Steak tartare is a French culinary dish that traditionally consists of minced, or finely chopped, raw beef that is often served with raw egg, onions, capers, and other seasonings. A common variation involves thin slices of spiced or marinated quality steak, such as strip, that is served chilled. Internationally, the term steak tartare is sometimes used interchangeably with carpaccio — a raw, meat-based dish of Italian origin — and there are numerous renditions of the dish that change to suit regional tastes. Despite its status as a delicacy, the dangers associated with raw meat have prompted a great deal of health concerns about the dish worldwide and a decline in availability, but issues that do arise often result from improper preparation.
A common myth about steak tartare involves reference to the Tatar people of Central Asia. The legend claims that historic Tatars, a nomadic people, consumed raw meat on horseback to avoid stopping to cook meals and, as a result, the name Tatar became tartare. In spite of the legend, the dish was originally prepared in French restaurants near the beginning of the 20th century and was known as steak à l'Americaine, which translates as American steak. Steak à l'Americaine consists of finely chopped raw beef and seasonings, which may include onions, capers, and spices, as well as a raw egg yolk. In the 1920s, steak tartare was defined as steak à l'Americaine without egg yolk that is presented with tartar sauce.
The distinction between steak tartare and steak à l'Americaine, however, largely disappeared by the late 1930s when steak tartare was listed as containing egg yolk without mention of tartar sauce. Since then, despite the name, tartar sauce is not ordinarily served with steak tartare. The dish is popular throughout Western and Eastern Europe and is largely considered a delicacy. Some variations include preparation with horse meat in Switzerland, in Belgium it is paired with fries and prepared with or without onions, and in Denmark and Germany it is often served on various types of rye bread.
In several parts of the world, especially the United States, steak tartare is not an especially popular dish, except sometimes as a gourmet item. This lack of availability is largely due to concerns based on the possibility of bacteria and other health risks associated with raw meat, such as E. coli and salmonella. These concerns are largely unnecessary if fresh meat is used and proper hygienic procedures are maintained throughout preparation and storage.