Parisa: Medina County beef tartare

When I was first told about Paris by someone, I had to admit I was skeptical. Raw ground beef mixed with cheese, jalapeños and lime juice? Um, no thanks!

My friend, who was from Medina County near San Antonio, insisted it was delicious. She suggested I stop by Dziuk’s Meat Market in Castroville to try it myself. A handful was measured out and wrapped in butcher paper. When paying they gave me a pod of saltines.

There were no tables at the market, so I took my meaty package to my car and set my lunch on the hood. I used the cracker as a shovel and dunked it in the mound. An exploration of contrasts, the blend of rich, minerally cool beef with creamy cheese and zesty green peppers was unusual but welcome. It was a satisfying bite and I soon went back for another.

Parisa is a variation on a dish brought to Castroville and the surrounding towns in the country of the Medina by Alsatian settlers. Of course, raw beef dishes can be found in many cuisines, and if you’re a beef lover, you’ll surely appreciate the taste and texture of Parisa, which is like a pie.

There is no direct analogue in the Alsace region of Europe, which straddles France and Germany, but in France a dish made from chopped raw beef is known as tartare. It is said to be named after the Eurasian Tatars, who were nomads and placed beef steaks under their saddles when they rode. By the time the rider dismounted and went to eat his beef, the horse’s jostling and shoving had ground it to a paste.

Another name for beef or steak tartare is Beefsteak à l’Américaine. This was an indication that the French believed Americans were so crude that they would eat their beef raw. That doesn’t explain why the French would consider this dish a delicacy, but the ironic aspect of it is amusing.

However, back in Texas, the Alsatian raw beef dish became known as Parisa. The European version and Texan version are mostly similar, although the Texan version is made with finely chopped or ground sirloin that’s mixed with citrus juice like lime or lemon, flavorings like chopped onion and garlic, grated yellow cheese, and spices. Because it’s Texas, chopped pickled jalapeños or serrano chilies are often added as well.

In Europe, the dish is often served with a raw egg, which is not the case in Texas. And with Worcestershire, the meat is cured quickly too. While you will see Parisa recipes using this spice, more often this is not the case.

Parisa is served with crackers, the style depending on which city you’re eating the dish in. For example, I’ve heard stories of D’Hanis residents insisting on round butter crackers with their Parisa, while Castroville residents just down the street prefer square saltines.

While Medina County residents say Parisa has been on their tables and in their meat markets since the early 1900s, the first printed citations date back to the late 1960s. Its regionality was limited to the part of Texas southwest of San Antonio until recently, when others began to embrace this beef dish.

Today, it’s served at high-end restaurants like Houston’s Wild Oats. It also appears in regional Texas cookbooks. But for the most part, unless you’re from that part of the state, you most likely haven’t eaten it, and if you’re new to it, eating seasoned ground beef on a cracker can be difficult.

Eating raw meat may be unfamiliar to many, but if you use fresh roast beef that you’ve ground yourself, it’s considered safe. The citrus mitigates some of the danger by cooking the meat in a ceviche much like lime juice would cook seafood.

The name derives from Paris, although it is a nod to the breadsticks used in Alsace to scoop their beef tartare. The breadsticks are known as Parisian, and being an oral language, the “er” was most likely pronounced as “ah”.

Parisa is a popular addition to the Medina County table at gatherings, and you’ll see it brought out at ball games, holiday dinners, or after a stag hunt when freshly ground venison is used in place of beef.

The key to making sure it’s safe is knowing where the beef comes from and having it ground before you cook it. Sure, the lime juice helps with some of the creepy stuff, but it’s very important to use the freshest, cleanest beef you can find.

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portions 8th

author Lisa Fain

  • 1 lb freshly ground, very lean roast beef
  • 1/2 lb grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • ½ Cup diced pickled jalapeños
  • 1/4 medium yellow onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • Saltines, to serve
  • Mix together the ground beef, cheese, jalapeños, onion, garlic, lime juice, cumin, salt, and black pepper. Taste and adjust spices. Chill for 1 hour.

  • Serve cold with saltines.

It’s important to use lean beef, as fat can make the parisa rancid.

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