6 oz. beef filet, diced very small
2 tbsp mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 tbsp. sesame seeds
1 tbsp. walnuts
1/2 bunch scallion whites or wild onions
sprig of sage
2 tbsp. water
Imagine you are someone else. Someone entirely different. It’s the mid Pleistocene era, almost two million years ago, which means you are not even a homo sapien. You are homo erectus, an upright, fairly intelligent human ancestor. You are not the first in the hominid line to eat meat. Homo Habilis, Homo Ergaster, and even earlier hominids before you were picking already dead carcasses something else had hunted clean and smashing bones to suck out the delicious marrow.
But you, homo erectus, are what we call the first persistent carnivore. You have stepped up your hunting game, and no longer need to scavenge off of bigger predators, meaning you can obtain enough meat to call it a regular part of your diet.
It’s possible you knew how to cook this meat. Anthropologists don’t agree if homo erectus were the first cooks or not. Either way, you my friend, have been born too early to know the secrets of fire. You are stuck with raw meat.
All your family and friends are good with just smashing and scarfing, but you feel unsatisfied. There is something stirring inside you, a desire for flavor, and something novel to eat. You don’t know this, but you have the inner being of the first chef!
We’re also missing a lot of ingredients to make a “classic”, modern version of steak tartare, namely pickles. But you are an ancient chef. You are going to make something delicious out of this. Let’s see what you can gather.
Already we are cheating a bit. Most foragers across the planet would not have had access to black peppercorns, but let’s pretend you happen to be living in southeast Asia, and know a spot where some wild ones grow. In addition to that, you gather the seeds of wild mustard, sesame, and a few walnuts left over from yesterday’s pesto.
Just as you’re picking some sage, you spot the jackpot. An unattended bird’s nest with eggs inside. This yolk is really going to make it.
Start by making mustard. Put your seeds, nuts and peppercorns in your rock bowl and add some salt. Spend several minutes crushing them into a coarse powder, alternating between pounding, and grinding in a circular motion.
Keep going. Grinding up wild plants is hard work. You want it coarse but not too coarse! It has to be powdery enough to turn into mustard.
Add two or a little plus tablespoons of water and mix it all up. Then let it sit and marinate for 10 minutes while you prepare the meat.
Take your chef’s knife (What? I never said I was the Primitive Technology guy) and cut the filet into thin strips. Then cut those strips into skinnier pieces. Then dice it all up, as fine as possible. Don’t sweat a few big pieces, as the mortar and pestle will even things out.
Next up, the herbs, onions, and egg yolk. If I had fresh anchovies, I would add them here, but alas I do not. It’s okay. Foragers ate what was available. They didn’t always have the luxury of every ingredient.
In with the mustard!
Mash until a little bit more like ground beef, and somewhat homogenized with the mustard.
To keep things authentic, place some on a big leafy green like spinach or mature arugula and make a lettuce wrap.
Or if you can’t resist and are a cheater like me, this dish really demands a saltine cracker.
We will probably never know if homo erectus was really capable of anything like this. There is some evidence they were the first cooks. There is an even greater lack of evidence suggesting they were not. They also didn’t have actual mortars and pestels like I’m using here.
Still, I’m sure they wanted to eat what was tastiest. Why not add all these delights to your smashed raw meat and make something truly delicious.