A Forbidden Steak Finds its Perfect Companion
Filet mignon pairs well with burgundy. Henner Zeller/ Used under Creative Commons2.0
L’chaim explores the filet mignon- burgundy pairing
L’chaim explores the filet mignon- burgundy pairing
The other day I was confronted with a most welcome challenge: pairing wine with filet mignon.
A good friend and neighbor, an Orthodox rabbi and a medical doctor, who adheres to Sephardic Jewish traditions, excitedly invited my family over for a filet mignon dinner to taste the product of Atara Foods, a brand-new kosher meat processing plant in Baltimore, Maryland, that processes “Glatt and Beth-Yosef L'amehadrin” meat under the kashrut supervision of both the Baltimore-based Star-K and the Badatz Mekor Haim under the leadership of Rabbi Eliyahu Ben Haim of NY.
As an Orthodox Ashkenazi Jew, I only had a vague sense of what filet mignon actually was. Let me explain why.
After a kosher species of animal is properly slaughtered and inspected, it still may not be consumed until certain large blood vessels, the sciatic nerve (gid hanasheh in Hebrew), and the chailev (Hebrew for the prohibited fats of tallow or suet; see Leviticus 7:25) are removed. The process of removing these forbidden parts of the animal is known as porging (nikkur in Hebrew or traibering in Yiddish). There are other bits of the animal that also must be removed because of their proximity or similarity to, contact with, or dependence upon chailev. The meat must also be salted and washed to purge the blood.
In the United States, all cuts of beef are identified based on a chart that splits beef carcasses along the axis of symmetry into “halves,” which are then split across into front and back “quarters”—known as the forequarters and hindquarters.
Kosher butchers in the US sell meats from the forequarter of the animal (chuck, brisket, rib, plate, foreshank), and almost never from the hindquarter (loin, round, flank, hindshank). This is because porging in the forequarters is fairly straightforward and comparatively easier than in the hindquarters.
The filet mignon is a steak cut of beef taken from the smaller conical shaped end of the beef tenderloin, which is an oblong shaped muscle that runs along both sides of the spine, all of which is in the animal’s hindquarters.
Largely because of the economics of kosher meat, Ashkenazi kosher meat processors have largely abandoned the effort of porging the hindquarters of beef—selling it off instead to the non-kosher market. This happened in the Sephardic world too, but to a lesser extent. Today porging the hindquarters is practiced in Israel under Sephardic supervision as well as under the Ashkenazi rabbinate. In the United States, however, such hindquarter porging is only done under Sephardic supervision.
Fortunately, the launch of Atara Foods under dual Ashkenazi and Sephardi supervision means there is now another source for large-scale Sephardic hindquarter porging —and while the Ashkenazi supervision doesn’t extend to the hindquarter processing, with any luck the Ashkenazim will over time be motivated to take up the practice.
After all, Rabbi Dr. Ari Zivotofsky once noted in an article on porging for the OU’s Jewish Action magazine (the Fall 5767/2006 issue): “According to Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler, in both his father’s hometown of Kamenitz and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein’s hometown of Luban, Belarus (where Rav Moshe’s father-in-law was the shochet and menakker), nikkur was performed in the early twentieth century [amongst Ashkenazim]. People did not stop practicing nikkur because of a ban or custom. Rav Moshe states this very clearly (Iggerot Moshe YD:2:42; pp. 56-57). In his opinion nikkur was not regularly practiced in recent years because butchers didn’t want to expend the effort, and there were enough non-Jews to purchase the meat.”
In a footnote he added, “Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler reports (telephone conversation with the author, 26 July 2005) that Rav Moshe would often comment when eating meat at the Tendler household on yom tov [a Jewish holiday] that it just wasn’t the same as the tasty hindquarter meat they had in the old country.”
In that same article, Rabbi Dr. Zivotofsky also draws attention to Rav Moshe Feinstein’s halachic ruling (Iggerot Moshe OC 5:28) which “states categorically that it is a grave sin to cause a section of the Torah to be forgotten even if it will not lead to the violation of any prohibitions. Certainly to forget all of the laws of nikkur would fall under this sin. Doing so would also make it impossible to reinstitute the korban Pesach, which cannot be properly prepared without knowing how to remove the chailev and the gid hanasheh.”
Given the contemporary foodie focus in the kosher world, it seems that conditions are ripe for a return to the traditions of yesteryear, and the resurgence of the practice of Ashkenazi porging of the hindquarters. Atara Foods, with its dual supervision, might yet prove the key to launching a new and much desired kosher foodie renaissance. Based on what I’ve tasted so far, I can’t but fully agree with Rabbi Moshe Feinstein that the beef hindquarter cuts of meat are tastier and more flavorful than the forequarter cuts.
After seeking a little guidance from one of my sommelier guidebooks, I quickly decided on a wine which proved to be a great pairing with my first taste of filet mignon:
Domaine Gachot-Monot, Bourgogne (Burgundy, France), 2010 ($34; imported by Rashbi Wines): This lovely Bourgogne rouge is vibrant, fresh, and fruity; a great working man’s Burgundy, with proper Bourgogne rouge characteristics of pungent farmyard on the nose, leading to a surprisingly rich mouthful of typical cherry and raspberry fruit. The slightly grippy tannins help drive the long finish home, while preparing the appetite for another bite.
The wine’s rich and earthy core beautifully matched the filet mignon, which was perfectly cooked using the sous vide (French for under vacuum) method, and then browned in a hot pan right before serving. L’Chaim!