OK, I promise to never say that again. EVER.
But come on, it is. The origins of this little dish are contended among food historians, but one thing everyone can agree on, it wasn’t exactly dreamed up by a poncy new chef wanting to do something different.
Some say that it was Duke Wellington’s favorite dish, and hence is called Beef Wellington. Others say it is of Irish decent, from a dish called steig Wellington of Ireland. Heck, the French even have a version somewhat similar called “fillet de boeuf en croute”. Personally, I don’t care to ever argue food history, especially when it comes to “what is an authentic blah blah blah”. Bollocks to all that, this is what it is – a fillet of beef, wrapped up with mustard and mushrooms, foie gras pate (if you like that kind of thing) and finally wrapped in puff pastry. Call it Shirley if you makes you happy.
Now, as any reader of this blog knows, I tend to go out of my way to avoid anything to do with pastry. I run even faster, and even further when it involves pastry and a not exactly cheap cut of meat, the beef tenderloin. So screw up the pastry, and you have wasted a very good, expensive cut of meat.
A rather good stroke of luck though, Beef Wellington calls for puff pastry – and from what I know about pastry (almost nothing..) that is one little devil I am not going to attempt to make any time soon. So a really good, all butter based, store bought brand it is. Pressure off somewhat…
We were having a bunch of people over for Easter, so I reckoned it would be the perfect time to approach a dish I had never cooked before. I remember somewhere a rule about always serving something you have cooked many times before at a dinner party. Bah, live on the edge.. and besides, I generally completely over-run time-wise when cooking, so everyone has drunk a ton on an empty stomach and would honestly by the time food is ready, quite happily eat dog food and think it was the best thing ever.
That has never happened, just to set the record straight.
So – back to the Beef Wellington.
This isn’t really something that should be “re-invented”, messed around with too much, or ponced up. It is a basic tasty dish, of basic tasty ingredients. Served with a salad and some roasted spuds it is a complete delight.
In recent years, given the bad press of foie gras (I am so not getting into my views on that here…) quite a few chefs have substituted the pate de foie gras with something else. Traditionally the beef fillet is browned, brushed with mustard, wrapped in a duxelle (mushrooms) and then pate de foie gras, before being wrapped in pastry. One take on this that I particularly like is that of Gordon Ramsay’s – he wraps the thing in prosciutto instead of the controversial pate. This works for me, especially since I have no idea what my guests views on this pate is.
This is really one that you cannot make up your own recipe for either to be honest (apart from swapping out an item here or there) – the basics have to be there – beef, puree mushrooms and pastry. Opps, nearly forgot the mustard.
I am a fan of Ramsay’s food, and am actually a fan of him (not when he is doing that dodgy characterture of himself on Hell’s Kitchen, or the American Kitchen Nightmares..) – he is passionate about proper food, and proper technique, and doesn’t dumb stuff down. Good on him. He can also drop an F-bomb like it is going out of style.
So what you see here is really his recipe from his F-Word show (older BBC show of his – and in my mind, by far, his best), with just a couple of additions – namely minced shallots and parsley to the duxelle to give it a little more flavor.
This dish gets a bit of wrap for being complicated and hard to prepare. I can honestly say that it is surprisingly simple, but does take a little patience and attention to detail. You puree the mushrooms, and then cook them to get a lot of the moisture out of them. You rush this, and the mushrooms release too much water during roasting, potentially making soggy pastry. Lay out a sheet or two of plastic wrap, and lay your proscuitto down on it – overlapping. Smear it with the duxelle. Brown the fillet of beef, brush with mustard. Place in the center of the prosciutto, and wrap up nice and tight. Bung it in the fridge for a bit, then wrap it up in some puff pastry (egg wash the edges to make em stick), then egg wash the whole thing, score, and bake. You do need to make sure everything is wrapped up nice and tight, otherwise it is going to fall apart when you cut it. The next major thing is cooking time – beef tenderloin really doesn’t enjoy being overcooked, not one bit. Heck, you get the bad boy up to medium and it’s going to start yelling. For this kind of thing, I use a remote meat temperature sensor, so I don’t have to keep opening the oven door to check for doneness. Best 15 bucks I have spent at Ikea.
I ended up doing two Beef Wellington’s (2lb of meat in each one) because of the number of guests, and both were kinda oversized to be honest. Given the delicate rolling of these things, it would certainly have been easier to have done three smaller ones. I reckon I could have got the roll even tighter. But that is just me… this as a smaller 1lb fillet would have been far easier to roll and handle (and would be the perfect size for two to three people..).
My fear of pastry is slowly leaving. This dish worked. It had some problems, but nothing major – just mainly size driven. It tasted bloody great to be honest – rich, flavorful, but texturally delicate, in a very old school kinda way.
Opps, I said it again.
So here is the modified Ramsay recipe:
Beef Wellington Recipe (Serves 2)
1lb Beef fillet
1lb Portobello mushrooms
4 slice prosciutto
2 minced shallots
1 small handful of finely chopped flat leaf parsley
English mustard for brushing meat
1/2lb puff pastry
2 Egg yolks
Pre-heat the oven to 400F.
Heat some oil in a large pan and quickly fry the seasoned beef all over until it’s brown. Remove and allow to cool.
The point of this is simply to sear the beef and seal all those juices in, you don’t want to cook the meat at this stage. Allow to cool and brush generously with the mustard.
Roughly chop the mushrooms and blend in a food processor to form a puree. Scrape the mixture into a hot, dry pan and add the shallots in, cook toallow the water to evaporate. When sufficiently dry (the mixture should be sticking together easily), set aside and cool, and mix in the parsley.
Roll out a generous length of plastic wrap, lay out the four slices of prosciutto each one slightly overlapping the last. With a pallet knife spread the mushroom mixture evenly over the ham.
Place the beef fillet in the middle and keeping a tight hold of the plastic wrap from the outside edge, neatly roll the parma ham and mushrooms over the beef into a tight barrel shape. Twist the ends to secure the plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 10 -15 minutes, this allows the Wellington to set and helps keep the shape.
Roll out the pastry quite thinly to a size which will cover your beef. Unwrap the meat from the cling film. Egg wash the edge of the pastry and place the beef in the middle. Roll up the pastry, cut any excess off the ends and fold neatly to the ‘underside’. Turnover and egg wash over the top. Chill again to let the pastry cool, approximately 5 minutes. Egg wash again, and using a pairing knife, score the pastry. Roast in the pre-heated oven until the internal temperature of the meat reaches between 120 and 125 (it will continue to “cook” more as it rests). Rest 8 -10 minutes before slicing. This will be medium-rare.
Par boil the potatoes in salted water. Quarter them and leave the skin on. Sauté in olive oil and butter with the garlic and thyme, until browned and cooked through. Season. Remove the thyme and garlic before serving.
Separate the outside leaves of the baby gem (leaving the smaller inner ones for salads) and very quickly sauté them in a pan of olive oil with a little salt and pepper – just enough to wilt them.
Serve hearty slices of the Wellington alongside the sautéed potatoes and wilted baby gems. A classic mustard vinaigrette makes a great dressing.
Want to see something fun? A really over-produced video of Ramsay making it…