Beef Wellington with Cream and Sherry Duxelle Sauce

What a weekend!  I’ve been busy busy busy – socially, professionally, culinarily, and intellectually.  I’ve been grading the scholarly work of others, and others have been grading me in a vastly different arena.  Challenges abound.  But I’m thrilled to say that it’s been a good weekend, one I will be proud of for quite some time.  You don’t necessarily need to know why, dear reader, that I am so happy right now, but you do have lots to do with it, and I thank you for loyally visiting Lolita’s dinner table week after week to see what I’m serving for my supper.  I’m plumb tickled every time someone tells me they tried one of my recipes, and tickled to hot pink whenever I hear someone say they felt comfortable enough to futz with my how-to in order to make the dish their own masterpiece.  Teaching you all how to enjoy the fruits of the land, the sea, and the grocery store is almost as good as eating my own creations.  Cooking is creativity, friends — nourishment for the body and for the soul.  Cook, eat, drink… and be happy!

Tonight’s dinner was launched on something of a whim.  I wanted to use some perfect tenderloins purchased again at Blood Farm, in West Groton, MA (our new favorite meat purveyor – sadly, but charmingly, lacking a website) as our main course, and I wanted to do something technically challenging, stick-to-your ribs, rich and delicious, but elegant, too: to celebrate! What else but Beef Wellington?  Several recipes I looked up called for mustard, several for foie gras; I couldn’t reconcile the sharp,vinegar taste of the former with the savory, ethereal aspect of the latter, so I split the difference by purchasing a slab of pure duck liver paté mousse with black truffle.  Fancified home-cooking, here we come…

Beef Wellington with Cream and Sherry Duxelle Sauce

2 1 1/2″ thick fresh filet mignons (beef tenderloin steaks)
1 stick butter
4 shallots, diced, divided (about 1 cup total)
an assortment of beautiful wild mushrooms (about 2 cups total, chopped)
4 oz chives (about 1 bunch), chopped roughly and divided
1 pint heavy cream
1 cup dry sherry
4 oz paté (this is duck liver mousse, with cognac and black truffle)
3 cloves crushed garlic
8 oz puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, beaten with a dash of water
watercress, tossed with EVOO, salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice

This is the second set of tenderloins I’ve eaten from Blood Farm, and it is the second best steak I’ve ever eaten at home.  Seriously.  Not only because of how tender and flavorful it was, but because at a little more than $8/lb, it’s cheaper than any tenderloin I can find.  Anywhere.  And this was seared, cooled, then baked in pastry – not an easy thing to get just right, requiring really fresh, wonderful meat to make it happen.  I pat these very dry before sprinkling them liberally with fresh crushed black pepper and sea salt.

In a hot, bubbling mixture of EVOO and butter (a glug of the former, 2 tbs of the latter), I sear all the sides of my steaks for about 1 minute each: that’s top,…

… bottom, and – using my tongs…

…I rolled them across the heat on all their cut edges.  I’m looking for a lovely brown fond on all surfaces – sealing in the juices and par-cooking the steaks before the final bake.

Meanwhile, I’ve scrubbed and trimmed my mushrooms, and skinned and chopped my shallots.  I have a delightful blend of fungi: shitake, chanterelle, and wood ear mushrooms.  Whole Foods had ’em, and I bought ’em.  Given that the tenderloin was so cheap, these represented the largest chunk of tonight’s bill, but mushrooms don’t weigh much, so a handful of each (at from $10.99 – $21.99) at the market still only rang in at less than $10.00.  Totally worth it.

I remove my steaks from the pan and set them aside on a dish to cool (they need to reach room temp before they are wrapped in pastry), collecting all their lovely red beefy drippings to use in my sauce later.  My ‘shrooms and shallots get chucked into the hot pan where the fat is still sizzling, and I stir everything around really well to get it sweating.

A dash of chopped chives add color and snap.

If you haven’t already guessed it, this lovely fungi mixture is my duxelle, to which I’m adding the sweetness of sherry and the weight of cream.  Once the fungus has begun to soften…

 … a little of both (about 1/2 cup of sherry, and 1/4 cup of cream) gets added to the pan, which I set to a low simmer to reduce, burning off all the liquid.

 Like so.  I remove this from the heat so it, too, can cool before being layered into my puff pastry.

