Do you want to know what it really is, or what you’ll get if you order châteaubriand in a restaurant?
Châteaubriand is a small roast extravagantly cut from the center of the beef tenderloin. In the 200 years since it was first prepared by the Vicomte de Châteaubriand’s chef, Montmireil, we seem to have lost it’s exact dimensions. Some people will tell you that it can be as little as 1-1/2 inches thick, which is essentially a tenderloin steak, and not châteaubriand. There is even disagreement in really old cookbooks, though, in which the meat ranges from three to five inches thick, and weighs 12 to 16 ounces. It should serve two to three.
Because of its thickness, cooking châteaubriand requires care, to avoid overcooking the outside while leaving the center raw. Legend has it that Montmireil placed his master’s roast between two other cuts of tenderloin, burnt both the outside meats to a crisp, and threw them away, leaving the Vicomte’s portion evenly pink through and through. (We often ask ourselves, where all the really innovative chef’s have gone?)
For our purposes, you would roast the meat in a hot oven, or grill it or broil it (turning occasionally), until it reached an internal temperature of 130°F (54°C), which, after a short rest, would produce a medium-rare châteaubriand.
Châteaubriand was traditionally served with château potatoes (peeled potatoes cut into the shape of large olives (we’re not kidding), parboiled, and cooked in butter on top of the stove or in a medium oven), and sauce châteaubriand. For the last hundred years or so, the few people that prepare châteaubriand have opted for the more mainstream béarnaise sauce instead.
If you order châteaubriand from a restaurant menu, you will most likely be served a porterhouse steak.