~ My Love Affair with: Individual Beef Wellingtons... ~
... began in the Summer of 1980. Joe and I had only been married about six months and we were still living in his little (700 sq. ft., 3-bedroom) house on Brookside Drive. That may sound romantic, but, the morning after I married Joe I willingly (without duress) became a full-time, stay-at-home-mom to three boys under the age of five (two were his, the youngest was mine, and, they all lived with us full-time). I was 25 years old...
Even back then I loved to cook, and, I've always been fearless in the kitchen. Joe always says he married me for my taco shells (the first meal I cooked for he and his kids and those taco shells were made from scratch), and, being a stay-at-home mom gave me the opportunity to practice my craft three times a day, seven days a week. I am also living proof that a cook doesn't need a fabulous kitchen to prepare great food. We had a stove without a self-cleaning oven and no hoodtop or exhaust fan, a refrigerator that Joe took out to the backyard to defrost with a hose, a single small sink, no dishwasher, but, a washing machine that walked across the kitchen floor with a trail of water behind it if I forgot to put the wedge of wood underneath the front of it!
"Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?"
It was in July or August of that year, because it was hot, and, we had no air conditioning either. Joe came home from the office one day and nonchalantly mentioned that he invited his boss (also my ex-boss) and his wife to come over for dinner the following Saturday night. I was happy about this, but, because I knew my old boss had no idea what to expect from his soon-to-be VP of Engineering's new wife (the position I resigned from was the boss's personal assistant), I wanted to wow him. I wanted to show him I was just as talented in the kitchen as I was running his office. So, I decided to serve individual beef Wellington's based on a recipe I had recently seen in Bon Appetit magazine (to which I was a subscriber)...
... I spent two entire days making the puff pastry from scratch. You will not have to do that!
PS: We four had a lovely evening and dinner was wonderful. Joe was made VP of Engineering and four short months later we were all settled in a brand new house on Belmont Circle. I had a new kitchen with a separate laundry room. I had begun my move up the corporate food chain!
PPS: Over the years, I tweeked their recipe, making notes each time I made them, until I got a restaurant-quality meal with perfectly cooked steaks and pastry every time. Two weeks ago a reader asked if I could point him to a beef Wellington recipe that he could make to surprise his wife on a special occasion in October. Yesterday and today, I found a slot in my schedule just for him, and I enjoyed every last bite of this post!
Part One: Make the Steaks
4 thickly-cut, 2"-thick filet mignon, about 8 ounces each, at room temperature
4 tablespoons salted butter, at room temperature
freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend
~ Step 1. Place the filets on a disposable aluminum broiler pan, the kind with the corrugated bottom. Spread 1 tablespoon of butter over the top of each filet and season generously with freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend. Note: When steaks get turned over on second side (below), second side does not get additional butter.
~ Step 2. Broil 7"-8" underneath preheated broiler until very rare, about 4 minutes on the first side, and 3 minutes on the second side, turning only once, or until the steaks reach an internal temperature of 106-110 degrees when an instant read meat thermometer is inserted into the center. These steaks are at 108 degrees. Note: When you turn the steaks over onto second side, lightly season with additional S&P.
~ Step 5. For a more professional end presentation: After about 30 minutes in the refrigerator, remove the steaks and wrap them tightly in plastic wrap to form oval or round packages. Return to refrigerator 4-6 hours or overnight.
Note: Why wait 30 minutes to do this? To allow the juices to redistribute themselves throughout each steak.
Part Two: Make the Mushroom Duxelles:
all of the pan juices from broiling the filets
1/4 pound very finely diced cremini mushroom caps (about 1 1/2 cups finely diced caps)
2 ounces very finely diced shallots or sweet onion (about 6 tablespoons finely diced)
2 tablespoons port wine, for deglazing pan
*A bit about duxelles (dook-SEHL): This is an easy to prepare mixture of finely chopped mushrooms, shallot or onion, sometimes garlic and herbs that are slowly cooked in butter until it takes on the form of a nicely browned paste or cream. Any type of mushrooms can be used, as long as they are fresh, and chefs choose which ones to use depending upon the depth of flavor they hope to achieve!
~ Step 1. Heat the pan juices in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and shallots or onions. Continue to saute/simmer rapidly, stirring frequently, until mushrooms have lost all of their moisture, and are beginning to caramelize, about 12 minutes...
~ Step 3. Transfer duxelles to a small food storage container, cover, and refrigerate until well-chilled, 4-6 hours or overnight. While filets and duxelles are chilling, prepare the sauce to accompany the finished Wellingtons:
Part Three: Make the Port-Wine Demi-Glace Sauce
2 tablespoons salted butter
4 ounces very thinly sliced cremini mushroom caps (about 1 3/4 cups sliced caps)*
2 ounces small diced shallots or sweet onion (about 1/2 cup diced)*
1 1/2 cups beef stock or veal stock, preferably homemade (Note: I prefer veal stock for this recipe.)
