top of page

Steak Tartare

(by Rachel Cline)

One day, when I was 11 or so, I encountered a crafts fair in Greenwich Village. I guess I was out with Patti, the inattentive babysitter, who lived on Sullivan Street. In any case, I was by myself when I recognized the very same silversmith from whom I had purchased a pair of earrings for my mother’s birthday, a few months earlier. The design I’d chosen was still on display: a pattern of interlocking circles that dangled at least an inch below the wearer’s earlobes; too old for me, but I coveted them, for sure. It was 1967, and such earrings were much in style among teenagers (like Patti—who applied foundation over her lips as well as the rest of her face, to emphasize her elaborately lined and mascara-caked eyes). My mom, then in her early 40s, had a more streamlined personal style, but I was still young enough to assume that Mom would like whatever I liked. Right now, I can’t ever remember being that young, but this memory proves that I must once have been.


The gifted earrings had not lasted long in Mom’s jewelry box. I’d found only one when I tried to suggest them to her as an accessory one morning, even though they were not the sort of thing one would wear to work as an editor at Scientific American (she was the only female!). I guess I was still too young to know that kind of thing, either. Mom then told me a story about how she’d lost the earring over the summer while I was away at sleepaway camp. I listened the way I listened to everything she said back then. She was, as far as I was concerned, the smartest, most attractive, knowledgeable, and reliable human being on the planet.


At the silversmith’s table, exalted to have rediscovered his wares and now determined to solve the problem of the lost earring, I repeated Mom's story: She had been dining “al fresco” at the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, where there was an outdoor café—right there where the hippies and the Hare Krishnas converged that summer of love. Mom’s meal had been biftek tartare (a food that she adored), but it had been overly seasoned, and Mom had sneezed, violently. So violently that one of her earrings had spun straight off her ear and into the fountain—irretrievable! A catastrophe! Could I possibly buy from him one earring for half price (the pair had been $12) to replace the escapee?


Can you imagine an 11-year-old girl telling this story? Including the Frenchified entrée and the earring’s long trajectory through the denizens of the cast of Hair? Can you imagine not laughing?

The man did not crack a smile, nor ask a follow-up question. He looked at me wearily. “I’ll give you an earring because that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” he said. I brought the trophy home and presented it to Mom, thrilled with myself, although also somewhat chastened: I’d thought it was a good story.


I’m not sure whether Mom ever wore the earrings again. And that was that, until last week.


My mother has been dead now for nearly five years—she died in summer, and it's summer, again. Last week, I was shown a caper plant in bloom and marveled: It turns out that capers are brined flower buds. I thought about how much I love them and how infrequently they turn up in food—really only reliable in ratatouille and steak tartare. And then I remembered the ludicrous story of the jettisoned earring at the Bethesda Fountain and, 56 years later, finally understood what I had failed to see then. How do we lose earrings, most often, after all? When we pull our shirts off over our heads without first removing our jewelry. And when do we do that? When we are undressing hastily, lustily, and not by ourselves.


The summer of the lost earring was also the summer of my parents’ separation, soon followed by their divorce. The cause of their cleavage was my mother’s infidelity—my father would have forgiven her, and he did, but Mom was determined to marry the guy she was keeping company with that summer. (It didn't last; what does?) The silversmith might not have known any of those facts, but then again, he might have smelled a caper, mightn’t he, as I oversalted Mom’s concocted tale? I mean: the glib vocab, the motley extras, the big sneeze and grand arc and then, plunk. Did I know it was hokum, back then? I guess I may have, after all. In any case, I know now. 


Rachel Cline is the author of four novels and has been a teacher, a screen and television writer, a content strategist, and a civil servant. She lives in Brooklyn, a few blocks from where she grew up. She can be found at, Instagram, and Facebook.

Steak Tartare Lausanne

(adapted from The New York Times Cookbook by Craig Claiborne)

2 lb. raw, ground top-quality beef fillet, sirloin or round steak

4 raw egg yolks

8 fillets of anchovy


1/2 c. finely chopped onion

4 t. chopped parsley

salt and freshly ground black pepper


cayenne pepper


Worcestershire sauce

1 lemon, quartered


cognac or port, to taste

buttered toast

Divide the beef into 4 portions, and shape into patties.

Place the patties on chilled plates.

Make a small indentation in the center of each, and place one egg yolk in each.

Garnish each serving with 2 anchovies, and sprinkle with capers, onion, and parsley,

Serve with remaining accompaniments and toast.


bottom of page