What is Beef Carpaccio? A Guide to This Delicate Italian Appetizer

Beef carpaccio is a delicacy that originated in Italy. It consists of thinly sliced raw beef dressed simply with olive oil, lemon juice, and other basic ingredients to let the flavor of quality meat shine.

Carpaccio is a surprisingly versatile dish that has evolved beyond its iconic beef version. Today carpaccio can be made from other meats, seafood, vegetables, or fruit. But classic beef carpaccio remains a popular appetizer on Italian restaurant menus and a great option for home cooks looking to start a special meal.

A Brief History of Carpaccio

The creation of carpaccio is credited to Giuseppe Cipriani, founder of the famous Harry’s Bar in Venice, Italy. The story goes that in 1950 Cipriani invented carpaccio for a countess who couldn’t eat cooked meat per doctor’s orders.

The bright red color of thinly sliced raw beef reminded Cipriani of the vivid reds in paintings by Vittore Carpaccio, a Renaissance artist from Venice. He named his new dish carpaccio in honor of this connection.

Cipriani’s creativity caught on across Italy and internationally. Carpaccio joined antipasti spreads everywhere as the classic way to showcase high-end beef.

How to Make Beef Carpaccio

While the preparation involves some advanced knife skills, making beef carpaccio at home is relatively simple. Here are the basic steps:

  • Select the best quality beef. Tenderloin and sirloin are traditional cuts for carpaccio. Filet mignon is also an excellent choice. Go to a trusted butcher and select beef that is bright red with good marbling.

  • Trim the beef of all external fat and sinew. Carpaccio highlights the flavor of beef alone.

  • Season the beef before chilling. Coat with salt, pepper, lemon juice or vinegar, and optionally fresh herbs.

  • Chill the beef for at least 8 hours, or up to 48 hours for best flavor. Seal tightly in plastic wrap.

  • Slice the beef paper thin. Use an electric slicer if you have one for the thinnest slices possible. Otherwise use a very sharp knife. Slice against the grain.

  • Arrange slices attractively on chilled plates.

  • Dress simply with olive oil, more lemon juice, and desired garnishes.

That’s the gist of how to make basic beef carpaccio. Now let’s look more closely at key steps and serving suggestions.

Choosing and Preparing Beef for Carpaccio

Carpaccio puts the spotlight squarely on premium beef. Choosing the right cut and handling it properly makes all the difference.

The traditional cut used for carpaccio in Italy is filet, the tenderloin that also produces filet mignon steaks. Filet has outstanding tenderness and flavor, though the price tag reflects it.

Nearly as suitable is sirloin, a lean and tender though slightly chewier option. Sirloin offers a more budget-friendly carpaccio. Other good choices are top round, ribeye with fat cap removed, and strip steak or New York strip.

Whichever cut you select, inspect the raw beef closely for freshness and quality when purchasing. Pass on any packages with brown spots or dull, dry looking beef. Select meat that looks moist with bright red color. Proper marbling – the thin white lines of fat within the lean – means richer taste and tenderness.

Once home, trim off all exterior fat and sinew from your carpaccio cut. The interior marbling can stay. Pat the meat dry and season with salt, pepper, a splash of lemon juice or vinegar, and herbs like parsley, basil, oregano, or thyme if desired.

Seal the seasoned beef tightly in plastic wrap to prevent air exposure. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours and up to 2 days. Longer chilling allows flavors to develop fully.

Slicing the Beef Paper Thin

Here comes the hardest part: slicing the beef as thin as possible. This takes some finesse and the right tools.

Ideally you would use an electric meat slicer, the kind found at deli counters. The spinning circular blade produces flawlessly thin slices. But few home cooks own these appliances.

With patience and care, similar results can be achieved slicing by hand. Use a very sharp, long slicing knife. Chill the beef for about 30 minutes in the freezer before slicing to firm it up slightly. Trim off any ragged or uneven edges before slicing.

Cut across the grain of the meat, holding the knife at about a 20 degree angle to the cutting board. Apply gentle, even pressure as you slice and try for a thickness of 1/8 inch or less. Expect a bit of raggedness until you get the hang of it.

Slice only what you will use immediately and return any uneaten beef to the fridge, well wrapped. Air exposure will degrade the fresh quality once sliced thin.

If you don’t get paper thin slices on the first try, don’t fret. Thicker hand cut carpaccio is still tasty. Just adjust expectations compared to restaurant quality.

Serving and Plating Carpaccio

The sliced raw beef is ready to transform into carpaccio. Follow these tips for an impressive presentation:

  • Let sliced beef reach room temperature before plating. Cold dulls flavors.

  • Arrange slices overlapping in a single layer on chilled plates. Round plates show off the circular arrangement best.

