Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Noble cuts

The dining room of the ‘Montmartre’ restaurant in Bruyères-et-Montbérault had a low ceiling with heavy wooden beams. Groups of two or three tables were separated by intricate wrought iron see-through screens and the tablecloths were of fine linen. In the open fireplace a sizzling log fire was burning under a wrought iron grill. There were a lot of green plants; some real, some made of plastic. The whole interior was very rustic, nothing like the sober designer restaurants we see so much nowadays. This was the eighties, remember!

The menu card came in a sturdy folder made of imitation leather. We browsed through it and were particularly interested in the page presenting a delectable grilled meat selection. ‘Onglet’, ‘Rumsteck’, ‘Filet’, … The landlord definitely knew were to get good beef. There was one cut, however, that caught our attention: ‘faux-filet’. This was something we had never heard of. When the landlord came to take our order, we asked him what it was. His answer, however short it was, convinced us to try this noble cut of meat. 

The faux-filet was grilled on the open wood fire filling the whole dining room with its tantalizing aroma. It came, medium rare, with a generous helping of spicy garden beans and a soft creamy sauce with coarsely grated white pepper corns. It was one of those utterly delicious meals that one never forgets. I even remember drinking a red Passetoutgrain’ with it. Passetoutgrain is a ‘light-hearted’ Burgundy made of at least 1/3 of Pinot noir grapes which are typical for the Burgundy region, and 2/3 of Gamay grapes. The latter are used to make the fruity Beaujolais wines. The grapes are fermented together and result in a rather ordinary, yet very fruity and easy-to-drink wine.

As for the faux-filet, it took me years and years to find a similar cut here in Belgium, where it is sold as ‘contre-filet’. It’s the second most noble cut of the beef; the filet being the finest morsel. Its ‘Belgian’ name is very appropriate as this piece of meat is located ‘contre le filet’ (next to the filet). It distinguishes itself by its shape, its texture, its tenderness and its taste. The texture is similar to that of the entre-côte, but the contre-filet is smaller and contains less fat.

The story goes that the English King Henry VIII liked the faux-filet or contre-filet so much that he even gave it the title of ‘Sir’. Hence the ‘loin’ became known as ‘Sirloin’.

According to the internet the Montmartre restaurant still exists. You’ll find it on the corner of the Avenue de la Porte de Laon and the Avenue de Verdun, in the tiny village of Bruyères-et-Montbérault, some 7 km south of Laon. It has probably changed hands since our visit in the 80ies, though …

And now it's time to rush into my kitchen to prepare Sunday lunch. On the menu: pork roast with boiled potatoes and cauliflower in bechamel sauce!


Jean said...

Just as I thought !!

And fancy that - the origin of the word sirloin. I will amaze and impress my friends and family with this fact !! Thanks for the info.

Nadege said...

Je me leche les babines Martine, and it is only 8 am here.

Anonymous said...

Meat cuts are so different here than in the US. But I do like faux- and realy filets.
The restaurant sounded just wonderful.

ladybird said...

Jean, You're welcome. I was quite surprised myself when I found the info about the sirloin on the internet :)

Nadege, It was delicious, but maybe not the ideal meal to have for breakfast ;)

Dedene, If you were to come to Belgium you would be surprised to find that there is even a difference between meat cuts in Belgium and France. That's why it took me so long to find a 'faux-filet' here.

Leon and Sue Sims said...

In Australia, I'm pretty sure that it's what we call porterhouse cut. Here it is a premium and tender cut.
We have had difficulty in finding tender tasty cuts of beef in France. I'm sure it's because we haven't been sure of what to ask for. Also I believe there is a difference in whether meat is aged or not. Would really like to know what the differences are.
Faux fillet was never successful for us, but could easily be because of where we purchased it.

Mark said...

See, if you would have been my teacher in school, I would have actually paid attention. Like Jean above, I now need to go and show-off my new knowledge.
Your Friend, m.

Ken Broadhurst said...

Very interesting, Martine. I think a lot of Americans (and maybe Australians?) find French beef to be very lean and even tough, because the cattle are fed grass and not so much corn or other grains. American beef is fattier, and also full of growth hormones. Do you see a general difference between the beef you get in Belgium and what you get in France?

ladybird said...

Sue, Last year we bought faux-filet at the market in Amboise and it was very good. And my local butcher here in Belgium sells excellent contre-filet too. In general, I've been told that you should always take beef out of the fridge at least one hour before cooking it. When it's too cold when you put in the skillet or on the BBQ the meat will 'have a fit' and tighten up, making is tough and tasteless. You should also let it rest for about 5 to 10 minutes (covered in aluminium foil) before serving it.
Aging appears to be important too, but I have no idea about the time it takes ...

Mark, I wouldn't have been a good teacher because, unlike you, I have no patience with kids :). Have fun showing-off your new knowledge!

Ken, In general I'd say that beef looks less 'rustic' in Belgium than in France ... and has even less fat. The colour is different too: more bright red instead of the almost burgundy red in France. I'm told it has to to with the artificial light butchers use here. But I think it has also something to do with the aging.
At first I felt useasy about buying meat in France, but now I'm used to it. Especially as the taste is so good.