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by Tim Hayward from Steak: The Whole Story

This comprehensive steak recipe for Chateaubriand from Tim Hayward uses a reverse sear method to ensure it's perfectly cooked. Serve with a classic Demi-glace for an impressive date night meal.

From the book

Tim Hayward


The chateaubriand is going to cause us some trouble. Most of us know it from contemporary menus as the most expensive piece of meat on offer. But, historically, it’s been the term for a particular cut of meat, a method of cooking and a sauce. So, let’s start from the beginning.

I’d always imagined that the name ‘chateaubriand’ came from some Parisian bon viveur who’d had his favourite steak named after him, but it turns out that that’s not entirely true. François-René de Chateaubriand was a bit of a Byronic character, who had failed to kill himself as a teenager and then gone on to be a writer, historian, diplomat and politician. Though his life was full and his achievements great – he considered himself the greatest lover of his age, though no corroborating testimony survives – there’s little evidence that he was keen on his nosh save the one steak they named after him. This strange link is investigated in Kettner’s Book of the Table (1877):

‘A chateaubriand is cut from the best part of the fillet, and is nearly twice the ordinary thickness of steak: but is this all? The thickness of the steak involves a peculiar method of cooking it. It is so thick that by the ordinary method it might be burnt on the surface when quite raw inside; and there- fore – though the new method is neglected and is even forgotten very much – it was put upon the fire between two other slices of beef, which, if burnt upon the grill, could have been thrown away.’

What on earth was that all about? Is the fierce searing going to drive all the fantastic juices of the cheap steaks into a spectacularly tender piece of fillet? And what’s this got to do with our guy Francois René? It goes on:

‘It may still be asked, what has this to do with chateaubriand, that his name should be attached to a steak so prepared? Here we come into a region of culpable levity. Chateaubriand published his most famous work under the name of Le Genie du Christianisme (The Spirit of Christianity). The profane wits of the kitchen thought that a good steak sent to the fire between two malefactor steaks was a fair parody of the Genie du Christianisme. If I remember rightly, it was at Champeaux in the Place de la Bourse that this eccentric idea took form and burst upon Paris.’

These days, a thick, rounded ‘cushion’ of meat from the head of the fillet is usually marked on the slab as a chateaubriand.

I’ve actually tried the sacrificial steaks trick, wrapping a thick fillet in two cheap rumps and grilling it at the sort of terrifying heat I could only really obtain

in a Kamado-style charcoal grill, cranked to maximum. As soon as the core temperature reached 56°C (133°F), I whipped it off the heat and pulled off the steak wrappers, which had carbonized on the outside as expected, but which certainly hadn’t imparted any goodness into the fillet. In fact, the main steak was a decent medium-rare throughout but just lacked any Maillard crust on the exterior. Kettner doesn’t record whether the ‘original’ chateaubriand was finished with a quick pan-sear or another fast pass over the hot coals, but that’s what I did, and the result was, indeed, fantastic.

What was most exciting, though, was the realization that the most legendary, decadent, high-status cooking method in the history of steak was actually a perfect reverse sear (see page 152).

Kettner does leave us with one other tantalizing hint. Not quite a whole recipe, but helpful, nonetheless:

‘The peculiarity of the steak is in its thickness, and in the way of broiling it; but sometimes also it is served with a peculiar sauce, namely, Spanish sauce diluted with white wine, then considerably reduced and at the moment of serving enriched with a pat of maître d’hôtel butter.’

Hmmm. We’ve seen that somewhere before. ‘Espagnole’ mother sauce with added wine that is then considerably reduced is demi-glace… which we might just find in the freezer next to the maître d’hôtel butter.

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1 chateaubriand steak, large enough to serve two people
375ml (12½ fl oz) dry white wine
2 shallots, minced
10 black peppercorns
1 tarragon sprig (or thyme if you prefer it), leaves picked and finely chopped and stems reserved
200ml (7 fl oz) Demi-glace (see page 271 of Steak)
50g (1¾ oz) butter
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


The night before you want to cook, season the meat all over with salt and place on a wire rack set over a tray. Transfer to the fridge to rest overnight, uncovered.

The next day, preheat the oven to 120°C (250°F/Gas ½). Transfer the steak to a roasting tin and roast in the oven until the core temperature reaches 56°C (133°F).

While the steak is cooking, put the wine, shallots, peppercorns and tarragon stems into a small saucepan and simmer until reduced to 50ml (1¾fl oz).

When the meat hits the target temperature, remove it from the oven. Pour any juices into the saucepan with the reduced wine and add the demi-glace. Allow to simmer gently.

Heat a dry cast-iron frying pan over a high heat until it’s as hot as you can get it, then sear the steak aggressively on both sides. Go for as dark a crust as you can, but don’t faff about. The meat shouldn’t be in the pan for longer than about 4 minutes and it should be moving for most of that time. Pull it while it’s still a little pale rather than overcook it.

A reverse seared steak doesn’t really benefit from resting but I usually let it sit a couple of minutes while I finish the sauce.

Pass the sauce through a sieve, then whisk in the butter and stir through the finely chopped tarragon leaves. Serve the sauce separately in a sauceboat.


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