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Saturday, July 2, 2016

Bœuf Wellington or Filet de Bœuf Wellington

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman

Beef Wellington at the Savoy Grill, Chef Gordon Ramsey.
with horseradish cream and red wine jus.
Bœuf Wellington or Filet de Bœuf Wellington - Beef Wellington.  The traditional dish requires a whole fillet of beef to be covered with goose foie gras, fattened goose liver, and then to be cooked inside in a puff pastry casing. The finished dish will be cut into slices and served.  Today, a whole fillet may still be prepared, but smaller cuts from the center of the fillet are also used; even individual slices from a fillet may be prepared as individual Beef Wellingtons. Outside of a few very special, and expensive restaurants, the goose foie gras will have gone; occasionally it will be replaced by a chicken liver pate though more often with duxelles.  The finished slices of beef Wellington will be served with a sauce made of the natural cooking juices and Madeira wine.

Slices of Beef Wellington FF
Before the dish was renamed Bœuf Wellington in the honor of  the Iron Duke, Arthur Wellesley,  the 1st Duke of Wellington, (1769-1852), it was Filet de Bœuf en Croute. Most traditions agree that this dish was a French favorite of Arthur Wellesley and he ordered this dish twice or three times a week.  The restaurateurs who saw their old customers return through the success of the Iron Duke gave orders for the name change.

Duke of Wellington National Portrait Gallery.  FF
Despite the Duke of Wellington’s defeat of Napoleon I, and his part in the 25 year-long restoration of the French monarchy, the dish named after him is still served and enjoyed in France. France always had a large percentage of the population who were monarchists and  there are those who would bring back Emperor Napoleon today if they could. The Duke spoke French and knew many members of the French aristocracy well.  When just 17 the young Arthur Wellesley spent a year at the French Royal Academy of Equitation, the French Royal Horse-Riding school, in the city of Angers; then considered the world’s best riding school.  While in Angers the young Arthur Wellesley also improved his knowledge of the French language, enjoyed French cuisine, and met and danced with many French ladies. He also met many of the aristocrats to whom he would restore their positions after he met Napoleon I at Waterloo.  Angers in Anjou was also the historical home of the Plantagenêt Kings of England. 

The Duke of Wellington’s statue in Edinburgh

N.B. Duxelles are nearly a five-hundred-year-old recipe of finely chopped mushrooms, shallots, and herbs cooked in butter.  Duxelles are one of the oldest French culinary creations and still on many menus. Duxelles today, as originally, are used a stuffing or as a garnish for egg, fish, and meat dishes and may sometimes be helped along with wine and served with a sauce. The original Duxelles used wild mushrooms as farmed mushrooms did not exist. Today button mushrooms will be used. The original of this simple but famous recipe was 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. His book, Le Cuisinier Francois is still going strong as I have seen a number of editions available at Amazon France with the last published in 2006; English versions are also available. La Varenne did not leave us with just one book; he published at least three more. There are disputes around his ownership of all the recipes, but it is enough to say that the books allow us to look at the French kitchen in the 17th century.

Anjou today.  FF

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Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
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