Sunday, June 10, 2012
Tournedos Rossini, after 150 years still the most famous of all steak dishes. Tournedos Rossini and Gioacchino Rossini.
Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Last updated October 17, 2016.
Tournedos Rossini was created for Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868) that giant in the world of music.
Gioacchino Rossini was accepted by everyone as a great artist, but among his friends, he was also recognized as truly knowledgeable gourmet and an equally accomplished cook. Tournedos Rossini was created and named in Rossini's honor by the much admired, 19th-century chef Casimir Moissons; he was one of Rossini’s close friends. Rossini was a friend, critic, and supporter of many of the greatest chefs of his time who considered him a true gourmet and an equally gifted artist as themselves.
A Tournedos Rossini
Photograph by MonkeyBusiness/YayMicro.com
A tournedos comes from a filet de bœuf, the fillet of beef, the tenderloin in the USA; this is the most expensive of all beef cuts. Only two steaks of the size of an original tournedos could be cut from this part of the fillet, and originally they were cooked together.
The original Tournedos Rossini.
The original recipe for a Tournedos Rossini required a 6 - 8cmm, (2.4”- 3.15”) thick steak, cut from the thickest part of the fillet, the tenderloin. The classic Tournedos Rossini before being divided into two steaks would weigh over 600 grams (21 ounces); the same cut is used for a Chateaubriand Steak. Like the Chateaubriand, the original Tournedos was too large to grill and so the two steaks were roasted together. The steaks when divided and ready to be served were placed on round slices of toasted French sourdough bread. Then each steak would be garnished, decorated, and served. The garnish used here is 150 grams or more, of foie gras d’oie, fattened goose liver; the liver is placed on top of the steak. The goose liver itself would have been lightly fried, in a beurre noisette, a pre-prepared, light brown, butter sauce. Then slices of truffle, at least 70 grams altogether, from the Truffe de Périgord, the black Périgord truffle, were interleaved between each part of the dish. The fillet is the tenderest of all beef cuts, but it is not the most flavorsome. For a Tournedos Rossini a Sauce Madère, a Madeira wine sauce, is poured over the tournedos just before the dish is served. The picture above, with a few flaky truffle additions, has, otherwise, the look of a genuine Tournedos Rossini.
A Tournedos Rossini in the languages of France's neighbors:
(Catalan - Turnedó Rossini), (Dutch – Tournedos Rossini),(German - Tournedos Rossini or Filet Rossini), (Italian - Tournedos alla Rossini), (Spanish - Turnedós turnedó Rossini).
N.B. A Tournedos is cut from the fillet, the tenderloin, often called a Filet Mignon in the USA. In France be careful when ordering a Filet Mignon as that term is mostly used for a pork fillet!
The original recipe makes the dish too expensive for today's clientele. Seventy grams of a fresh Périgord truffle alone would add over two hundred US dollars to the bill today, and to that add the steak and the goose foie gras. How many restaurants have customers for a four or five hundred dollar steak dish? Gioacchino Rossini, the composer, and Casimir Moissons, the chef who created the dish in Rossini’s honor may turn in their graves; but most of us will accept a smaller and less expensive version as long as most of the original ingredients are there, and the taste remains close to the original.
Ordering a Tournedos Rossini today.
Today the steak cut from the fillet for Tournedos Rossini may weigh about 250 grams (9 ounces), and that is enough for most diners. No longer will the steak be roasted; rather it will be quickly fried all around to seal it, and then it will be barded before being grilled. Barding is the process of tying a steak around with strips of fat, often fatty bacon. Even the best internally marbled tournedos will quickly dry out on the outside when grilled. Cuts from the fillet have little external fat.
N.B. A steak cut from the fillet can never be served as a steak well-done; it would become a bland variety of cardboard. To order a steak, in France, cooked the way you like it read the post Ordering a steak, in France, cooked the way you like it.
You may request your Tournedos Rossini, rare, medium rare or even medium-well; however, a French chef will not accept an order for a well-done tournedos, it could not be made. In my post on ordering a steak in France noted above, there are other steaks that, apart from being less expensive, may be ordered well done. Apart from the steak and the toasted French sour bread that absorbs the juices under the tournedos there remains the fattened goose liver:
Foie Gras on sale at a market in France.
Photograph courtesy of Meg Errey.
Foie gras is the fattened liver of a goose or a duck. For the original Tournedos Rossini the most expensive fattened liver was used, the foie gras d’oie, goose liver. The liver will be gently fried in a pre-prepared beurre noisette, butter that was cooked until it had reached the color of hazelnuts. N.B.: Fattened goose liver, like fattened duck liver, is very fatty and would disintegrate if anyone attempted to cook it well done.
