Monday, 27 December 2010

Eat, drink and be merry

So it’s the winter of 1901. You’re in the dining car of the Stamboul train and it’s broken down in the middle of an Eastern European forest. Fat snowflakes swirl ever more thickly outside as darkness comes on. The big question: what are you going to order?

Few dishes are as satisfying as tournedos Rossini, a real Edwardian classic with its rich madeira sauce, truffles, fois gras, and thick steaks on a bed of croutons. Cholesterol? Don’t be a ninny. Your blood could be drained by the strigoii tomorrow, and then you’ll thirst forever, your stomach numb and cold; you’ll never drink wine, nor gorge on steak and foie gras either. Enjoy yourself while the heart still beats, for cold and dark press closely enough outside the windows.

The madeira sauce is one of the most important elements of this dish. It is based on a brown sauce, which needs to simmer for three hours but can be prepared the day before. The rest of the dish is quite quick.

The quantities given here will serve two good appetites.

2 thick slices fillet of beef
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoons oil
salt, freshly milled pepper
2 slices baguette (par-baked is best)
two 40g slices of tinned foie gras
1 truffle, very thinly sliced, fresh if possible

madeira sauce:100g button mushrooms, very thinly sliced
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
10 centiliters madeira (= 3.5 fluid ounces)
2 generous tablespoons double cream
1 tinned truffle, chopped, or truffle trimmings (plus juice from tin)
20 cl brown sauce (see below)

brown sauce:1/2 teaspoon lard
25g bacon, cut into thin strips
half an onion, cut into four
1/2 teaspoon flour
30 cl good dry white Burgundy, or red Burgundy or Beaujolais
30 cl good meat stock
a very little salt
1/4 teaspoon tomato puree
1/4 of a carrot, sliced
1/2 a clove of garlic, crushed
1 bouquet garni

1. First make the brown sauce - the quantities may seem very small but I have given the amount needed just for this recipe. In a small cast-iron pan melt the lard, and add the bacon and onion. Allow them to take color.

2. Remove the bacon and the onion, then stir the flour into the fat. Cook gently, allowing it to take a good all-over golden color.

3. Add the wine and leave to boil for 2 minutes.

4. Add all the other ingredients and put back the bacon and onion. Cook for a minimum of 2 hours on a very low heat, skimming occasionally, but 3 hours will give a better result. The sauce will reduce greatly, but you may need to add more water before the end of the cooking time.

5. Strain through a sieve.

Just before you cook the steaks:

1. Make the madeira sauce. Stew the mushrooms gently in the butter in a thick saucepan, and deglaze with half the madeira. Add 1 tablespoon of the cream and leave to boil for about 3 minutes.

2. Meanwhile melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a thick frying pan, and gently fry the bread on each side until golden brown. Sprinkle with salt and put aside in a warm place.

3. Back to the saucepan. Add the brown sauce, then the rest of the madeira, the chopped truffle and the truffle juice. Heat through to blend the flavors, then add the cream and keep warm.

To cook the steaks:Heat the butter and oil in the frying pan, then fry both sides of the steaks quickly over a high heat. They should ideally be served rare.

To serve:Place a piece of toasted bread on each plate. Spoon 1 tablespoon of the sauce over each. Place a steak on top, and on top of that a slice of foie gras, topped with a sliver of truffle. Cover with the rest of the sauce and serve very hot.

This dish goes well with the plainest of vegetables: peas, French beans, and plenty of mashed potatoes to mop up the sauce.


  1. It is indeed a mighty dish, and one that requires confidence and skill in the kitchen. If you do pull it off though your guests will be mightily impressed as the steak soaked in the rich sauce melts in the mouth complemented by the equally fine flavours of black truffle and foie gras. Just make sure to choose a really good wine to go with it, perhaps a high quality claret?

  2. Derm, if either of us should ever get hold of a Tardis, I propose an excursion back to 1890s London to sample the Cafe Royal version!

  3. A worthy proposal - sod the Daleks and all that guff, give me the heights of gastronomy through the ages! Next stop C-19th Paris!

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  5. Sandy's Tardis took off before she could comment! Hey, you guys can have a meal with Oscar Wilde - that surely beats Rusell T Davis any day.

  6. Having just read this and considered the ingredients, which do sound most alluring, I think that a Banoffee pie to round off would be the perfect final nail in the coffin.

  7. I think I put on 5 lbs just thinking about tournedos Rossini followed by banoffee pie!