The classics sometimes get a bad name, associated with stuffy old restaurants that are no longer stylish, or even in existence. But there are reasons that these recipes became classics. In this series we will share some of those stories, and our versions of the recipes so that you can rediscover these dishes at home. After all, everything old is new again.
Beef Wellington: Named for a Duke… Or Not?
It is often assumed that this dish is named for the Duke of Wellington, either in honor of his victory over the French at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, or because he liked to eat it before going into battle. Neither seem to be true.
However, culinary history amply demonstrates that beef was wrapped in pastry, for instance the French specialty, filet de bœuf en croûte, long before the early 19th century. In fact, meat was often baked in pastry because oven temperatures were hard to regulate; protecting the meat with a layer of pastry kept it moist.
This article by Leah Hyslop in The Telegraph traces the history; she searched high and low for a 19th century reference to Beef Wellington in British cookery books, and could not find one. Although Beef Wellington is considered a quintessentially British recipe, the name Wellington applied to beef wrapped in pastry with foie gras and mushrooms doesn’t appear until 1903, and it’s in the Los Angeles Times, of all places.
How the dish so well-known and long associated with British culinary history made it to the United States is still unclear. There is another reliable reference, from Diana Ashley’s 1939 guide to New York City restaurants Where to dine in ’39, and found in The Oxford English Dictionary: “Tenderloin of Beef Wellington. Larded tenderloin of beef. Roast very rare. Allow to cool and roll into pie crust. Slice in portions and serve with sauce Madire.”
Across the Pond
The 1960s was the heyday of Beef Wellington in the U.S., so as usual, all eyes turn to Julia Child. She devoted 5 pages in Mastering the Art of French Cooking to the recipe, with illustrations of the intricate process (and used brioche rather than puff pastry). She prepared the recipe on her TV show The French Chef in an episode that aired on New Year’s Day of 1965, and called it Filet of Beef Wellington. Can you imagine all the New Year’s resolutions made to cook this dish? It wasn’t long before Wellington became the “it” recipe for aspirational housewives looking to impress at dinner parties.
Another interesting fact: The White House Cookbook, published in 1968, contained a recipe for Beef Wellington, and the Kennedys (Jackie was a well-known Francophile, having studied in Paris) enjoyed this savory dish.
Duck Wellington, D’Artagnan Style
Wherever it came from Beef Wellington is one of those recipes that the modern cook doesn’t want to fuss over. But for those who like to try old things, and are lucky enough to enjoy the convenience of high-quality, store-bought puff pastry, this recipe is really not so daunting.
Rather than using beef tenderloin, our Wellington is stuffed with duck breast, which makes it a smaller project, and suitable for feeding two people. Historic food blogger Deana Sidney developed this recipe using our duck magret, mousse of foie gras, black truffle butter and Armagnac. Because if a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing with Armagnac.
Try it yourself and let us know how it goes. Tag @dartagnanfoods on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and show us the delicious results.