Lightly seared foie gras.
Photograph courtesy of Accidental Hedonist.
For those who refuse fattened duck and goose liver a number of restaurants now use calf or other liver as foie gras substitutes.
Foie gras in the languages of France's neighbors:
(Catalan – fois gras), (Dutch – foie gras), (German – fois gras ), (Italian – fois gras), (Spanish - fois gras).
The Périgord Truffle.
The original recipe includes 70 grams (2.5 ounces) of the Truffe de Périgord, the Périgord truffle; also called the black truffle or the black diamond. The Périgord is the most costly of all French truffles.
Black Perigord Truffles.
Photograph courtesy of wamibu.
Today some restaurants may offer a Tournedos Rossini with a few truffle scrapings from the Périgord truffles or just add some truffle oil or truffle essence. Unfortunately, that leaves little truffle taste and no texture in a dish that is served with a competing Madeira wine sauce.
The best alternative I have tasted was achieved by a chef who prepared his Tournedos Rossini with duxelles flavored with truffle oil. Duxelles are a five-hundred-year-old recipe made with finely chopped mushrooms, shallots, and herbs cooked in butter. Duxelles will leave both taste and texture; however, unfortunately, they certainly are not truffles. Despite their different taste and texture, they are far better than extremely small and almost tasteless tiny shavings of a bland truffle. Duxelles is a simple but famous recipe created by one of France’s earliest published chefs, Francois Pierre de La Varenne (1618 – 1678). La Varenne named the dish after his employer the Marquis d'Duxelles; hence duxelles. Despite the age of this recipe duxelles will be, with many variations, on many modern French menus.
The Perigord truffle in the languages of France's neighbors:
(Catalan - tòfona negra), (Dutch - Perigord truffle Perigord truffle, zwarte truffel),(German - schwarze trüffle, echte trüffel or Perigord trüffel), (Italian- tartufo nero del Périgord, tartufo nero or nero pregiato), (Spanish - trufa de Périgord or trufa negra), (Latin - tuber melanosporum).
The Sauce Madère, a Madeira wine sauce, may be the last part of this dish, but it is certainly not the least important. From the seven famous Madeira wines, the preferred wine for a Tournedos Rossini is Verdelho, a medium dry Madeira wine.
The Verdelho Madeira wine is center left.
Photograph courtesy of Patrick Barry.
The wine is added to the cooking juices of the steak and liver with a similar proportion of white wine. Then the sauce will be simmered to allow the sauce to thicken naturally; herbs may be added at the chef’s discretion. Madeira wine is a fortified wine with an alcohol content of 17 – 21 percent; it is called a vinho generoso in Portuguese. In this sauce, like other wine sauces, the taste of the Madeira wine will remain, but the alcohol will have boiled away.
A Madeira Wine for your digestif?
Photograph courtesy of DeFaBa.
The popularity of Madeira, a group of Portuguese wines, in French cuisine began with the wines’ convoluted connections to the British.
Madeira Sauce in the languages of France's neighbors:
(Catalan - salsa madeira), (Dutch - Madeirasaus).(German - Madeirasauce), (Italian – salsa al Madera), (Spanish - salsa de Madeira).
The wine to accompany Tournedos Rossini.
The wine that will be recommended to accompany a Tournedos Rossini will be one of the best red wines from Bordeaux; without any question that would be the best recommendation. Unfortunately, the prices of these famous wines from a favoured Chateaux, and from a good vintage as well, may ruin your taste buds before a drop has passed your lips!
A Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1976, Paulliac.
Photograph courtesy of Brother O'Mara.
Knowledgeable sommeliers, wine stewards, when provided with a budget, are usually able to find a younger, but good, if less well known Bordeaux that will bring the smiles back all around. A Tournedos Rossini deserves a robust and well-balanced red, and a single grape Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon would not be the wine that is recommended. If you pass on a red Bordeaux then consider a less expensive, but unfortunately not inexpensive, Gevrey-Chambertin from the Bourgogne, Burgundy; that is an excellent alternative that I have enjoyed.
Gioacchino Rossini, the cook, and gourmet.
The world knows Gioacchino Rossini for his hundreds of stunning musical works that include almost 40 operas; the most famous being The Barber of Seville. The French honor Rossini for the many operas that he composed while he was living in France. The operas all came with French librettos including the famous Guillaume Tell, William Tell. Rossini when not composing was intensely involved in the world of well-prepared food; his close friends were not musicians or singers but chefs. These famous chefs considered Rossini as an artist, like themselves, and they named dishes in his honor. Rossini was recognized as an uncommonly talented amateur cook, and one of his greatest joys was cooking for his friends.