  • Coat beef lightly with extra virgin olive oil and fresh lemon juice.

  • Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

  • Garnish with any combination of capers, diced red onion, shaved Parmesan cheese, parsley, arugula greens.

  • Avoid over-garnishing. The beef should take center stage.

  • Serve immediately before air exposure discolors the bright red beef.

Accompaniments like hard Italian cheese, olives, crusty bread, and Pinot Noir wine make good additions to a carpaccio appetizer course.

The meat requires no cooking, just artful assembly! The simplicity allows the glorious taste of first-rate beef to impress diners.

Carpaccio with Other Meats and Seafood

While beef carpaccio reigns supreme, the preparation works with other meats and seafood too. Try these alternative combinations:

  • Salmon carpaccio – Wild caught salmon replaces beef in this classic appetizer.

  • Tuna carpaccio – Sushi grade tuna is thinly sliced and dressed. A touch of soy sauce enhances the flavor.

  • Venison carpaccio – Lean, tender venison offers a gamey twist.

  • Pork carpaccio – Opt for tenderloin or good quality pork chops.

  • Chicken or turkey carpaccio – White meat needs acidic dressing to make up for less fat.

Nearly any very fresh, sushi-grade seafood or lean meat can be transformed into carpaccio with proper slicing and seasoning. Let quality ingredients take the spotlight.

Vegetarian Carpaccio

In recent years, carpaccio has evolved from solely a meat dish into a preparations method for all kinds of ingredients. Vegetables, fruits, mushrooms – you name it – have been turned into “carpaccio” on creative menus.

Thinly slicing produce and dressing it with oil and acid does visually resemble classic carpaccio. But the flavor profiles are entirely different without rich meat.

Some successful combinations for vegetarian carpaccio include:

  • Tomato carpaccio – Sliced heirlooms with olive oil and balsamic vinegar

  • Zucchini carpaccio – Shaved raw zucchini with lemon and parmesan

  • Portobello mushroom carpaccio – Thin slices of grilled mushroom dressed as meat would be

  • Melon carpaccio – Thin melon slices sprinkled with mint or basil

  • Pear carpaccio – Beautiful sweet counterpart to beef

  • Beet carpaccio – Vibrant pink color mimics beef

Get creative with produce that can be sliced paper thin either raw or grilled. Dressing thinly sliced vegetables as carpaccio gives off a light yet satisfying appetizer vibe.

How to Make Carpaccio at Home

Now that you know the history, preparation, and serving suggestions for classic beef carpaccio, why not try making this restaurant-quality appetizer at home?

The steps include:

  • Selecting high-end beef cuts like filet, sirloin, or ribeye

  • Trimming fat and sinew, then seasoning with salt, pepper, and citrus juice

  • Chilling beef for at least 8 hours up to 2 days

  • Slicing chilled beef as thinly possible, across the grain

  • Arranging slices overlapping on chilled plates

  • Dressing with olive oil, lemon juice, and desired garnishes like capers, herbs, and shaved cheese

With quality ingredients and careful knife work, you can amaze dinner guests with homemade carpaccio. The simplicity of the preparation allows the stellar taste of meat or seafood shine through.

Serve carpaccio as an elegant starter to a special meal. Or offer a selection of meat, seafood, and vegetarian carpaccio as a sophisticated appetizer spread.

Once reserved for Italian restaurants, carpaccio can grace any home table. Now that you know how to make this iconic appetizer properly, go enjoy some carpaccio tonight!

Jacques Pépin Makes Beef Carpaccio | American Masters: At Home with Jacques Pépin | PBS


Is carpaccio raw meat?

Carpaccio is an Italian appetizer of thinly sliced raw meat drizzled with lemon juice and olive oil. It’s traditionally made with beef, but can be made with fish (specifically salmon or tuna), veal, or venison.

What does beef carpaccio taste like?

For example, beef carpaccio made with thinly sliced raw beef will have a distinct, slightly gamey flavor, while fish carpaccio made with raw fish will have a fresh, slightly sweet taste. Vegetable carpaccio made with raw or slightly cooked vegetables will have a crunchy, slightly sweet taste.

What’s the difference between carpaccio and tartare?

The main distinction between them is the way the meat is prepared and what they’re finished with. Tartare meat is chopped or diced, while carpaccio meat is thinly sliced. Tartare has much stronger seasonings than carpaccio, such as raw egg yolk and Worcestershire sauce.

Why do people eat carpaccio?

It provides a multitude of vitamins and nutrients since it preserves all the properties of the food by not going through any cooking process. Carpaccio has a very low caloric intake and is high in protein, ideal for weight control and fat intake.

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