Beef wellington is, to quote an infamous Iraqi ruler, “the mother of all” classical beef dishes. It’s a combination of one of the richest and expensive cuts of beef smothered in very rich fatty pate, which in turn is then covered in a rich pastry. You won’t find this dish on Health Canada’s low fat & carb meal suggestion menu. You will however find it in Larousse Gastronomique, which is the de facto culinary bible. In a restaurant, you wouldn’t just order this up and expect it to show up after your salad. Realistically, it’s a somewhat daunting task to put together properly let alone on time and at the right temperature and doneness. I personally haven’t made a beef wellington in years, but I could whip one up without breaking a sweat because I know the tricks. I will outline some tricks so you can really, and I mean really impress your guests.
Let’s start off with the beef. Beef tenderloin has a fat end and a thin and narrow end. The fat end is what the French call the Chateaubriand. For the purposes of a beef wellington, it’s too big and unruly to work with. Also, the tail end is too small to work with. You guessed it, the middle part, or the tournedos as some people call it. That’s the part that you want. When it comes to gauging how much you need, you have to remember that the beef will shrink a little bit when it is cooked, so 2 inches raw is anywhere from 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 inches cooked, depending on how much you cook it. But if you plan on cooking your beef to a medium to medium rare, you can count on 1 1/2 inches in length per person in length will suffice.
Unless you have the Welsh rugby team over, then make it 3 inches per person. You can sort that out. So as an example, you have 4 friends over for dinner. 4 x 1.5=6, therefore you need 6 inches of beef. I add %20 for mistakes, overcooking etc… The neat thing about beef wellington is you can actually prepare it ahead of time and just finish it in a hot oven.
So now you cook the beef. Ideally you sear the meat in a little bit of hot oil on a frying pan of some kind on the range top until it’s browned all over then place it in a very hot oven. If you’re not salt conscious, then sprinkle it with salt & pepper on the way into the oven. You need to cook the steak until it is not quite half way done. This is the tricky part. Best way to tell is to squeeze it on the way into the oven. When meat cooks it gets firmer. Tenderloin however really doesn’t get firm unless you really over cook it. So roughly aim to cook it a little less that half of what you would want. A meat thermometer would work for this if it helps. Once you have taken it out, immediately place it into a freezer. You need to cool it down ASAP. You don’t want to freeze it, just cool it down to fridge cold temperature.
While that is chilling in the freezer, get out your fancy mushrooms, dice them up into tiny cubes, dice up some shallots or small onions. Sweat or sauté the onions, add the mushrooms and butter. Why hold back 8) Once the liquid has left the onions and they are well cooked, turn the heat off. Put the mixture in the refrigerator to cool off as well. Once the beef and mushroom / onion mixture are cold, you are ready to assemble. On a clean work surface, smother the cold beef filet with some nice rich foie gras. You should give it a good going over. Leave no meat uncovered. Even do the ends. Once that’s done, take your mushroom onion mixture and smear that all over the foie gras until the whole thing looks like a funny looking Christmas Yule log. It’s important to do all this in a cool room. Pate, especially foie gras which is essentially tasty butter will get soft and unmanageable when warmed up. So remember to do this somewhere cool. Now comes the pastry. Making puff pastry is a big job, so try and get your hands on some from a bakery that sells it. Rideau bakery used to, it was a margarine based dough, not the best but better than mine!. All this to say, don’t make it yourself. Puff pastry is layered, so avoid rolling it out, folding it and rolling again. It shouldn’t be worked as in kneaded. Cut a piece of puff dough out that is rectangular, and roll it out so that it is longer and wider than the filet. You have to visualize that puff dough wrapping around the filet and fitting just right. You should lightly flour the counter or cutting board prior to rolling. The dough should be rolled roughly as thick as a pie crust. Maybe a bit thicker. Place the filet in the middle of the rolled out dough. Fold one side over as tightly as possible, either brush it with water or egg wash to glue the dough joins.
Fold ends over in the same manor using egg wash for the joins. There you have it. This can then be put in the fridge and kept for as long as you want. Days even. But it’s best to use sooner rather than later. It will need a hot oven, around 400. Something of this nature will require a little more than a half hour at that temperature to cook. Basically, once the pastry is done, it’s out. Let it cool for a couple of minutes, then slice into equal portions and admire the beauty that it is. If you’ve got it right, the filet should be a lovely colour with the golden crust on the outside and the gorgeous foie gras and mushrooms. Also your guests will look at you in a different way, mostly in awe.
A couple of notes on the cooking times. If your filet isn’t very large in diameter, then when you initially cook it, you should cook it even less, maybe even just sear it well on the outside. Then cooled. If it’s huge, then cook it closer to half done. I recommend a huge red wine to accompany this type of meal. Good luck and enjoy!