Speaking of which, it’s time to prep the pastry wrapping: that which makes this beef “Wellington.”  I break out my rolling pin, and dust my crappy Formica counter with flour.

I admit, this is just Pillsbury puff pastry, and I didn’t love it.  It lacked the buttery flavor I expected, but it certainly puffed nicely.  I’ve been defrosting it in the fridge for a few hours, then on the counter until it reached room temp.  I carefully unfold it, then roll it out to a nice, square, uniform thinness.

Using my paring knife, I cut two nice squares, just large enough to fully encase each steak without leaving too much overlap.

It’s high time I gave credit to The Review Lady, whose Beef Wellington posting largely contributed to this recipe.  Thanks for the inspiration, especially the great instructions on how to wrap the steak: I’d screwed that up before.  Based on her recommendation, I start by spooning a few tablespoons of my creamed, sherried, sauteed wild mushrooms in the center of each pastry square.

Foie gras is the idealization of the flavor of rich duck deliciousness, and it is expensive and not usually found in your workaday supermarket – including Whole Foods.  I can get it at Savenor’s, usually in small enough cuts to not blow the bank, but I couldn’t get there today.  I’ve made this recipe before, but have been turned off by the flavor of mustard with the duxelle, thinking it overpowering and out-of-place.  Lacking liver, but rejecting mustard, I opted for a savory, whipped mousse of foie savored by cognac and studded with flecks of black truffle, wrapped in aspic.  I have to resist the urge to just dive into this with a water-cracker and a side of triple-cream brie…

 A layer of paté is laid over the mushrooms…

 … and the steaks are layered over that.

 I first wrap each corner of pastry over the steak’s center, sealing everything with beaten egg/water wash and a basting brush.

I entirely seal the steaks in pastry dough, using the egg wash to glue all the seams together, and forming the Wellingtons with my hands by shaping the dough package into smart squares.

I have too little experience forming shapes with dough. What I thought would be a vaugely off-set layered leaf effect ended up looking like a swollen nipple – to be blunt. I’ve learned: don’t cut your pastry shapes too small.  Still, it looked promising!  I brush the whole package down – top and sides – with egg wash, then I set both Wellingtons on a parchment lined cookie sheet before throwing it into a 400° oven for 25 minutes to roast through.

Now to the sauce.  A few tablespoons of butter melted in a large saucepan…

 … and my minced garlic, sweetly sweated over medium heat.

Remember how I said to reserve the drippings off the steaks earlier?  The Review Lady’s recipe called for beef stock, but I just used these couple tablespoons of lovely lovely juices.

Beef juice + garlic butter = one hell of a gravy base.  I add 1/2 cup of sherry, and reduce to half.

Here I deviate more from The Review Lady, since I have another 1/2 cup or so of duxelle leftover from topping my steaks.  It seems such a waste to not use it, so I add it to my pan and stir well.

For the last long simmer, I add about 1/2 cup of heavy cream.  With a sprinkling of salt and pepper to taste, and another shot of chopped scallions, my sauce makes for a perfect douse.

After my sauce has thickened, and my puff pastry has browned, I have a perfect package of protein shot through with savory deliciousness and layered on a bed of tender mushrooms enrobed in creamy sherry sauce.

With a simple salad of salted and oiled watercress, my Beef Wellingtons sit pretty on their pillow of umame enjoyment.  From start to finish, this meal took only 90 minutes to make, but the impact was timeless.  A perfect, flaky pasty shell wrapped around a tender, medium rare (if only the picture had turned out!), thoroughly juicy, mushroom caked and richly-moussed prime steak — a dinner perfectly suited to crown an excellent weekend.  Dear friends, my readers, how I hope you begin and end each span of time in your life – be it a moment, or an eon – with such eager anticipation and equally enriching fulfillment, as I enjoyed these past few days.  Eating well, by the one’s own labors, is one of life’s true pleasures.  Try it for yourselves — you won’t regret it.

