Filet Mignon's Name Wasn't Coined By The French

Filet mignon is the most storied of steaks; sometimes it is even called the "King of Steaks" due to its juicy tenderness (per Seven Sons). This is a result of how little connective tissue there is in the tenderloin in comparison to other steak cuts. But despite its exalted status among steaks and toney French name, filet mignon in reference to the beef tenderloin wasn't coined by French chefs or butchers. In France, the term refers to pork tenderloin, not its beef counterpart, according to Harry and David.

So, if filet mignon as it refers to beef tenderloin wasn't coined by the French, where did the name come from? The words are French, after all, and literally translate to dainty filet, notes The Tender Filet. The pronunciation is French as well. But whereas Americans refer to beef tenderloin as filet mignon, the French call the exact same cut tournedos. Confusing, huh?

There actually is a simple explanation. The term filet mignon for beef tenderloin was first coined by a certain American writer.

A famous writer's link to steak

Acclaimed American writer WIlliam Sydney Porter, was better known by the pen name O. Henry, was responsible for the first reference of filet mignon in relation to the cut of beef. Famous for his surprise endings, O. Henry was among the most popular short story writers of the early 20th century, according to American Literature. His second collection of stories, "The Four Million," was published in 1906. It contained some of his most famous tales, including "The Gift of the Magi." This collection also has the first known reference to filet mignon as a term referring to beef tenderloin, states Harry and David.

In the short story, "A Service of Love," one of O. Henry's characters expresses a desire to eat "filet mignon with champignons" after coming into a large sum of money. O. Henry helped to foster the idea that filet mignon was expensive and synonymous with luxury, notes National Today; an image which has continued into the present day. So think of O. Henry the next time you're cutting into a tender beef tenderloin, or during the public celebration of the steak cut for National Filet Mignon Day on August 13.