I first tasted beef carpaccio in 1986 at Harry's Bar in Venice. It was my first trip to Italy, and we were told that anyone who went to Venice had to visit Harry's Bar for a Bellini and a plate of carpaccio. Before I moved to Italy in 1987, I ate my beef medium well done, so for me to try raw beef was a real adventure. The plate looked appetizing topped with a generous drizzle of special sauce, but I just wasn't sure I could eat an entire plate of raw beef. It turned out to be love at first bite—beef carpaccio has become one of my favorite foods since that very memorable experience at Harry's Bar so long ago.
Carpaccio is defined as raw meat or fish (commonly tuna, salmon, and swordfish), thinly sliced or pounded thin and served as an appetizer or lunch option. Giuseppe Cipriani, founder of Harry's Bar in Venice, created the first beef carpaccio for the countess Amalia Nani Mocenigo in 1950 when he found out she couldn't eat cooked meat. The name was inspired by the paintings of Vittore Carpaccio, a famous Venetian painter whose paintings were often in tones of red and white which resembled the carpaccio. This dish has now become famous worldwide.
The original Harry's Bar carpaccio is still made by covering a plate with paper-thin slices of raw beef and then garnishing with a drizzle of a secret dressing. Though the carpaccio served at Harry's Bar is extremely simple, the dish is now created in a variety of ways outside of Venice. Some of my favorite ways to prepare carpaccio at home are topped with arugula, thinly sliced raw artichokes or mushrooms, or a combination of thinly sliced fennel and ripe cherry tomatoes. Often the plate of carpaccio is finished with shavings of parmesan cheese, and sometimes capers or even pine nuts garnish the plate.
I prefer to use beef tenderloin for my carpaccio, and when eating raw beef it's best to ensure it's very fresh. If you have any health concerns, you can sear the tenderloin well on all sides before slicing it. If you decide to sear it, I'd recommend freezing the tenderloin for two hours first to ensure the center remains rare. Since this beef isn't cooked, it shouldn't be prepared for pregnant women, babies, young children, the elderly, or anyone whose health is compromised.
In order to achieve paper-thin slices of beef, I find freezing it wrapped in plastic wrap for an hour works really well. Even after I slice it as thinly as possible with my sharpest knife, I still like to use a flat-ended meat mallet to pound it paper-thin after covering both sides of each slice in plastic wrap. If you wanted to make things even easier, buy your beef from a good butcher and ask him to slice it thinly for you.
I prefer to prepare beef carpaccio as a casual lunch entrée at home, but you can also serve it as an appetizer. It's a fabulous appetizer to serve when entertaining guests—it looks and tastes great and it's easy to prepare. You can slice the carpaccio a couple of hours ahead, but wrap it well in plastic wrap and then store it in the refrigerator until you're ready to serve it.