What Exactly Is A Chateaubriand?

It's not as common a dish as it used to be, but one of the fanciest — and most expensive — dishes you might ever encounter on a menu is a chateaubriand, usually served "for two." The fact that it's generally listed alongside steaks gives away the fact that it's also a steak, but what is it, exactly, and why is it called "chateaubriand"?

Like Delmonico steak, the chateaubriand is one of those cuts of steak that isn't named for a specific cut of meat, and its definition has also changed over the years. As legend has it, the chateaubriand was named after a French aristocrat named François-René de Chateaubriand, whose chef invented a method of cooking a large, boneless cut of beef by wrapping it in poor-quality steaks (sometimes recounted as the smaller end pieces from the filet), tying it up, grilling it until charred, and tossing the outer steaks. The perfectly-cooked inner roast was deemed the chateaubriand. (Perhaps appropriately for someone whose name has been attached to such an opulent dish, Chateaubriand was exiled during the French Revolution.".)

Today, a chateaubriand is generally agreed-upon to be a large center cut filet mignon, roasted and served alongside potatoes and a sauce (appropriately named chateaubriand sauce) usually made with shallots, beef or veal stock, white wine, tarragon, and butter. The legendary French chef Pierre Franey, in his recipe for The New York Times, suggests wrapping a 7-inch filet in cheesecloth, standing it on its end, and pounding it down until it's 1 1/2 inches thick, 6 inches in diameter, and round, then cooking it like a steak, but you don't see too many people doing that any more.

While the techniques may vary, any menu that includes a chateaubriand will take pains to prepare the dish well, and the results are typically delicious. So if you see chateaubriand on a menu and you can spring for it, we suggest you order it, because you'll receive a beautifully roasted filet mignon alongside a tasty French sauce and potatoes. Some places will even carve it tableside for you. Discover the 50 best steakhouses in America here.