Friday, July 6, 2012
Chateaubriand Steak and Chateaubriand the Man. Ordering a Chateaubriand steak in France.
Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
A Chateaubriand steak.
Traditionally Chateaubriand is prepared as a roast for two people
and separated into two steaks just before serving.
Here a single (half) serving comes with a red wine sauce.
Chateaubriand, the man:
François-René, Vicomte de Chateaubriand, (1768-1848): Writer, hereditary aristocrat, gourmand, and politician. There will be more about the man later. First, Chateaubriand the steak.
The Chateaubriand steak.
Many are puzzled when the Chateaubriand on the menu is only sold for two.
A real Chateaubriand is a roast divided into two; that provides its different taste. Its thickness would be far too much for a single diner. A true Chateaubriand is, in fact, a roast that is at least 7 - 10 cms (3" - 4") high. Half a Chateaubriand, which is the single serving, should be, at least, 300 grams (11 ounces), the original was even bigger. The steak is roasted as it is too large to fry or grill. A Chateaubriand should be cut from best and thickest part of the US tenderloin or Filet Mignon, the UK fillet. The tenderloin, fillet mignon, or fillet is the same cut used for a Tournedos Rossini, which is half as thick and may be fried or grilled.
Another well-prepared Chateaubriand
Rossini meets Chateaubriand
The Tournedos Rossini was inspired by Giacomo Rossini’s meeting with Chateaubriand in Verona, Italy, in 1822. Chateaubriand was representing the French Government at the Congress of Verona, a meeting of European political leaders. Rossini came to the Congress at the request of Prince Metternich to impress and make music for the visiting politicians. Rossini was well known as a gourmand as well as a composer and he came home after dining with Chateaubriand determined to have a steak dish created that would not take second place to Chateaubriand's. The result was the Tournedos Rossini created by Rossini’s friend and 19th-century star chef Casimir Moissons. Rossini’s other friend the number one chef of the period Antonin Carême was away from France. At that time, Antonin was the personal chef of the British Ambassador to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and based in Vienna.
Another well-prepared Chateaubriand
A Chateaubriand is barded and then roasted; barding means attaching fat to the exterior of the steak. Without barding a thick steak like a Chateaubriand, which has no exterior fat, would dry out, even if the fillet itself was perfectly marbled internally. A whole Chateaubriand is enough for two gigantic steaks, and they are not separated and until they are almost ready for serving.
Tradition gives the creation of the Chateaubriand steak to Chateaubriand’s personal chef Montreuil. Historically, that is probably correct; however, when searching, in France, for more information on Chef Montreuil I found none. None of the chefs or Maitre D’s I asked could give me Montreuil’s first name, or any of his history, beyond his creation of the Chateaubriand steak and a now almost forgotten pudding called the Diplomat's Pudding. In French culinary history like today, many of the famous chef's of the period either wrote books or became famous as they changed employers quite often. Chef Montreuil; however, remains an enigma, and even the Larousse only notes his family name.
Ordering a Chateaubriand steak
If you are considering ordering a Chateaubriand steak, then as with any thick cut, never, ever, ask for it well done; this cut is very, very thick and cooking that all the way through would produce a dry inside and a burnt exterior, a real disaster. A professional French waiter or waitress and there are many, will explain the problem; a French chef will, in any case, refuse to carry out such a request. If you are in France or going to France, and prefer your meat very well done read the link on: Ordering a Steak in France, Cooked the Way you Like it.
The correct wine for a Chateaubriand would be a Bordeaux.
A 1976 Pomerol will do nicely.
Caveat Emptor: An excellent 1976 Pomerol will cost much more that the two Chateaubriand steaks.
A Chateaubriand is always served with a sauce.
The Chateaubriand steak, like all other cuts from the fillet, provides very tender meat, but, the tenderloin/fillet has less taste than other cuts. A Chateaubriand, in France, will always be served with a sauce; a traditional red wine sauce may be offered, or a Béarnaise sauce, or another sauce. It would be a brave French chef who offered a Chateaubriand without a sauce.
The arguments over the real Chateaubriand cut.
I read an article, not too long ago, where a French butcher after visiting the USA accused US butchers of selling a thick cut from a USA top sirloin as a Chateaubriand; this he said was an act of lèse-majesté. Lèse-majesté means insulting the crown, or, in this case, the King of Steaks! Remember that this was an accusation and is not proven; however, I have also read somewhere that the original Chateaubriand steak was not a cut from the tenderloin, fillet mignon, the fillet in any case, so who knows what cut was used originally?
Chateaubriand the man and the French revolution.
