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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

How to make Beef Wellington

First of all, what is Beef Wellington?

The short answer?  It's a high quality cut of steak wrapped in pastry and baked.  

The longer answer?  Well, it's complicated.  A little bit anyway.  Suffice it to say, there are crêpes or prosciutto involved, as well as a delicious shallot and mushroom spread coating thingie.


It's a little time-consuming, and rather expensive considering, but it's actually not that hard, and the pay-off is... just amazing.

I'd save it for a special treat (myself, I made this for the wife's birthday); it is certain to impress!

OK, here's the not dumbed down version, to be expanded upon later, but here's the gist:

A good quality, lean cut of beef (tenderloin, filet mignon, or even flank).

A savoury crêpe or layer of prosciutto or bacon.
Butter puff pastry.

It sounds easy, but allow me to now expand upon this.

First up, the quality beef.

What you see here is just under a kilogram (roughly 2 lbs) of an absolutely gorgeous beef tenderloin, and literally the most expensive meat purchase I've ever made.  I don't want to tell you how much I spent on it.

I will tell you that it truly was worth every penny.  Even if it was close to ten thousand of them.


I got it home and it was a little big, and kinda misshapen, so I cut it in half and froze (I know!  Sorry, I'm just not that much of a meat eater that I can't afford to not freeze things some times!) the other half.

I did this for two reasons.  Firstly, 1kg turned out to be a bit too big for just the two of us.  Secondly, it made it nice and cylindrical, which is what I wanted, and also one of the major reasons I chose to not get a flank steak (which are typically quite flat).

The resultant 1/2 kilogram tenderloin was MUCH better suited for my intentions.

And still looked gorgeous:

Look at how lean that is, but how much marbling there is still!  Wow!

You could slice that up into 1 inch slices and have some truly epic steaks I bet.

Anyway... continuing on...

I took off the butcher's string, and then lightly coated it with a high-heat oil (avocado oil) and a light dusting of sea salt and black pepper.

Then I got a pan with a good amount of high-heat oil (avocado again) up to searing-hot.  I threw a couple of garlic cloves in there just for flavour.

When the oil was ready, I carefully seared ALL sides (that's six) of the beef.

With the oil that hot, it only takes a few minutes to do the whole thing.

Once the beef has been nicely seared on all sides, quickly coat the whole thing in mustard.  Dijon people... if you want to make it yourself you can, just finely grind some mustard seed and add a touch of vinegar.  In any case, coat it well.

Let that sit for a bit, (including the gribblies pan... we'll use that again later), while we move on to the second item, duxelles.

Duxelles is a delightfully flavourful (extremely) paste made from minced mushrooms, shallots and herbs.

So, in a food processor, chop down a crap tonne of shallots and mushrooms.

This is actually as easy as it sounds.

I wanted a bit of truffle mushroom flavour in there as well, so I added a slice to the mix!

And a generous amount of fresh, chopped, thyme leaves.

Once this has all been blended and chopped to a fine (and uniform) consistency, miserly scrape every last bit of it out into a non-stick pan.

Duxelles are best when they are really, really dry.  Especially when used in Beef Wellington.  In fact, moisture levels are a heavy consideration in general when making this dish.  You have to keep the beef moist, but the pastry dry, after all.

So, we cook the duxelles on low for a few minutes, by themselves in a non-stick pan, in order to evaporate much of the moisture.

Which will happen eventually.

I think this happened after about 10 minutes.

You can see it is delightfully dry and pasty!

So, set that aside for now, because we're coming to the third (and rather interesting, from a culinary methodological standpoint, in my opinion) item.

The 'wrap'.

Now, I've seen Beef Wellington with many different options for this part.  The vast majority of them call for a savoury crêpe as the wrap.

Now, I'm a pretty decent maker of crêpes, so I was all prepared to do this, until I stumbled across a few recipes calling for a blanket of prosciutto to be used instead.  Now, the wife absolutely lurvs prosciutto, so I figured hells yes.

I promptly went out to buy some fresh prosciutto.

Now, in retrospect (you know me, I like to analyze and review my own creations at the end), the one issue I had that disappointed me a little bit with my beef wellington, was the use of prosciutto.  So for future iterations, I believe I will do the crêpe option, as it was intended.

The cool thing, though, is the use of plastic wrap.

Yes, plastic wrap.

It's neat.  Watch.

Stretch a long sheet out on a large surface, and then lay down a blanket or woven array of prosciutto. 

Then carefully coat this with the duxelles.

MMMmmmmmm... mushrooms, shallots, and prosciutto...

