A week or two later, we received our assignment and were preetttyyyy sure we lost that particular roulette when we saw what we were cooking: beef tartare, which translates to "raw beef." (See also: Mr. Bean.) From the challenge site: "...the September issue of Bon Appétit. It’s their restaurant issue, and it includes a ton of dishes we were eager to try ourselves. Some of them are straightforward fare. Others are completely bonkers." Clearly we ended up on the "completely bonkers" side of the scale.
"I thought this was a cooking challenge," I said. "There's no cooking at all in this recipe! I call foul!"
"We asked for a challenging thing to cook, not a challenging thing to EAT," Jon concurred.
I know what you're thinking: "Guys, this is no time to flake! Wait, this is exactly the time to flake!"
Alas, in the spirit of being good sports, we began collecting ingredients. Step #1 was to, you know, pickle our own Asian pears (nbd). That turned out to be pretty easy, and disgusting. The night before, we heated up the rice vinegar with the mustard seeds, stirred in some sugar, and let it sit for just long enough to exceed the hood fan's capacity to get rid of the smell. Then we submerged the chopped pears in the vinegar and popped it in the fridge. So far, yum! We saved one pear out so that we could eat it and feel less sad about soaking the other one in vinegar.
That done, we began collecting the rest of the ingredients. We went to the spice shop for gochugaru (turned out to be kimchi chile, and all they had was a mild one - whew), swapped out the Chinese hot mustard for regular mustard powder (I do not do spicy), failed in our search for brown mustard seeds, and chatted up the grocery store butcher about the beef eye round.
"It needs to have no connective tissue," I said. "It's for tartare. I don't want to die."
"That package there should be good," he replied. "...You're eating it raw? I'm not sure that cut will be tender enough. It's really for roasting."
"Don't worry," I assured him. "We're probably only going to eat like one bite. Um, what would be better, though?"
"You could get a filet mignon. From ... not here."
I bought the beef. When Jon got home from work, we set to work. The aioli was the most fun - I drizzled vegetable oil into an egg/vinegar/gochugaru mixture Jon made, while he whisked and whisked and whisked, until it magically became a pretty tasty homemade mayonnaise. I toasted pine nuts and picked watercress leaves off the stalks, one by one, which took forever.
Jon cut the beef up into little cubes. "Do you think that's a quarter inch?" he asked me.
"Cut it a little smaller so we don't have to chew as much," I said.
Finally, it looked like we had everything ready to go. We had baked a pan of brownies so we could get rid of the taste in our mouths if it was really terrible, so we pulled that out to an accessible spot. We had some adventurous friends come over to help us taste it, so we'd have some sickbed company if we got food poisoning. We assembled everything and passed out the forks.
We were informed we had to try it first, so we bravely brought our forks to our lips. And guess what! It was awesome! We were totally shocked. Even the pears were good - they were still crunchy, which added a super great texture. Jon said he was surprised by how not-meaty it tasted (probably because of the texture of the meat, which reminded us of more of gummy bears than beef). Also, props to him, because I did most of the organization of the experience, so he didn't really know how it was all supposed to come together. I just said, "We need these ingredients," and he figured it out as we made it. (For example, he said, "When I made the soy ginger dressing, I thought it was supposed to be a vinaigrette, but there was no oil and only a little bit of vinegar. That made me a little nervous.") He did most of the heavy lifting, and did a great job of it.
SUCCESS!! Here's us with our dish: