Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Beef Wellington

I found half a package of puff pastry in the freezer.  It was this or cherry turnovers, and I had not had red meat in a while.  I'll eat some of the cherries fresh, then make preserves of the rest.

The first time I had this dish was at Sir Winston's restaurant at the Queen Mary.  The meat was so tender I barely needed a knife.  I'm sure they used the best high-end ingredients and knew what they were doing because they made it every night.  While it would be fantastic to recreate that wonderful meal, I knew I would be satisfied with something at least as good as the Individual Meat Pastries I made a few years ago.

Beef Wellington is another one of those "classic" recipes that everyone thinks they know what it is, but everyone makes it different.  The fanciest, most expensive version I found used truffles for the mushrooms and foie gras for the paté.  I'm not shelling out for real truffles and foie gras is illegal in California.  The next step down used portobella mushrooms, chicken liver paté, and wrapped up the meat in prosciutto before the pastry.  I have no urge to make chicken liver anything.  (PTSD from my mom's chopped liver molds in the 80s.)  I could use canned paté, up to the word "canned" in reference to any kind of paté.  The Bible uses plain old white button mushrooms and yellow onions, with no meat other than the tenderloin.  What I came up with is somewhere in-between these recipes, using the better version of the less-expensive ingredients, like shallots instead of yellow onions and portobella mushrooms instead of button.  There's no way around the price of the beef, so it might as well be the best quality you can afford and let it be the star.  For the method, I'm following the Pepperidge Farm recipe, since it's their puff pastry.

The only problem I found while researching recipes is that they were all for a 10-serving loaf of an entire tenderloin.  For one thing, that takes two pieces of pastry and I had one, which totally defeats the purpose of this being a Pantry Project recipe.  The other thing was that I only wanted a four-serving recipe.  Just because this is a famous and fancy dish, it doesn't mean you can't serve it for a family meal.  It isn't even difficult, which I quickly realized as I broke down the steps.  It can make a weekday dinner special, if you have an afternoon free.  I had the butcher cut me a one-pound filet mignon (the steak made from the tenderloin) instead of tying together two smaller steaks.  You just have to catch them while they have a spare that hasn't been fabricated for the case.

I had to look up a culinary term I hadn't used before, duxelles.  It's a French term meaning that you sauté mushrooms and onions together in butter and use them to stuff something.  I'm rather proud of Pepperidge Farm for just telling you to cook the mixture and use it.

You will notice there is no salt in this recipe.  That is not a mistake.  The sauce has a whole bunch in the canned broth.  Put a salt shaker on the table.  Ideally, the ingredients will blend so well that the natural salts provide sufficient flavoring.

1 lb beef tenderloin or filet mignon steak
ground black pepper
oil for pan (do not use olive oil)
1 Tb butter (not margarine; salted butter ok)
1 C minced mushrooms
1/2 C minced shallot or onion, divided
Flour for dusting board
*1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, beaten with 1 Tb water
1 10 oz can beef consommé (beef broth may be substituted, but isn't as rich)
*1/2 C fortified wine such as marsala, madeira, or brandy
*1/2 tsp whole peppercorns

1.  The night before, place puff pastry in fridge to defrost.

Step 2
2.  2-1/2 hours before dinner, preheat oven to 425º.  Lightly grease a roasting pan with oil.  Place meat in pan and dust lightly with pepper.  Roast until thermometer reads 130º, which was 25 minutes in my oven.  Just check every 10 minutes until the meat hits 100º, then every five.  Pull from oven, cover, and refrigerate 1 hour, to let the juices settle and so the meat won't overcook when you put it back in to bake the pastry.

3.  Halfway through that hour, start the filling.  Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat.  Add mushroom and all but 2 Tb of the shallots and sauté until cooked dry, stirring often to avoid scorching.  If the mixture is not dry, it will not absorb juices from the meat and the pastry will get soggy.

4.  Reheat the oven to 425º.  If you're serving this with roasted vegetables, put them in the oven now.  Sprinkle a pastry work surface with flour.  Unfold puff pastry sheet.  Sprinkle more flour on top and roll out pastry 4 inches longer and 6 inches wider than the beef.  Don't worry if it rolls out uneven, just trim off the edges to use as decoration.  Brush the surface with the egg wash until damp.  You'll have a lot left.  Spoon the mushroom mixture onto the pastry to within one inch of the edges.  Place the cooled roast in the center, upside down.  You're going to flip this thing over.  Pull up pastry, enclose meat completely, and pinch all the edges to seal.

Yes, I know it looks like a chicken
5.  Place seam-side down on a baking sheet.  I recommend lining the sheet with parchment or a silpat because the next step is to use more of the egg wash on the outside of the pastry.  You will probably still have a bunch left, but you can't beat half an egg.  If you have trimmings of pastry, decorate the top and brush them as well.  Using a toothpick, poke two or three tiny vents in the top of the crust, to reduce sogginess and uneven steam bubbles, and to provide an entry for a food thermometer.

6.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until pastry is golden and the internal temperature of the meat reaches 140º.  (Turn oven down to 350º if the veggies aren't done.)  Allow to rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

7.  During step 6, make the sauce.  You can rinse out the duxelles skillet instead of getting another pan dirty.  Bring consommé, wine, peppercorns, and reserved shallots to a medium boil.  Continue to boil until reduced to about 1/2 C, or whenever the meat is ready.  That will boil off the alcohol as well.

8.  To serve, first present the pastry, maybe surrounded by the roasted vegetables, so everyone can see it, then make an event of slicing off individual steaks.  The sauce can either be drizzled onto the plates or served on the side.

Difficulty rating :)

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