My Citizens, today I am delighted to share with you a recipe WORTHY of the legend, the veritable Croesus of cuisine that is TFD! – the carpetbag steak! Few recipes in my arsenal are as Lucullan as this one! 🙂 I have chosen to name my version of this classic recipe after the legendary gourmand and man about town – Diamond Jim Brady (more about him later).
As noted on askabutcher.proboards.com:
The history of carpetbag steak presents an complicated knot of food lore, culinary history and improbable summations. Food historians generally agree that this dish (thick steak stuffed with oysters) was probably invented in America by a popular chef/restaurant sometime in the first half of the twentieth century. Australians have adopted this recipe, though do not make claims for its invention.
Oyster houses and steak houses (separately, not together!) and were all the rage of the rich and wealthy at the turn of the last century. They sprung up everywhere rich diners liked to eat, often combining the restaurant’s namesake with other popular foods of the day. It is possible Rector’s Oyster House in Chicago and Delmonico’s in New York served carpetbag steak, though we have no printed evidence [yet!] to support this theory.
“The oyster house had far outgrown its original simple design and function…”The real Oyster House is a specialized restaurant,” explained the author of an 1897 souvenir booklet about Rector’s Oyster House in Chicago, “the specialties of which are, in general, sea-food, game, salads, certain delicatessen, and the choicest wines, brandies and ales. In greater detail it is a place where, in their season, the finest and freshest oysters of a dozen varieties are to be found…”
—America Eats Out, John Mariani [William Morrow:New York] 1991 (p.55-6)
Culinary evidence confirms the American tradition of combining oysters and beef steak was practiced in the late 19th century. Oysters were considered a luxury item and were combined with many different foods. Early oyster and beef combinations in American cook books typically “smothered” thick steaks with oysters. There is no mention of a pocket or filling. Food historians generally attribute the first printed recipe for “Carpetbag steak” to Louis Diat, 1941.
This is what the food historians have to say on the subject:
A grilled steak of beef into which is cut a pocket enclosing a stuffing of oysters. The name derives from the handbag for travelers that was popular from about 1840 to 1870. The dish resembles the sack like bag with its top closure. There does not seem to be any specific association with an American slang term, “carpetbagger,” for a hated post-Civil War opportunist who took advantage of both white and black southerners politically and economically. In fact, the carpet bag steak is much more popular in Australia and is only mentioned for the first time in American print in 1941 in Louis Diat’s Cooking a la Ritz. Although there is no proof the dish originated at Chasen’s restaurant in Los Angeles, which opened in 1936, it did become one of the restaurant’s signature dishes.”
—Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, John F. Mariani [Lebhar-Friedman:New York] 1999 (p. 59)
“Though popular in Australia, this unusual steak stuffed with oysters is apparently of American origin. It takes it name from the cloth satchel travelers used around the time of the Civil War. Just before the turn of the century, when broiled steaks were coming into vogue, a popular way to serve them was under a coverlet of oysters. This recipe simply takes that late-nineteenth-century recipe one step further. Who’s responsible? Perhaps Chasen’s restaurant, which opened in Hollywood in 1936 (and closed in 1995). Carpetbagger Steak, as Chasen’s called it, was a house specialty. Or was Louis Diat, the creator? He includes this recipe for it in Cooking a la Ritz .”
—American Century Cookbook: The Most Popular Recipes of the 20th Century, Jean Anderson [Clarkson Potter:New York] 1997 (p. 92)
“I have, over the years, received more requests for carpetbag steak than almost any other dish, and I suspect much of its appeal has to do with the name, which has a fascinating ring. I own few Australian cookbooks and cannot find the recipe in any of them. The most logical recipe I have ever found appeared thirty years ago in the late Helen Evan Brown’s The West Coast Cook Book …An Australian who now lives in Manhattan…wrote, quoting a passage from The Captain Cook Book: Two Hundred Years of Australian Cooking, by Babette Hayes: “The carpetbag steak is now a truly Australian dish although it came to us from the U.S. of A. A thick chunk of tender sirloin, rump or fillet steak, which has a pocket cut in the middle, is stuffed with oysters and then fried to the required degree of doneness. That’s the basic recipe. There are many variations: add chopped mushrooms, onions, herbs, or lemon juice.” She says that the name probably derives from the term for a one-pound note in Australia, which is “carpet,” and “bag” from the term “in the bag,” meaning a winner.”