1/2 cup port wine
1 teaspoon sugar
*Weight vs. Measure: This recipe is a very good lesson in cooking with weight vs. measure. Depending upon how you slice or dice it, you won't always get the same volume: 4 ounces of very-finely diced cremini mushroom caps = about 1 1/2 cups, while 4 ounces of very thinly sliced caps = about 1 3/4 cups. I cook by weight as much as possible because it ensures consistency. That it is why I highly recommend that every kitchen be equipped with a kitchen scale!
** A bit about demi-glace: Demi-glace is a rich brown stock that begins with a combination of beef or veal stock and Madeira, port or sherry and simmered until it is reduced by half and coats the back of a spoon. I'm preparing my demi-glace using homemade veal stock which is perfectly seasoned with the right amount of salt, pepper and thyme. You can find my recipe for ~ Veal Stock = Turning Ordinary into Extraordinary ~ in Categories 15 or 22. If you are using store-bought stock, be prepared to adjust/add seasoning to your demi-glace using: salt and pepper, to taste, and a few sprigs of fresh thyme or dried thyme leaves!
~ Step 1. In a 10" nonstick skillet, melt the butter over low heat. Add the mushrooms and shallots or onions. Increase heat to medium-high and continue to saute/simmer rapidly, stirring frequently, until mushrooms have lost all of their moisture and are beginning to caramelize, about 6 minutes.
Note: When you add the port, a lot of steam will be created, so, be cautious. Don't have your hand or face directly over the skillet.
Add all of the veal stock and adjust heat to a rapid steady simmer.
~ Step 3. Allow mixture to simmer for 20 minutes (or 18-22 minutes depending upon the heat of your stove). The demi-glace will be reduced by slightly more than 1/2, bubbles will have subsided, and, it will take on a glassy appearance.
Part Four: Assemble the Beef Wellingtons
4 filet mignon, cooked as directed above and chilled
all of the mushroom duxelles, prepared as directed above and returned to room temperature about 1 hour prior to assembly
4-5 ounces soft pate, chilled (Note: I am using "mousse de foie de canard au porto", or, "duck liver & pork mousse with port wine".)
1 1/2 17-ounce boxes puff pastry sheets (not phyllo dough), thawed if frozen, but chilled (Note: each box contains two pastry sheets, you will need three sheets.)
1 large egg whisked with 2 teaspoons of water
~ Step 2. Slice and place the pate evenly over the top of the duxelles. Using your fingertips, gently but firmly press down on the toppings to make them adhere to the filets. Return plate of steaks to the refrigerator.
~ Step 3. Remove one puff pastry sheet and unfold it onto a piece of parchment paper with the folds facing you vertically. Using a small rolling pin slowly roll it until it is about 13" horizontally. Using a sharp knife, cut the pastry in half vertically.
~ Step 4. Remove 2 steaks from the refrigerator and place each one, pate-side-down, in the center of each piece of pastry, as pictured here.
~ Step 5. Using a pastry brush, paint the inside edges, along all four sides of each pastry "square" with egg wash.
~ Step 6. Lift and fold the side closest to you up and over the center of the steak. Next, lift and fold the side farthest from you up and over the steak. Fold in the sides, to form (for lack of a better word) an envelope. Using your fingertips, gently press down on all seams to ensure a tight seal.
Place steaks/pan in refrigerator and repeat entire process, starting with a clean sheet of parchment paper, with remaining two steaks. Return pan of all four steaks to refrigerator.
~ Step 8. On yet another fresh sheet of parchment paper, unroll a third sheet of pastry. Using a paring knife, cut out some randon decorations to guild the top of your Wellington's. I personally, like to carve out a few free-form, easy-to-make leaves and vines.
~ Step 10. Apply your decorations to the wet surface of each pastry-covered steak in any manner you wish. Once you've applied them, using your fingertips gently press them down. Using a pastry brush and a light touch, dab them with some egg wash too.
~ Step 11. Bake on center rack of preheated 425 degree oven, 24-26 minutes, or until an internal temperature of 130-135 degrees is reached. This will achieve rare to medium-rare filets after carryover heat continues to cook them.
~ Step 12. Remove from oven and allow to rest, about 15 minutes, prior to slicing and serving with a puddle of warm port-wine demi-glace ladled underneath each:
Tip from Mel: Inside each of these lovely filet-filled packages will be some excess meat juices. To ensure a beautiful presentation (as pictured below), one-at-a-time, place each Wellington on a cutting board and slice it in two, to allow the excess juices to run out, prior to placing it on the puddle of warm port-wine demi-glace (as pictured below)!
Special Equipment List: 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom; paring knife; instant-read meat thermometer; 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish w/lid; plastic wrap; 10" skillet; cutting board; chef's knife; fork; ; 4, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" sheets of parchment paper; small rolling pin; pastry brush; 17 1/2" x 21 1/2" baking pan; serrated bread knife
Cook's Note: Want an easier way to prepare an impressive filet mignon dinner that won't take all day? You can find my recipe for ~ T.G.I. Five-Minute Filet Mignon w/a Cremini Saute ~ in Categories 2, 20, or 21!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)