Then place the beef at the close end.

And then gently but firmly, wrap the whole thing up tightly.

The cool part of this, is that you can take the excess bits of plastic on either side of this wrap, and keep twisting them tighter and tighter, cinching the whole thing up rather neatly indeed!!

Put that in the fridge for a little bit to set.

Now, this next item is optional, but I do recommend it.

I made a batch of brandy green peppercorn sauce.

If you'd like to follow along... here's what to do...

That pan in which you seared the beef and then set aside for later, well it probably has some really nice beefy greasy gribblies in there still, right?

Well, mine did.

Into this I added some butter, garlic, and fresh thyme sprigs.

And sort of made a 'reduction' out of it, so scraped the edges and bottom of the pan to incorporate all those gribblies.

Then I carefully strained it into a medium saucepan.

And, presto, a delightful beefy, thyme-y, garlic-y butter from which I can make a flavourful roux.


So I let that roux simmer for a few minutes to flavour, and then added about a cup of milk.  Whole milk or light cream... this is an extravagant dish we're making, why skimp?

Then I pulled out all my green peppercorns.  Turns out I didn't have many left.

I still chose to grind up a small amount of them for flavour.

But most of them I just put in whole.

Mmmmm... I love green peppercorns.

Anyway, those need a while to cook (if you've never had a peppercorn sauce, they're delightful - the peppercorns become all moist and soft when they've been cooked long enough).

And, near the end, add a generous splash of some french brandy.  ;)

Whisk that in, and then keep the sauce warm on low.

And back to the Beef Wellington!

Next comes what I call the 'second wrap'.

Stretch out another piece of plastic wrap and then place your puff pastry (rolled out to a square) on top.

Take your previously wrapped prosciutto-duxelles-beef cylinder out of the fridge, unwrap it gently, and then place it on the pastry.

You can see that the 'first wrap' cinched it all up nice and tightly.

Anyway, now do the same thing as the first wrap.

Gently but firmly grab the plastic and lift it up in order to wrap its contents tightly.

Now, the recipes I looked at all suggested trimming off any excess pastry from the edges.  Which makes sense, you want the pastry to fit perfectly, and be uniform all the way around the whole thing.

I didn't have much excess.

This picture above better illustrates what I mean when I suggest taking the excess bits of plastic wrap on either side and twist them over and over and over again, in order to tighten the roll.

See how nice and cinched that gets?

It's starting to look pretty fancy!

Place that in the fridge again for about 20-30 minutes, and go ahead and preheat the oven to 400° F.

When you take it out of the fridge it should be nice and firm, and beautifully wrapped.

Like all butter puff pastry, wash the outside with an egg wash before baking.

I greased a baking dish, but you can use parchment paper if you like.

And, before baking, I did add a few tricks I learned from Gordon Ramsay.

Using the back of a knife, gently score a few scroll lines into the pastry.

And then sprinkle some coarse sea salt on top.

Now I know she looks fancy.

So, once the oven has reached 400° F, put the whole thing in, uncovered, for about 30 mins, or until the pastry is golden all over.

Holy crapazoid mang.

I admit I was more than a little pleased with myself when I took this out of the oven.  I mean, just look at it!

I let it sit for a few minutes before 'carving' it.

When I did, I was a little disappointed at how my pastry did NOT sit very snugly.  In fact, it was so delicate and flaky it was really difficult to keep it intact for serving.

That was the ONLY issue with this baking, and the one I referenced earlier when talking about using prosciutto instead of a crêpe, as I am fairly certain that had I used a crêpe, the pastry would probably have been in better shape.  At least... I think...  I dunno.

Anyway, the thing about Beef Wellington, is that it is intended to be served rare or medium rare.  With a very healthily-red centre at least.

And sure enough, mine did.  And it was gorgeous.

You'll see that the pastry kinda disintegrated, but other than that one issue, the Beef Wellington was a great success, in my opinion.

I will now inundate you with pictures.

Mmmmm... look at the duxelles oooooozing out!

Stupid disintegrated pastry!

Still looks pretty darned good, though, if you ask me.

And the wife loved it, and talked about it for days afterward.

Her 'birthday feast' included a few other things which I might talk about in subsequent posts, briefly, but the star of this meal (by far) was the Beef Wellington.

And it truly shone brightly.  All the way down to my belly.

Here's her whole meal, roasted thyme-y potatoes, roasted thyme-y thumbalina carrots, green peppercorn brandy 'gravy', paired with a delightful Cabernet Franc.

Oh, and Beef Wellington, of course!