Tenderloin in Tarragon Bernaise with French Haricot Vert and Shallot Salt Potatoes

Clayton swung by Wilson Farm on his way home from Concord today, so he brought home everything we needed for dinner.  After much consultation on the phone.  Like three phone calls.  Yet, eventually that was all he needed to gather together just the right stuff.  A couple of perfect little tenderloins, some lovely green beans for us to vivisect on our french bean slicer, and a bag of dear wee white potatoes for me to boil to firm bursting softness.  I did a mushroom sauce just the other day, and I wanted something a little more elegant, so I also had him buy some eggs, shallots, and tarragon so I could (hopefully successfully) whip up a simple classic Sauce béarnaise. A rich, buttery (but not as buttery as one would think!), indulgent dinner of tender peppered steaks, fresh green, salty spud, and savory herb sauce.

Ahh.  Deliciousness, all in a line.

Let’s start with the spuds.

Pick out as many as you need — I grab 5 ping pong ball sized for each of us — and toss into some deep salted boiling water.

Then let’s move to our beans, which we’ve run through our french slicer, and are ready to blanch.

Drop your sliced and skinned beans into a deep well of rapidly boiling water, and cook for 3 minutes.  Drain thoroughly, rinse in cold water, drain again, and set aside.

Meanwhile, mince one large shallot and several stems worth of leaves of tarragon.  You’ll use these two sweetly pungent complex flavors as the golden thread which will bind the three courses on your plate together.  It will savor your sauce, spice your spuds, and slather through your sliced green beans, with hints of lemon and butter to boot.

Using the flip once a minute technique, I bring my sweet little cast iron pan to smoking point, then slap my lightly black-truffle oil basted and cracked black pepper covered filet mignons onto their hot surfaces.  I sear for one minute…

… then flip.  Then sear for one minute… then flip.  These steaks are about 1″ thick, so I want to cook them for about 4 minutes each side, so — taking into account the slight cooling each side will endure once it’s removed from the heat — I turn my steaks 10 times total.  This traps in all the juices, and sears each side perfectly brown and crisp on the edges, medium rare in the centers.  For more well done, flip a few more times for a few more moments, depending upon your preference. (Please don’t prefer well done with good meat.  It’s such a waste of flavor! Love, the cook.)

For your béarnaise, you must use fresh cold large eggs.  Crack ’em, separate ’em with love and fingers and feeling and soul, and reserve your yolks.  I actually only ended up using two yolks — not four.

Set up a double boiler (I use two of my metal bowls from a cheap-ass Christmas Tree Shops $14.99 boxed set and my large saucepan filled with water), and first melt 1/2 a stick of butter.  Remove from the heat, lower the boil to a simmer, and place your well whipped bowl of egg yolks over the water.  Whisk very very very well and constantly, add the juice of one lemon, whisk very very very well and constantly, then add  several tablespoons of the hot water (just scoop it from underneath) whisking very very very well, until you reach the right consistency — which is smooth and slightly frothy.

Slowly slowly slowly steadily steadily steadily add a thin thin thin stream of your melted butter, whisking thoroughly and completely and constantly.  You can’t walk away from a hollandaise (or béarnaise) sauce; it requires L.O.V.E.  When it’s reached a thick, aerated sauce, add 1/3 of your chopped shallots and tarragon leaves. Whisk well, remove from the heat, and set your bowl over a larger bowl of cold water to hold up to 10 minutes.  Run a whisk through it from time to time to keep it from breaking; it will thicken upon standing.

Melt the remaining 1/2 stick of your butter, and toss your now cooked and easily-pierced-with-a-fork potatoes with another 1/3 of your shallots and tarragon and 2tbs of that butter, and toss your green beans back into the wok with the other 2tbs of that butter, the last 1/3 of your shallots and tarragon, and the zest of one lemon over medium heat.  Toss each veg well with each set of flavors, until heated through, and then plate.

Richly peppered tenderloins coated in herbacilious tarragon béarnaise, alongside tenderific lemon tarragon haricot vert and splendexcellent shallot tarragon spuds.  A decadent dinner… a deservéd delight… during a daunting week.

Tenderloin in Oyster Mushroom Cream with Arugula, Grapefruit, and Burrata

Not only would I simply die without eating (both realistically and more dramatically metaphorically), I would, like, commit hara-kiri without the imaginative and functionary act of *cooking*. It’s been a long week, and I was needing for myself a weekend sans stress, which meant one completely devoid of time to stew on recent disappointments. I have two main extra-curricular pursuits: the scholarly (I’m working on my master’s degree) and the gastronomic. I absolutely flourish in the exercise of walking through my nearby Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, treating them as my personal pantries, from which I can pick whatever I want to assemble in whatever way what I want to satisfy the my passionate hungers—insane wealth and the wholesale freedom to share it widely, the unwavering respect, loyalty, and well-earned admiration of my society, and an all-access pass to thrilling adventure as well as rejuvenating repose are some other hungers which seem to always elude my grasp.