Chateaubriand, though a rather lowly member of France's aristocracy, at 25 left France to escape the prospect of being guillotined during the revolution. Outside France Chateaubriand traveled extensively and wrote profusely; he spent over half-a-year in the USA, including the time he spent with Native Americans. Despite his background Chateaubriand was not wealthy, and when outside of France he was practically penniless. Chateaubriand’s base was in England, where he lived in an attic in Holborn, London, and gave French lessons to survive. He was in self-imposed exile for nine years beginning in 1791.
This picture is of a miniature Guillotine,
France had real traveling Guillotines that went from town to town,
Many aristocrats were dispatched with this method
and if Chateaubriand had he remained in France???
Chateaubriand the traveler.
Chateaubriand could be called an early backpacker as he traveled outside England whenever he had saved enough for another trip. This period was the late 18th century and traveling cheaply at that time meant traveling on barely seaworthy wooden ships that came with bad captains, shipboard diseases and bad and inadequate shipboard food. On his travels, Chateaubriand was on ships that were attacked by pirates and privateers, and when he moved on land, there were highway robbers and kidnappers to be avoided. From France, there was only bad news and in 1794 his brother was guillotined and his mother and sisters imprisoned.
Portrait of Chateaubriand by Guerin.
Chateaubriand the author.
When Chateaubriand was traveling, whatever the circumstances, he was writing, and when he was not traveling he was also writing. In 1797 he wrote he wrote a travelogue: l'Itinéraire de Paris à Jérusalem, the Itinerary from Paris to Jerusalem; he also wrote a number of other books which sold well in France, even in his absence; when he returned they sold even better. Chateaubriand is considered the founder of the French Romantic School, and when he came back to France in 1800 he continued writing successfully, then he became an influential politician and at last was able to afford a personal chef.
Memoirs, from Beyond the Tomb.
Chateaubriand's bestselling book was entitled Mémoires d'Outre-Tombe, memoirs from beyond the tomb. I have seen this book selected and translated into English by Robert Baldick. Penguin 2014 edition.
Chateaubriand the diplomat.
Back home in France Chateaubriand served Napoléon I as a diplomat; that is until Napoléon I had Louis de Bourbon, the Duke of Enghien, a claimant to the throne of France kidnapped and shot. Kidnapping and murder do not fit well in a book on French cuisine, and so I will not go deeper into that story; it is enough to say that Chateaubriand resigned Napoléon's diplomatic service and became an anti-Bonapartiste.
The Statue of Chateaubriand at St Malo, France.
In the background is San Malo’s casino!
Napoléon I was exiled for the second time in 1815 after his defeat at Waterloo. Then under the restored monarchy of King Louis XVIII (1755- 1824) Chateaubriand re-entered the French diplomatic service. Chateaubriand held quite a number of political posts with the most important from 1823 to 1824 when he was France's Foreign Minister.
Chateaubriand ended his political career in 1830 after the then king, Charles X (1757 – 1836), abdicated. Chateaubriand did not approve of the way the new King Louis XVIII was chosen, and refused to take the oath of office; he left politics and retired to private life and writing. Chateaubriand died, age 80, in 1848.
Chateaubriand’s grave on the island of Grand Bé at St Malo.
Chateaubriand was careful in all things, and he had carefully chosen the site for his burial on a then deserted island on France's Atlantic coast of Brittany called the Grand Bé. The tiny island of Grand Bé is just off the shore from the town of Saint Malo, close to where Chateaubriand was born, in the village of Ille-et-Vilaine, in Bretagne, Brittany. When Chateaubriand died St Malo was still a small town; now its year-round population is over 50,000, and with its suburbs the year-round population is over 100,000. In July and August when France closes down for the summer vacations the population triples! Despite the crowds a good photographer and family members have told me that the fish and seafood restaurants of St Malo are second to none.
The plaque close to Chateaubriand's Tomb on St Be.
Photograph courtesy of Sarah Mirander.
The plaque reads:
Un grand écrivain français a voulu reposer ici pour n'entendre que la mer et le vent.
Respecte sa dernière volonté.
A great French writer wanted to rest here to hear only the sea and wind.
Respect his last wish.
Visiting Chateaubriand’s grave.
Admirers of Chateaubriand steaks or Chateaubriand's writings may visit the island and view his last resting place. At low tide, you may walk to Grand Bé from the beach of Bon-Secours, and at high tide, in the season, you may sometimes rent a boat from the nearby small fishing port. When you visit his tomb remember that Chateaubriand's bestselling book is entitled Memoirs from Beyond the Tomb; its contents are riveting!
Whenever you do enjoy a Chateaubriand or go to St Malo for lunch or dinner, then raise a glass to the memory of François-René Chateaubriand, and do not forget the dish’s creator the chef Montreuil.
Even today the time that Chateaubriand spent in the USA is not ignored; France offers a Chateaubriand Fellowship for doctoral students enrolled in American universities. It pays for them to conduct research in France for up to 10 months and the French Embassy in the USA handles the inquiries.
Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
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For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman