 2 plantains
- Cajun seasoning
- Neutral oil for deep frying (however much your deep-fryer requires)
- Heat the deep-frying oil to 350°F.
- Using a mandoline on smallest julienne setting, slice each plantain into matchsticks. DON’T cut yourself; I wind up not using about the last 2” of plantain in the interest of preserving my fingers.
- Season the plantains with salt and Cajun seasoning and deep fry for 60 seconds, then allow to rest out of the oil for 30 seconds. Refry for an additional 2 minutes or until the fries are crisp and golden.
Place a bed of plantain fries in a small bowl. Using an ice cream scoop (preferably non-metal), scoop a dollop of ceviche on top of the plantains. Garnish with an avocado slice and serve immediately.