—The New York Times Food Encyclopedia, Craig Claiborne [Times Books:New York] 1985 (p. 71)
CARPETBAG STEAK & AUSTRALIA
The part of this puzzle food historians are not able to solve is who first introduced the carpetbag steak to Australia and when. The Down Under Cookbook: An Authentic Guide to Australian Cooking and Eating Traditions, Graeme Newman  does not include a recipe for carpet bag steak. It does include a recipe for “Pocket Steak Melbourne,” which is the same idea but without the oysters. Michael Symons, Australian culinary history expert, believes the recipe can be traced in print to 1899:
“Jean Rutledge’s highly successful Goulburn Cookery Book, first appearing in 1899, was designed to meet a “want, especially among the women in the bush, who have often to teach inexperienced maids, and would be glad of accurate recipes.” Any dish, she said, much be “mixed with brains.”…Out of approximately 1,000 recipes, local additions did not exceed a kangaroo recipe, a couple of new names for simple meat dishes, “Carpet Bag a la Colchester…”
—-One Continious Picnic: A History of Eating in Australia, Michael Symons, [Penguin:Victoria] 1984 (p. 54)
[NOTE: Mr. Symons says this about the recipe’s origin: “Carpetbag Steak, beef stuffed with oysters, a combination also occurring in the United States, although I have not confirmed where it originated.” –(p. 137)]
As for Diamond Jim:
James Buchanan Brady (August 12, 1856 – April 13, 1917), also known as Diamond Jim Brady, was an American businessman, financier and philanthropist of the Gilded Age.
Known for his penchant for jewels, especially diamonds, he collected precious stones and jewelry in excess of US$2 million (equivalent to approximately $58,832,000 in 2017 dollars).
Brady’s enormous appetite was as legendary as his wealth. It was not unusual, according to the legend, for Brady to eat enough food for ten people at a sitting. George Rector, owner of a favorite restaurant, described Brady as “the best 25 customers I ever had”.
For breakfast, he would eat “vast quantities of hominy, eggs, cornbread, muffins, flapjacks, chops, fried potatoes, beefsteak, washing it all down with a gallon of fresh orange juice”. A mid-morning snack would consist of “two or three dozen clams or Lynnhaven oysters”. Luncheon would consist of “shellfish…two or three deviled crabs, a brace of boiled lobsters, a joint of beef, and an enormous salad”.
He would also include a dessert of “several pieces of homemade pie” and more orange juice. Brady would take afternoon tea, which consisted of “another platter of seafood, accompanied by two or three bottles of lemon soda”.
Dinner was the main meal of the day, taken at Rector’s Restaurant. It usually comprised “two or three dozens oysters, six crabs, and two bowls of green turtle soup. Then in sumptuous procession came six or seven lobsters, two canvasback ducks, a double portion of terrapin, sirloin steak, vegetables, and for dessert a platter of French pastries.” Brady would even include two pounds of chocolate candy to finish off the meal.
Brady died in his sleep on April 13, 1917, of a heart attack. When his body was examined, doctors discovered that his stomach was six times the size of that of an average person.
Citizens, my version of the classic recipe really goes all out for luxury and decadence, worthy of Diamond Jim himself – I specify wagyu beef club steaks, the proper cut for this recipe (despite all the fillet mignon versions you will see). You should use American Wagyu (my choice, as it’s less fatty) or just plain old club steaks – ask your butcher to cut them for you.
In a nod to the classic tournedos rossini, I wrap each piece of meat in bacon and add thinly-sliced truffle to the bacon to help perfume the meat with its unmatched essence. Lastly, I specify café de Paris butter, a compound butter that is fiercely complex to make and equally fierce in its unmatched flavor! Recipe is here, or just use regular top-quality butter in its place.
The umami factor thanks to the oysters (and my use of oyster sauce as well) is simply off the charts! 🙂 Serve this only to the most special of family and friends!
Battle on – The Generalissimo
The Hirshon ‘Diamond Jim’ Carpetbag Steak