La Belle Fanny
Fanny de Beauharnais
When Napoleon Bonaparte took Josephine de Beauharnais as his bride, he also took on her entire family. This was no small chore, as the Beauharnais clan boasted quite enough near-lunatics to make life exceedingly difficult. Two of Josephine's uncles were known to have spent huge sums of money in restaurants and bordellos, and one cousin, Jean Paul, specialized in seducing married women and then challenging their cuckolded husbands to duels. He was ru-mored to have slept with nearly a thousand women and to have sent one hundred and twenty-five of their husbands to their final resting places.
If there was a saving grace to the family, it was Fanny de Beauhar-nais, Josephine's aunt. A friend noted that "Fanny was equally devoted to good eating and good sex, and was willing to take either wherever she found them." The Goncourt brothers wrote that "although Fanny would welcome any capable male into her bed, even into her eighth decade she maintained a special place in her heart and her bed for sixteen year old boys."
Fanny was a poet, playwright and novelist, with literary pretensions that far outstretched her talents. She suffered a series of catastrophes at the Comédie Française and her books were, at best, objects of sometimes polite and sometimes not-so-polite ridicule. One of the few plays that did succeed was L'Aveugle Par Amour, valued today primarily because one of the extant copies once stood in Napo-leon's personal library and is decorated with a gold imprint of his coat of arms. It is also interesting to note that while Napoleon was in exile he forbade Josephine to visit him but received regular visits from Fanny.
Despite her misfortunes in the literary world, Fanny maintained a solid reputation as a hostess. "Although I am far from averse to the charms of the bedroom, I cannot help but prefer those of the well-set picnic table," she wrote. On one occasion, Fanny arranged a Sunday lawn luncheon for three friends. The repast consisted of two jellied pheasants from Tuscany, a pâté de foie gras made espe-cially for her in Strasbourg, two game pies from Aix-en-Provence, and several bottles of Spanish sparkling wine.
The first of the two dishes that follows was dedicated to Fanny in 1864 by one of the chefs at Paris' famed Bofinger restaurant. The restaurant, which is still owned by the same family, has changed little since its early days, and this dish is still offered on a regular basis. The second dish, a garnish intended for use with small cuts of meat, was dedicated to Fanny by the great Georges Auguste Escoffier.
Tournedos à la Beauharnaise
For the Beauharnaise sauce:
1 Tbsp shallots, chopped
1 sprig of thyme
1/4 bay leaf
3 Tbsp tarragon, chopped
2 Tbsp chervil, chopped
1/4 cup each vinegar and white wine
2 eggs, beaten lightly with 1 Tbsp water
1/2 cup butter, cut into 1/2" (1 cm) cubes
1/4-1/2 tsp lemon juice (optional)
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
For the tournedos:
4 tournedos (medallions of fillet of beef)
1/2 cup butter
24 new potatoes, peeled
1 Tbsp parsley, chopped finely
salt and pepper to taste
Prepare the sauce: In an enameled saucepan combine the shallots, thyme, bay leaf, 2 Tbsp of the tarragon and 1 Tbsp of the chervil. Add a pinch each of salt and pepper, pour over the vinegar and wine and bring to a boil. Continue to boil until reduced by two-thirds. Let cool.
To the saucepan add the eggs and, over a low flame, beat until the eggs begin to thicken. Immediately begin to add all but one small pat of the butter, in small pieces, whisking constantly. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper and, if desired, lemon juice and cay-enne pepper. Strain the sauce and then add the remaining tarragon and chervil. Dab with the remaining butter and keep warm in a double-boiler.
Prepare the main dish: In a flameproof casserole heat 5 Tbsp of the butter. To this add the potatoes. Season with salt and sauté until the potatoes are nearly tender. Transfer to an oven that has been preheated to medium-hot and cook until the potatoes are golden in color and are done through, shaking the casserole periodically dur-ing cooking. Sprinkle over with the parsley.
Season the tournedos with salt and pepper. In a large skillet heat the remaining butter to the point of fragrance and in this rapidly sauté the tournedos so that they will be nicely browned on the out-side and remain pink inside. Transfer to a preheated serving platter and garnish with the potatoes. Spoon over some of the Beauhar-naise sauce and serve the remaining sauce separately. (Serves 4)
Garniture à la Beauharnaise
This complex garnish consists of very small artichoke hearts filled with Beauharnaise sauce to which tarragon puree has been added. It is served with small potato balls that were browned in butter. The pan juices of the main dish, those diluted with Madeira wine and veal stock and the addition of chopped truffles, serve as the sauce. The garnish is generally used with large cuts of beef.