Of the many dishes that Rossini cooked and served to his chef friends, who were then among the world’s first serious food critics, was a recipe called Cannelloni alla Rossini. Rossini created this dish himself to impress his friends, including Antonin Carême. Cannelloni alla Rossini is an unassuming but truly tasty dish, and despite arguments over the dish’s creator in that period, it would have been unlikely to have been created by the master chefs who were Rossini’s friends. At that time, much more importance was placed on creating visually impressive dishes such as Tournedos Rossini.
Rossini was a friend of chefs not only due to his fame as a composer but also because these chefs were artists. For artists having another artist who truly understands and appreciates their work leads to a friend for life. Rossini and Antonin Carême, France greatest chef of the early 1800's, considered each other to be, in their respective professions, the leading maestros of their day. When separated by their work they still kept in touch, and many of their letters remain for interested food and musical historians.
Rossini and Chateaubriand.
The dish that would become Tournedos Rossini was influenced by a meeting of Rossini and Chateaubriand in Italy in 1822. Chateaubriand was himself an artist, a diarist, a novelist and a politician; and above all, from Rossini’s viewpoint, a serious gourmet. There is little doubt that Chateaubriand introduced Rossini to the wonders of a Chateaubriand steak, a dish created by Chateaubriand's personal chef Montreuil. At the time, Chateaubriand was in Verona, Italy, representing the French Government at the Congress of Verona, a meeting of European political leaders. Rossini also came to the Congress of Verona, at the request of Prince Metternich, of Austria, to impress and make music for the visiting politicians.
When Rossini returned to France from Italy, he would not have hidden his admiration for Chateaubriand’s new creation. He would have immediately advised his friends who were France's top chefs. At that time his closest friend and most famous among all French chefs was Antonin Carême: however, Antonin was in Vienna, as chef to the British Ambassador. Rossini turned to another friend, another great chef, Casimir Moissons.
Casimir Moissons was the chef at La Maison Dorée, one of Paris’s most famous 18th-century restaurants where Rossini was a frequent visitor when in Paris. Casimir Moissons created many famous dishes, but unlike some of his better-known contemporaries Casimir Moissons never wrote a cookbook, and so he missed out on much of the historical fame that he deserved. If Antonin Carême had created Tournedos Rossini it would have been in one of his many cookbooks, like most of his other his creations. Antonin named many of his creations after famous people; he published his recipes, but he did not include the Tournedos Rossini. Associating Antonin with the Tournedos Rossini is a common and understandable error. Antonin Carême was Rossini's best friend. However, Antonin had left France in 1815 and only returned in 1825 or 1826 and Rossini's meeting with Chateaubriand was in 1822. When Antonin did return to France, apart from some exclusive private banquets shortly after his return, Antonin became chef to Baron James de Rothschild. Rothschild also considered Antonin Carême a consummate artist of haute cuisine and gave him as much time as he required for writing; Antonin stayed with Rothschild until he retired.
Casimir Moissons, like all great chefs, was intensely competitive, and in 1822 would have immediately looked for the opportunity to create a dish for Rossini that outshone Montreuil's Chateaubriand. The result was the Tournedos Rossini, and it included, apart from the tournedos, three of Rossini’s favorites, the Périgourdin truffles, foie gras, and Madeira wine. Apart from Tournedos Rossini many other dishes were named after Rossini and are still on menus today.
Rossini is buried in Florence, Italy.
Rossini died in France and was buried in Paris's Père Lâchais cemetery, not far from the grave of Chopin. Home, however, is home, and in 1887 Rossini was re-interred in Italy in the church of Santa Croce, Florence. He may have missed his original neighbors, like Chopin and Brillat-Savarin; but at least in the Santa Croce church, he can talk to other famous Italians. Also buried in the Santa Croce are Michelangelo, Galileo, and even Niccolo Machiavelli! If Rossini gets up and decides to go for a walk, I can also vouch that he can buy fabulous leather coats in the streets of Florence round-a-bout the church!
The tomb of Rossini in the church of Santa Croce Florence.
Photograph courtesy of SpirosK photography
Foie Gras in France. Fattened Duck and Goose Live in French Cuisine. Foie Gras on French Menus. Buying Foie Gras.
Searching for truffles in France, and truffles on French Menus. The Black Perigord Truffle and Truffles Oils and Truffles Essences.
Bryan G Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2013, 2015.
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman