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09/29/2012

~ Some Beef Wellington Facts & Some Fiction Too! ~

IMG_2081Two days ago I posted my recipe for ~ My Love Affair with:  Individual Beef Wellingtons ~ and you can find it by clicking into Categories 3 or 21.   I was prompted to post this elaborate and festive dish at this time of year (rather than around Christmas or New Years) because a reader asked if I had or could recommend a recipe for it that he could make to surprise his wife on her birthday in October.  As I was posting it, with all of my step-by-step photos and detailed instructions, I decided to save my usual "A bit about (enter the name of a dish or an ingredient here)" because the history and lore is so lengthy.  I decided it deserved its own post!

IMG_2012If you're into foodie history, like I am, and you happen to be looking for an "original" recipe for beef Wellington, let me save you some time:  there isn't one!

Historians agree that it was named for Arthur Wellesley, the First Duke of Wellington, the soldier that defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815.  Some sources claim that the first Wellington contained truffle paste, instead of mushrooms, and, state the filet was wrapped in an ordinary pie pastry-type dough, not puff pastry.  The story I find the most credible comes from The Food Timeline which states:  

"Almost certainly the pastry covering was a mere mixture of flour and water wrapped around an uncooked tenderloin so that it would roast without browning, which was a culinary fad of the era.  In time, the covering became puff pastry.  Then the chefs on the continent, with their oft-noted penchant for lily-guilding, inserted a layer of truffles and pate de foie gras."

1943bThis seems quite reasonable to me, since back in the 18th century, kitchen appliances were often nothing more than a fireplace... which was an almost  impossible to control source of extreme heat. Wrapping a roast in an airtight, edible covering, which would allow it to bake/cook in its own juices, was, for lack of a better word, genius.  A cook or a chef who could present a moist, juicy, flavorful piece of beef would be worth every cent he or she was paid!

IMG_2229Fast forward in time to America after WWII.  Beef Wellington first appeared on page 264 of The Gourmet Cookbook, Volume II in 1957.  In the 1960's, beef Wellington became the "talk of the dinner party circuit", when Jack and Jackie Kennedy served classic "Filet de Boeuf en Croute" prepared by White House (French) Chef Rene Verdon.

IMG_2236During Richard Nixon's tenure as President, he was so fond of it, he had White House Chef Henry Haller serve it at every state dinner!  

Everyone who was anyone trying to keep-up-with-the-Jones at the time was serving this rich, dramatic, expensive gourmet delight at their dinner party.  It defined "refined" and "gourmet" at the time:

Gourmet Magazine proclaimed it to be the "beef Wellington era"!

IMG_2070My love affair with individual beef Wellingtons began in 1980.  I was 25-years old.  To read my tale about this decadent dish, and get my recipe too, just scroll below, or click into Categories 3 or 21!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)

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