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What Separates the Filet Mignon from the Tournedos?

 I just bought Escoffier, the Complete Guide to the Art of Modern Cookery, and I have a question about the chapter on beef. His description of filets mignons is completely different from what I know of them. His description is as follows: "Filets mignons of beef are usually obtained from the tail end of the trimmed fillet of beef where it is too thin for cutting into tournedos. They are cut into fairly thin triangles, seasoned, dipped in melted butter and then into breadcrumbs." So does this mean when I buy a filet mignon, I'm actually buying a tournedos?

 You may not believe this, but not everyone takes Auguste Escoffier's statements as gospel anymore. Let's start with a lesson in vocabulary, shall we? What we in the United States call the tenderloin — the lower portion of the sirloin — the British call the fillet, and the French call le filet. That much everyone agrees on, but now the controversy begins.

The broad end of the tenderloin yields fairly large steaks, which are generally cut thin. The French call these le bifteck, while some people in this country call them châteaubriand, and the British call them fillet steaks. Escoffier says the châteaubriand actually comes from the center of the tenderloin, is cut very thick, and weighs in at 12 ounces or so. Some people in this country call this a châteaubriand roast. Tournedos, according to Escoffier, are smaller, round steaks cut from the narrower part of the tenderloin, and are likely to weigh 2-1/2 ounces each. Those folks in Britain and the US who believe that châteaubriand is what comes from the broad end of the tenderloin, also believe that the tournedos comes from the center or "eye" of the tenderloin.

In Escoffier's world, that left the small, flat end of the tenderloin for filet mignon. In this country, that may be called the tenderloin tip or rib end tip, and in Britain it may just be called the tail end. Nowadays, there may be no clear dividing line between where the tournedos ends and the filet mignon starts, but it is clear that no one really cares that Escoffier categorized the filet mignon only as the last little bit of the tenderloin.

In the United States, filet mignon is a well-known and well-loved term, while tournedos has limited name recognition. Is it any wonder that meat packagers use the better-known name for every cut from the center of the tenderloin almost to the tip (especially when it is sure to bring a better price), even if they use it inaccurately? This just looks like another case where modern-day marketing has triumphed over old-world Escoffier.

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