The Food Almanac: Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Staff Writer
It's National Filet Mignon Day!

Red Marble Steaks

Food Calendar
It is National Filet Mignon Day. Far and away the most popular cut of beef in restaurants, it accounts for over half of the steak orders in steakhouses. With good reasons. A filet is the tenderest cut of beef. Even in the lower grades, a filet is rarely tough. Which is a good thing, because the lower grades of filet mignon are often served, even in the upscale steakhouses.

Properly, a filet mignon is cut from the center half of the tenderloin roast. The words translate idiomatically and accurately as "thick, beautiful slice." It is that, unless whoever cut the steak left all the inferior meat that surrounds a filet. It's nice to see some marbling of fat in the interior of a filet, but it's not as crucial to flavor or tenderness as it is in a strip sirloin. Nor do many filets undergo aging, especially dry aging.

The quality criteria for filet, in my opinion, are more about the cut than the grade. The best filets are cut from the narrower end of the tenderloin. This requires that they be cut a bit thicker, into a beer-can shape, allowing the broiler to blast the steak with a lot of heat. The outside chars here and there while leaving the center juicy and rare. Sometimes it's necessary to order a bigger than normal filet to get that shape, but it's worth it, and you can split it.

Although I'm a sirloin strip man, a filet like that is an exciting steak indeed. I find the best filets mignon come from Keith Young's Steakhouse, Ruth's Chris, Mr. John's, Dickie Brennan's, and Morton's. But always tell them how you want the steak to look--tall and slender.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez
Filets mignon are for wimps. Who can be spotted by their use of the plural "filets mignon."

Gourmet Gazetteer
Steak Lake is in the northeast corner of Minnesota, the Land of Lakes. There are certainly lots of them around Steak Lake, one of countless small lakes scraped into the hills by departed glaciers. It's in the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area, about twenty miles north of the north shore of Lake Superior. Better bring food or fishing tackle. Failing that, it's a thirteen-mile canoe paddle and portage to the Gunflint Lodge, where the stoves are going unless the place is already frozen in.

Delmonico steak, n.--In the absence of a time machine, it will never be known for certain what cut of beef was used for the Delmonico steak, the most famous dish at the Delmonico Restaurant in New York City. The original Delmonico was the first grand American restaurant, and its influence was so strong that many of its practices were taken as chiseled in stone by later restaurants--even those that used lesser ingredients as time went on. That said. all the evidence points to the boneless ribeye as the authentic Delmonico steak. It was cut thick and grilled simply; it was the tenderness of the cut and the absence of fat, bones, and connective tissue that made it so attractive. Perhaps because of the confusion, however, about the only restaurant that still uses the name is the reborn Delmonico in New York's Financial District.

Deft Dining Rule #779
A thick steak split at the table for two will always be better than a two thin steaks cooked separately.

Annals Of Food Writing
Today in 2004, Julia Child died. We don't like talking about death here, but that one hit us and all other American foodies hard. We thought she'd live forever, and she almost did--she was 92. Her fame continues to grow. Her birthday is August 15, so you can cheer up.

Music To Dine Elegantly By 
Pianist Sir George Shearing was born in England today in 1919. He is a superb stylist of the American popular songbook--Gershwin, Rodgers, Cole Porter, and that like. His music is flawlessness with a jazzy edge. You could listen to Shearing for hours without getting sick of it. I once heard him perform with Mel Torme--who often paired up with Shearing--at the Blue Room in its Fairmont days here in New Orleans. It was an evening of the greatest elegance. Maybe the Blue Room in the revived Roosevelt Hotel can bring back that kind of glitz.

Music To Drink Cheap Champagne By
Today is the birthday (1930) of legendary Hawaiian singer Don Ho. His big hit was Tiny Bubbles, about the effervescence of Champagne. Listening to the song, you get the impression that he didn't exactly require the finest Champagne in the word for it to make him feel fine.

The Saints
This is the feast day of St. Concordia, the a patron saint of nursing mothers and wetnurses. Mother's milk seems to confer great, long-lasting benefits on children who get it.

Food Namesakes
Vinegar Bend Mizell, a National League pitcher in the 1950s and 1960s, was born today in 1930. . . Cliff Fish, who was with the one-hit wonder band Paper Lace, got the beat today in 1949. . . Gwen Cheeseman, an American Olympic field hockey player, got the ball rolling today in 1951. . . Ralph Beermann, former Congressman from Nebraska, tapped into the Big Keg today in 1912. . .Fred "Chicken" Stanley, who played for the Yankees in the 1970s, stepped into The Big Box today in 1947.

Words To Cook By
"Many aspects of my method are based on my feeling and experience. For instance, I always give my bird a generous butter massage before I put it in the oven. Why? Because I think the chicken likes it—and, more important, I like to give it."--Julia Child.

Words To Drink By
"When you stop drinking, you have to deal with this marvelous personality that started you drinking in the first place."--Jimmy Breslin.