Monday, November 5, 2012

Leaving France with a bang: a classic dish that is so worth the effort

We forgot to take a photo, so I “borrowed” this!
Sorry it’s taken me two weeks to get back to AMFAS, but I’ve been rather busy. This post was scheduled for last week to finish off our series on French cooking (done as a salute to the publication of my eighth crime fiction novel, The Fallen One, which takes place for the most part in Paris), but, well, life tends to get in the way sometimes, doesn’t it?

Anyway, to my mind, I’ve saved the best for last. Call it the showman in me, but I feel it’s always best to go out with a bang. I have two French cooking bangs in my repertoire, and for the past month I could not decide which one to present.

One is cassoulet, a dish that can best be easily described as “pork and beans on steroids”. It is something that takes a few days to prepare, but the result of that labor is so mind-bogglingly good, that one mouthful will erase all memory of the effort put in to create such heaven.

Two beautiful tournedos about to be cooked.
The other is Tournedos Rossini, classic French cooking, the kind you find only in the best French restaurants. You will also pay a lot of money for this dish. I went for it because, well, my novel is about opera and the composer for whom the dish is named was one of the most famous composers of opera.

So you get the Tournedos, but don’t worry, I’ll share the cassoulet recipe sometime soon since it’s the perfect winter dinner party meal.

Rossini’s operas made him a very wealthy man, so wealthy in fact, that he didn’t have to work. William Tell, which premiered in 1829 when the composer was 38, was his last opera, but he lived to his 76th year. What did he do during that time? He mostly ate, and ate very well. By all accounts, Rossini was an excellent cook, as well as a noted gourmand.

Today’s dish, Tournedos Rossini, was supposedly created for the composer by master chef Marie-Antoine Carême, and making it is not for the faint of heart – or faint of wallet , either, since it uses some pretty expensive ingredients. If you are up for it, though, the rewards are great. It will make a very spectacular meal.

One quart of meat stock cooked down to 1/2 cup – heaven!
In a nutshell, the recipe consists of a tournedo (the larger middle part of a beef tenderloin) cooked rare. This is placed on top of a toast round, then there’s a slice of fois gras followed by some slices of black truffle. The whole thing is then sauced with a very rich madiera sauce. Since the sauce along would make this recipe way too long, I’m going to point you to a couple of internet sites that show how to make it. Yes, it’s time-consuming and involved, but certainly worth the effort. If you are morally opposed to foie gras, just leave it out. The dish will be diminished but still plenty good.

[Sidebar: Complex sauces like the one used here are no big deal for the kitchen of a French restaurant, since they make stocks and demi-glacé sauces in large quantities almost daily. But even the most sophisticated home kitchen has to start sauces like this from scratch. Certainly, you can find easier ways to do a Madeira sauce, but if you’re a dedicated foodie, just once you should make the full-on, no shortcuts French version, so I’m giving that here. If you’re going to go out and buy expensive cuts of beef, foie gras and truffles, you might as well go for The Full Monty. The sauce starts off with a brown veal stock. If you’re wise, you’ll make a full recipe of that and freeze whatever you don’t use for later cooking projects.]

Tournedos Rossini
Serves 4

4 beef tournedos, about 7 oz. each (you can also go smaller and use filets mignons)
salt and freshly-ground black pepper
3 Tbs butter
1 Tbs vegetable oil
8 oz foie gras (preferably fresh)
3/4 cup of veal demi-glace
1/4 cup Madeira
4 slices of bread (French bread works well)
1 medium black truffle
1 Tbs butter (for finishing the sauce)

1. Two days before you’re going to serve this, make the veal stock from this recipe: (It’s also a very interesting page with good background information from a very knowledgeable chef.) It would be wise to use veal bones instead of beef, or at least more veal than beef. Once your stock is finished, de-fat it by cooling it overnight in the fridge. (Letting the fat solidify in the fridge and then lifting it off is far easier than skimming it when warm.)

2. The next day, carry on with the recipe given in Step 1 and make a brown sauce (sauce Espagnole) out of some of your veal stock. The secret of a good brown sauce is to cook everything slowly and reduce the stock a good deal to concentrate the flavors. Cooking the roux carefully will get you a good golden color without burning it (easy to do). If it burns, chuck it and start over. (Trust me on this. I made a huge mistake once.)

3. Carry on and make the demi-glacé from the same recipe. Cook it way down to really concentrate the flavor. Don’t season it yet. Chill overnight.

4. On the day of your big meal, make sure you take the tournedos out of the fridge a good hour or two to bring it to room temperature. Otherwise, the outside will be cooked too much before the inside even gets warm. I suggest having someone help with the preparation of your dinner by handling the cooking of any accompanying vegetables and potatoes. That way you can give your full concentration to the tournedos. I like serving this with pommes parisienne and buttered French green beans.

5. Prepping everything is the key. first, season the tournedos with salt and pepper. Then, in a small saucepan combine the demi-glacé with about 2 teaspoons of chopped black truffle. Thinly slice the rest of the truffle. Slice the foie gras lengthwise into 4 equal portions. Trim the slices of bread to the shape and size of the tournedos. Measure out the Madeira.

6. Put the demi-glacé on to heat very gently. Over medium heat, melt 1 1/2 tablespoons of the butter with the vegetable oil in a skillet big enough to eventually hold all the meat and quickly fry the slices of bread until nicely browned on both sides. Remove and set aside.

7. Now add the other 1 1/2 Tbs of butter and sauté the tournedos over high heat for about 4 minutes per side for rare (my suggestion) or around 5 for medium-rare. Don’t go past this for meat this good! When they’re done, remove them from the pan and place in a warm oven (200°).

8. Place the foie gras into the skillet and sauté them for a generous minute on each side over high heat. They’re fragile, so handle them carefully. When they’re done, place one on each of the tournedos. Now is the time to heat the plates on which you’re going to serve this!

9. Discard all the fat from the skillet, and add the Madeira to the skillet (having reduced the heat to medium). Scrape up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan as you stir. Add the demi-glacé and bring it to a boil quickly. Remove from the heat and melt in the last tablespoon of butter to finish the sauce. Now check the sauce for seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste.

10. Working quickly, on the heated plates, place the vegetables and potatoes on one half, and one of the croutons in the middle of the other half. Top each crouton with a tournedo and its slice of foie gras, then garnish with a few slices of truffle and spoon an equal portion of sauce over each. Serve immediately and be prepared for the accolades.

If you’re cooking something this good, do yourself a favor and have an excellent bordeaux would be the perfect wine to serve with it.

Let someone else clear the table and do the dishes!

No comments: