Beef Wellington: more than the sum of it’s parts

Wow. Just wow. This was amazing. I had no idea what I was getting into here. I really thought this dish was going to be bland and turn out like one of those over-the-top ideas that just goes wrong. Every now and then though, the pieces come together just so to create a perfect storm of flavor. This beef wellington is just that storm.

Let me clarify in haiku form:

Best meal in a while
was not in a restaurant:
It’s Beef Wellington.

Beef Wellington.

I'm being entirely serious when I say that this is one of the best meals I have eaten. Great flavor, great texture.

Alight, I admit that haiku didn’t likely clarify anything, but it was fun to write.

I had been hesitating making this recipe for a while now. It seemed a little too extravagant, a little to unnecessary. Is it wrapping meat around bread really a good way to improve it? Would it really improve the dish, or is it just a novelty? I was basically worried that I was making really expensive state-fair food–it may be an interesting experiment, but ultimately forgettable and certainly not anything you would actively seek out again.

The difficulty level of putting this together wasn’t stopping me either. It was the excessive ingredients. Combining two or more great things does not necessarily make the final product better (remember these?). This time a beef tenderloin, a load of mushrooms, a few strips of prosciutto, and puff pastry combined to create something that was elevated to an entirely new level.

Beef Wellington.

I was so worried when I pulled this out. I had no idea what the inside was going to look like. I feared the worst.

I had conceived of multiple points of failure, everything from the beef overcooking, to the crust becoming a soggy mess, to the duxelles (mushroom mixture) would sliding off. Ultimately, all my worries were unfounded. It was excellent.

Really. Excellent.

Very tender, flavorful beef. Great, slightly buttery bread built-in. The mushroom flavor was noticeable, but not overpowered. The prosciutto tied everything together with a little more flavor. I wouldn’t change a thing.

I’m afraid to even remake this dish. My first attempt was so good that I’m scared that every other attempt will pale in comparison. It may take a while to build up the courage. Actually, why wait? I’ve convinced myself to make it again–and soon. It’s not even that hard and it can be broken up across multiple days to make things even easier. I’m so making this again.

I have to thank Gorden Ramesy for this recipe. He saved me last time I tried something overly British. His technique of wrapping the beef in prosciutto worked perfectly.

Beef Wellington
Recipe adapted from Gorden Ramsey.
1 tbsp olive oil
beef tenderloin 2lb 4oz (1kg)
3 tbsp olive oil
12 oz mushrooms (I used crimini) (better to err on the side of too much)
3 1/2 tbsp butter
1 large sprig fresh thyme
3 1/3 ounces (100ml) dry white wine
12 slices prosciutto, trimmed of fat (get 13 slices, you may find the extra one comes in handy, if not, just eat it)
1 two-sheet pack puff pastry, thawed
flour, for dusting
2 egg yolks, beaten

There are a lot of steps here, but don’t let that intimidate you, I’m just detailed :)
Preparing the Tenderloin
1. Trim off any silver skin or excess fat.
2. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat until hot. Add about 1 tbsp olive oil, then the tenderloin. Sear the tenderloin on all sides (30-60 seconds a side). You aren’t cooking it, you just want to sear the outside. Remove the tenderloin and allow to cool.

Preparing the Duxelles
1. Finely chop the mushrooms. (You can use a food processor but be careful to not let it become a mushed mess. I did it all by hand.)
2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat, when hot, add 2 tbsps of olive oil, all the butter, the mushrooms and the sprig of thyme. Cook for about 10 minutes, until softened, stirring often to mix. Season with salt and a small amount of pepper.
3. Add the wine and cook for another 10 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed. The mixture should be resembling a thick paste that holds it’s shape when pushed around.
4. Remove the duxelles from the pan, remove the thyme, and allow to cool.

Assembling the Wellington
1. Overlap two pieces of plastic wrap to make on large piece. Place the prosciutto in two rows of six slices to make a bed for the duxelles and loin. The prosciutto should overlap slightly and the plastic wrap should be visible (this is where that 13th slice I told you to get comes in handy). It should be as wide as the tenderloin and long enough to wrap around the tenderloin with a bit of overlap to seal.
2. Evenly spread the duxelles over the prosciutto, leaving about one-inch of prosciutto visible on the far side. (see the image below)
3. Place the loin on the part that has the duxelles to the end and, using the plastic wrap, roll the duxelles covered prosciutto around the tenderloin. The one-inch of prosciutto that was visible should wrap over itself to create a seal over the meat. The sides will stay relatively open. Chill until ready to continue.

Duxelles on top of prosciutto

Genius way to add a tiny bit of flavor and keep everything in place.

4. On a rimmed baking sheet with a sheet of parchment paper on it, place a third of one of the two sheets of puff pastry. It should be about the size of the base of the loin. You can gently roll it out on a lightly floured surface if needed.
5. Join the remaining full sheet of puff pastry to the two-thirds sheet by gently pinching the seam together with a bit of water or the beaten egg yolk. Roll newly elongated puff pastry gently on a floured surface to flatten it and extend it slightly.
6. Place the prosciutto-wrapped tenderloin (without the plastic wrap, silly) on the pre-cut piece of puff pastry. Drape the larger sheet over the top.
On the long sides, using the back or bottom of a butter knife, gently tuck the puff pastry toward the base layer.
Cut out four squares from each of the corners. This way the sides can fold towards the meat without getting in the way of each other.
On the long sides, using the back or bottom of a butter knife, gently tuck the puff pastry toward the base layer.
You should now have a relatively sealed tenderloin but with excess dough coming out from the bottom of the tenderloin. Don’t cut this off. Simple tuck it under itself to create a simple fold of dough. To do this, take the loose end of dough and fold it under itself, toward the sheetpan and, using the butter knife, press it against the dough. This will bake into a nice golden round around the beef.
7. Brush the entire surface with the egg yolk. Use the back of a butter knife to draw patterns over the surface of the dough. Gently press on the dough, but do NOT cut through it. Chill for at least 30 minutes (can chill for 24 hours without a problem).

Making it, Baking it
1. Heat oven to 430F. 2. If the Wellington has been refrigerated overnight, brush with a little more egg yolk.
2. Cook for 25-30 minutes for medium-rare, 30-35 minutes for medium. (Uhh, times are an estimate. I used a thermometer. You should too.) After removing from the oven, allow to rest for at least 10 minutes before cutting.

Highly recommended tips
- This is actually a great recipe for a dinner event because almost all of it can be made ahead. You can sear the meat, make the duxelles, and wrap the prosciutto around the tenderloin up to two days ahead. The next day you wrap that with the puff pastry. Then on the day of your meal, all you have to do is bake it.
- If the Wellington starts to brown too much, tent loosely with a sheet of foil.
- Using the wide, bottom end of a butter knife to seal the dough will help ensure that you don’t accidentally cut through it. Also, consider using the back of a plastic knife to draw the patterns on the dough.
- The excess dough is folded for two reasons: 1) I think it looks nice, and 2) more importantly, it gives the dough some room to expand to ensure the dough doesn’t break.
- Those four scraps squares of dough you cut out of the sides… don’t though those out. Simply roll them out into a free-form circle, throw on some sliced pears or apples, sprinkle a small amount of sugar and bake for 20-30 minutes at 350F. Easiest, quickest tart ever.

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