So for tonight: beef. There were some lovely tenderloin filets at Whole Foods, and I’ve been meaning to try the flip-every-minute pan-searing technique on this cut for a while. But since I’m trying to eat lighter on the weekends, I decided to just accompany my steaks with a light mushroom cream gravy and a snappy pepper creamy salad. (OK, I also thought I’d make some potato crisps, but, er, they didn’t quite work out.) With about 30 minutes and only a few ingredients, this is a perfectly balanced, beautifully executed, elegant and easy meal anyone can make and everyone will enjoy. What you’ll need, for two:

Two 8oz filet mignon steaks, at least 1″ thick
12oz arugula
6oz oyster mushrooms (I have three large clusters)
1boll burrata cheese
one red grapefruit
olive oil
white wine
heavy cream
sea salt
cracked black pepper

My red grapefruit. There was a compelling display of them at the market, and I picked a cheeky supple one which yielded just so under my naughty pinching fingers.

Slice her in half, run a paring knife along the circumference of the flesh, just inside the pith line, and then carve out each section with a small spoon. So this over a bowl, so you can harvest all the juice.

Strain all the juice into a separate container, and set the fruit sections aside.

Rinse, pay dry, lightly oil, then salt and pepper both sides of each steak.

Heat a large skillet over high heat.

Set your steaks into your hot pan, and cook for one minute.

Then flip them. Cook for another minute, then flip them. Do this every minute for at least 12 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the center of each steak registers at least 140° for rare. Remember, these are thick steaks, lacking the veins of fat that ribeyes or strips have which convey heat (read: cook faster) and release liquids into the pan (read: are self-basting). If you have to add a dash of EVOO here and there to the pan to keep them moist, go ahead, but the most important step is to flip every minute. This will guarantee even cooking, won’t dry out the outer edges of the meat like over-searing it too long will, and will distribute all the sweet sweet meat juices throughout, resulting in a fork tender juicy steak.

Meanwhile, prepare your simple salad. Arugula …

… sea salt, cracked black pepper, EVOO, and the (seed-free) grapefruit juice. Toss well in a bowl, and then place in a mound, one on each of your plates. Crack one boll of burrata in half, and layer like a pierced poached egg over the greens, then stud the whole salad with sections of grapefruit. Drizzle with EVOO, a dash more sea salt, and a sprinkle more pepper – that’s all you need.

Oyster mushrooms. These are like alien growths, all multi-tubular and many-sprouted and weirdly rubbery . I almost expect fungi like this to react to my touch – to contract, or relax, or something otherwise Pandora-esque. Well, they might not react to the hand, but what they do to my tongue… oh baby.

When my steaks are done, I remove them from the pan and set them aside to rest for about 5 minutes. DON’T SKIP THIS STEP! I know you want to dive right in, but let the meat continue cooking through, and let the juices settle. You need to make your sauce anyway, and your beef won’t cool down that quickly.
Since my steaks don’t release any fats into the pan, I actually melt a tablespoon of butter into my Ikeawok to form the base of my sauce. Were these ribeyes, I’d be able to use the drippings, but my succulent lean tenderloins don’t sweat quite as much as their lower-cut cousins. Instead, I add my clusters of mushrooms, which I’ve only very loosely broken up, to my melted butter, and add about 1 cup of white wine (this is a leftover pinot grigio).

Reduce the wine, softening the mushrooms in its steam and savor, to about ½ cup. Add the heavy cream, stir well, and continue to reduce by half. Scoop your mushrooms over your plated steaks, leaving the sauce in the pan to reduce for one more moment, until thick enough to coat the back of your spoon.

Fork tender fantastic tenderloins, draped with succulent oyster mushrooms in a white wine cream, served with a peppery arugula salad, citrus fruit, and curd-and-cream filled cheese. This is hearty and healthy, turfy and earthy, meat and land, sweet and savory. Sean’s sorry to say they don’t serve anything like this in the Presidio’s mess…