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CHATEAUBRIAND

Updated: 5 days ago

Beef cattle yield roughly 500 pounds of meat. Less than 1% of that --maybe 4 pounds-- is the Chateaubriand cut.


The thick midsection of the beef tenderloin is the Chateaubriand.


In 1972, the Ford Motor Company ran an unusual and memorably silly commercial. In order to demonstrate the ultra-smooth ride of their Mercury Marquis Brougham (one of the notable "land yachts" of that era) they hired a Cartier gemcutter to split a freaking diamond in the back seat while the chauffeur navigated Manhattan potholes at 35 MPH...


Dear Reader, this is what it felt like to roast $50/lb. prime Chateaubriand for the first time.


* * * * * * *


My guitarist-chef son Remi and his special person Emma are flying in from Seattle for a visit in early July, and of course an utterly epic feast is in order. To my immense fatherly delight, Remi and I regularly converse about serious food, and he shares my fascination with perfect prime rib. But early July's sticky swelter skews even the appetites of hard-core carnivores like us toward fish and salads... so, what to serve? What dish is worthy of such a momentous occasion yet still seasonably appropriate?


Wagyu Tenderloin, of course. And I'll trim and reserve the ends for later use, leaving us, by God, with a Wagyu Chateaubriand... the smallest and most exquisite cut from the undisputed King of Cattle.


The Chateaubriand runs approximately from the "T" to the "L" in "TENDERLOIN."


The loin muscle, the primary component of prime rib, sits above the bovine backbone at the very top of the rib section as shown above. The much smaller tenderloin, meanwhile, is positioned below the spine, where it gets very little exercise and is accordingly melt-in-one's-mouth tender, hence its moniker. The whole tenderloin is not of uniform diameter, but rather tapered as suggested in the chart. For a whole tenderloin roast, therefore, the skinny end is typically folded over and secured with string, winding up like this--



A tenderloin can also be broken down into smaller components--



The Chateaubriand makes a fantastic (and accordingly expensive) miniature roast; alternatively, it is often cut crosswise into individual steaks known as filet mignon steaks or, more fancily, tournedos of beef. The trimmings-- i.e., the chain and tips-- are often sold separately at a comparatively reasonable price. (Pro-tip: tenderloin tips make really lousy beef stew. The much cheaper Chuck meat has both more flavor and more of the connective tissue that deliciously melts with a long, slow simmer. Tenderloin tips sauté nicely and also make for a fantastic Beef Stroganoff. One can also wrap them with bacon, as with scallops.)


The tenderloin is milder of flavor and considerably more tender than prime rib. And due to its relative scarcity and high cost, tenderloin is, by custom, is served in smaller portions. At the risk of confessing to culinary sexism, I long ago discerned from my sommelier's perch in a fancy Boston steakhouse a clear gender divide-- whereas the 18 oz., bone-in prime rib was the common choice of our alpha male regulars, their elegant female companions tended to order the 6 oz. portion of roasted tenderloin.


Because tenderloin is portioned so sparingly, it is often used in "Surf & Turf" entrees, most commonly as a 4-6 oz. filet mignon steak paired with a lobster tail or jumbo shrimp. And as the most mildly flavored cut of beef, tenderloin lends itself to ornate accompaniment and fancy sauces...


the epitome of which might well be the gilded lily known as Tournedos Rossini--



The great Italian composer Gioachino Antonio Rossini (1792 – 1868) favored cuisine as richly ornate as his operas. His namesake tenderloin dish-- Tournedos Rossini-- includes black truffles. foie gras, and Sauce Perigourdine. (See THE ART OF THE SAUCIER.)


So, back to the title of this essay-- how does one properly prepare a Chateaubriand roast? I wasn't sure, so I did some research and scheduled a test version. I wanted one under my belt before Remi and Emma arrived.


I found online two distinct schools of thought for roasting Chateaubriand-- a fast version roasted at relatively high heat, and a long, low-temperature version with a hot sear at the end. The high heat version has its merits-- about fifty roasts ago (all manner of lamb, pork, beef) I generalized that the smaller the roast, the higher the ideal roasting temperature. This is because it is tricky to develop a nicely browned crust on, say, a tiny rack of lamb without overcooking its center, a problem best overcome with high heat. Conversely, as the thickest roast of all, prime rib cooks best at really low temperatures, attaining a uniform degree done-ness AND, after hours in the oven, forming a magnificent crust.


Chateaubriand lies between these two extremes. For or my practice version I decided to go with my instincts and use the lessons I've learned preparing prime rib... along with an online recipe I found that agreed with them, which was reassuring.


STEP 1: THE RIGHT MEAT

I called my friend Chef Deborah at the meat department of the flagship Wegmans store... the one where Danny Wegman himself shops. When I got home from my trucking work-week she had a two-pound, perfectly trimmed, prime-grade Angus Chateaubriand waiting for me. If $50/lb. seems exorbitantly expensive, consider that this is far, far superior to any meat one ever gets in a restaurant for anywhere near this price, and that this two-pound roast constitutes five or even six portions.


The test roast after its overnight salting, with a fork to illustrate its size.


STEP 2: THE OVERNIGHT SALT

As with prime rib, a generous coating of kosher salt and an uncovered sleepover in the fridge forms the basis for a fantastic crust.


STEP 3: I'M A FAN OF THE FAN

Since most roast beef recipes call for meat to first be brought to room temperature, my personal hack is to position the meat in front of a fan after its overnight chill. This further enhances the crust formation while warming the meat more quickly.


STEP 4: LOW & SLOW

At an oven temperature of 200ºF, the roast reached an internal temperature of 115ºF in about two hours. Your mileage may vary. (USE A DIGITAL THERMOMETER!) Going higher than 115ºF will take you from medium-rare territory into medium range. (Pro-tip: ALWAYS cheat on the low side with your target temperature. You can always cook it a little more if necessary.)



After the slow roast, slathered with tallow and ready to rock.


STEP 5: TALLOW SLATHER & A HOT BLAST

As I pre-heated my convection oven to its highest possible setting-- 550ºF-- I slathered the roast with tallow that I had saved from a previous Wagyu roast. (As its beneficial uses become more widely known, tallow is increasingly available in stores and online. Think of it as suntan-enhancing coconut oil.) Using the color of the crust as a guideline, I blasted the roast for about seven minutes. Consider this absurd expression-- "Froze so fast, the ice was still warm!" While that is of course quite impossible, the takeaway is that we need to form the exterior crust so rapidly that the interior doesn't have time to cook very much further. If you don't own a convection oven, this scorch can be similarly accomplished over hot coals or even with a culinary blowtorch.


STEP 6: LET IT REST

'Tis far better to eat a perfectly cooked roast a tad cooler than ideal than to slice it prematurely. The reward for patience is THIS--


Well-crusted outside, juicy and almost uniformly medium-rare within.



AND THEN, FINALLY, THERE'S THE SAUCE--

Traditional accompaniments for chateaubriand include Sauce Bearnaise, Horseradish Cream Sauce, and, again from THE ART OF THE SAUCIER, Sauce Bordelaise and Mushroom-Madeira Sauce.


For my son's visit I'm working on a sauce that I can call REMI GLACE. I'll keep you posted.



NOTES:


Composer Gioachino Rossini is perhaps best known for the William Tell Overture and The Barber of Seville. He first came to my youthful attention when an excerpt from his opera "The Thieving Magpie" was used to spectacular effect by director Stanley Kubrick for a first-act gang fight scene in "A Clockwork Orange."


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