"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. Why must economic reality interfere with culinary art?
There is apparently some disagreement over the sauce. Was it orginally Bearnaise or something made from white wine and shallots?
That's what I like about my recipe. It offers two sauces.
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.
Carb watchers know that potatoes are high on the Glycemic Index. Who says you must use them with Chateaubriand? Breaks from tradition are welcome, at least in my kitchen.
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.