19 February 2007

A Brief History of Chateaubriand

"Why didn't you include some history of Chateaubriand?" asked a reader who does not post comments but happens to sit next to me at work.

"Uh, because I forgot," I said. That's the truth. Ideas and information don't seem to stay too long in my brain these days. Stress overload?

Chateaubriand, like London Broil, is not a cut of meat, according to some sources. It is a way of cooking a thick cut of beef tenderloin. Other sources, like Wikipedia, to which I can never successfully provide a precise link, refer to it as a cut.

Does it matter? I think not. It tastes heavenly.

The dish was reportedly created for Francois René Vicomte de Chateaubriand (1768-1848), a statesman and writer. Born in St. Malo, he grew up in a castle in Normandy. He spent part of the French Revolution in the American Deep South, which ultimately influenced several of his novels. He is considered the father of French Romanticism.

The dish that bears his name may have been created by his chef, Montmireil, according to the Food Reference Website.

Here's what else the Web site says, "Sources differ on the other important details of this recipe. Most say it was originally cut from the thickest part of the beef tenderloin, but several state that it was originally cut from the sirloin. Some say it was one very thick cut of beef, seared on the outside and rare on the inside. It may or may not then have had the seared and charred ends cut off before serving. Others state that the thick steak (filet or sirloin) was cooked between two inferior steaks to enhance its flavor and juiciness. The inferior steaks were cooked until well charred, then discarded."

Another site, O Chef, asserts that Montmireil "placed his master's roast between two other cuts of tenderloin, burnt both the outside meats to a crisp, and threw them away, leaving the Vicomte's portion evenly pink through and through."

I must admit that while my Chateaubriand is never well done, it is rarely as pink as it should be in the middle.

There is some disagreement about how thick a real Chateaubriand must be. When I'm flush, mine is thick. When I buy a cheaper cut, it is not.

There is apparently some disagreement over the sauce. Was it originally Béarnaise or something made from white wine and shallots?

The traditional side dish is small potatoes, called chateau potatoes. They are cut into small shapes about the size of olives and then browned. Not a purist, I use the smallest potatoes I can find, or I cut larger potatoes in half. Even on my weekends, I do not have the time or patience to carve olive-sized potatoes. Also, the recipes often call for russet potatoes. We prefer Yukon Gold.

I must use shallots in the sauce, however. That is a hard and fast rule for me. I like the cross between onion and garlic taste they offer. Supposedly, they offer cancer-fighting compounds, too, another plus. While I usually roast either small or pearl onions alongside my Chateaubriand, I have used shallots, too, intensifying the shallot taste of this wonderful dish.

16 comments:

Toni said...

Mimi, I absolutely adore your photography. Like you, it is direct, unpretentious and it makes everything look good.

Thanks for the link, and the compliments on my photography. Someday I hope to be as good as you! And thanks, too, for the links to the reference sites - they're great!

Mimi said...

I dunno, Toni, you are pretty darned good! Love your blog.

I am costantly delighted by what I see and read on food blogs.

sher said...

I'm with you about carving little potatoes! I just don't have the patience or the knack. I figure that's why I go to a good restaurant where a chef trained to do that! Great post!

Mimi said...

Thanks, Sher! I don't even like to peel potatoes, much less carve them into little pieces.

Lydia said...

Mimi, whenever I see Chauteaubriand on a menu, it's for two people. Do you know why? I've always wondered.

Mimi said...

I think it has to do with the size of the cut of tenderloin, Lydia.

But that's far more meat than I eat at one sitting, and we always have some left over.

FarmgirlCyn said...

I actually wondered if the beef was to be served med/rare or not, as your cooking instructions seemed to take it a bit to the medium side. I like the variations you posted, cause, as you probably know by now, I am an "improv" kind of cook, and would likely have to make some kind of substitutions! We, too, like the Yukon Gold or those bitty red potatoes...yum.

Mimi said...

Well, the recipe said 30 minutes would give me a medium rare result, Cyn, but I found it was a bit more medium than rare. Sometimes, I forget to set the timer!

Mimi said...

And, BTW, you know how I feel: There is no law against improvising!

breadchick said...

I too have started using more shallots in my cooking vs onions/garlic. MBH seems to enjoy the taste better or let me rephrase that seem not to notice the flavours as much as when I use garlic. Great follow-up on Chateaubriand.

Jann said...

What a wonderful dish-and the shallots, I try to use them as often as I can...you are so correct about their taste. This was another fine post, Mimi!

Mimi said...

Jann, you're back!

I look forward to hearing about your travels and the food you ate!

Charles said...

Had two thoughts about this right after I commented on the recipe post.

1. You can change Wikipedia. (If you have a notion to) Anyone can edit the articles found there. But like me, you probably don't feel like it's that big a deal.

2. I used a bit larger cut than the recipe called for, (there are 5 of us) so instead of going by the time, I used a meat thermometer -- around 130 degrees should give you medium rare. It did for us.

Terry B said...

Here it is after midnight, and you've got me craving slabs of pink, rare beef.

Thanks for the history lesson too, Mimi. I love a good story almost as much as a good meal.

cityfarmer said...

And now we know the rest of the story...sounds yummy in my tummy..

I've busy attending to wedding plans(peek at my post)...but I'm back...missed you.

Mimi said...

Thanks for visiting, everyone. I've been a bit remiss lately, not by choice.

Charles is right, size of the cut matters. There is no reason Chateaubriand must always be for two. The recipe calls for 2-2 1/2 pounds but I have used larger pieces, too.

TB, I often think about history lessons while I am planning my posts but — such a scatterbrain — I usually forget. . .

CF, everyone, I am on my way over...