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.
What is Tournedos Rossini? The easy answer is a classic dish of filet mignon, foie gras, black truffles, and Madeira sauce, named for the composer. But the exact origins of Tournedos Rossini, like nearly every classic dish we have examined, are unclear. Was it Marie-Antoine Carême, that high priest of grande cuisine, or Casimir Moisson, the chef at Maison Dorée, that first made this dish? Or the great Escoffier?
The birth of Tournedos Rossini is also said to have occurred at the Café Anglais in Paris. Chef Adolphe Dugléré was dubbed “Mozart of the Kitchen” by Rossini, and the story goes that the chef was preparing a filet table side for him while trying to protect the secrets of his technique. Rossini reportedly said, “Eh bien, faites-le tourné de l’autre coté, tournez-moi le dos!” (“Alright, do it somewhere else. Turn your back on me!”). And so, in French, the phrase “to turn one’s back” — tourner le dos — became tournedos. It’s a fun story, but almost certainly just that.
A Big Eater
What we know for certain is that Rossini was a legendary gourmand. His genius for composing opera was the only thing that kept him from a career in cuisine. He was prolific – writing 40 operas by the time he was 40 – in both fields. The Barber of Seville, his most famous opera, was written when he was just 24 years old. Many of his operas were penned on the edge of a very full table, between courses. Rossini loved to eat. And when he retired from writing operas at 40, he took up that occupation with a passion.
I know of no more admirable occupation than eating, that is really eating. Appetite is for the stomach what love is for the heart. The stomach is the conductor, who rules the grand orchestra of our passions, and rouses it to action. -Rossini
A Truffle Overture
Renowned across Europe for his appetite and attention to all things culinary, Rossini inspired many chefs to name dishes for him. One thing these recipes have in common is a luxurious ingredient: the truffle. In fact, today his name is almost synonymous with truffles. When you see Poached Eggs à la Rossini, Chicken à la Rossini, or Fillet of Sole à la Rossini, you can assume there will be truffles on the plate.
There is an amusing anecdote about Rossini’s favorite dish – truffled turkey – falling over the edge of a boat on a picnic. It is said that the loss of this meal was one of only three things in his life that brought the great composer to tears.
A Recipe for Two
While it seems elaborate, Tournedos Rossini is actually easy to make, and home cooks should not hesitate to try it. Searing steaks and foie gras slices is simple, and the truffle and Madeira sauce is a straight-forward pan sauce. Try our recipe for a special dinner at home for two – perhaps for Valentine’s Day, or another special occasion.
A Little More
To learn more about Rossini and his obsession with haute cuisine, check out this NPR post.
While you cook, listen to some Rossini. Here are just two of Rossini’s overtures – perhaps still the best known – to enjoy.
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