Beef, Butchers, and Butter

One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating. ~Luciano Pavarotti

So next on our list: Beef Wellington.  Beef Wellington, like most entrees with surnames in their titles, has a back story.  The dish got its name from the Duke of Wellington who earned the honor by sending word of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. The French had created the dish and called it “filet de boef en crote”. The Duke apparently loved it and the English wanted to spite that silly French “emperor”…so the name got changed.

So basically Beef Wellington is the original “freedom fries”.

I used the recipe from The Joy of Cooking (Scribner, 2006 edition).  Classic recipe = classic cookbook.  And there is NOTHING more classic than TJOC….in fact, it’s going to require its own post.  Stand by.

Back to the beef.  There are basically four big ingredients: 1. the beef; 2. the puff pastry; 3. the pate or foie gras; 4.  something called “duxelles”.  I’ve pronouncing this like “duck’s L’s” which I think is pretty close.  No doubt the French would still pretend they couldn’t understand me….

First: buying the ingredients.  Most recipes call for a fillet of beef.  So basically a really big (eg. 3 lbs) filet mignon.  Which, I discovered, you have to pre-order and may have required pawning some of my personal belongings.  So- I chatted up the butcher at our local grocery store and asked for a substitute…he gave me a well marbled bottom roast tender enough to cook in the oven.  A 3 1/2 pound roast was about $13.  WIN.

Sidenote: I attempted to befriend the men working at the meat counter…I think they may be invaluable to this project.  They, in turn, demanded that I report back on the outcome of the Beef Wellington. DEAL.

Beef, shallots, Madiera, Mushrooms, and Pate. Mmmm.....

I also had to ask for help finding some sort of liver/pate/foie gras.  This deeply concerned the assistant manager….but HUZZAH!! They had it!  For future reference: the canned meat section is home to this treasure.  Also for future reference, I will try to avoid using the phrase “canned meat”.

First, the mysterious “duxelles”. This recipe was also in TJOC.  You mince a pint of mushrooms in the food processor and dry them off with a paper towels.  Saute them with lots of butter and finely chopped shallots until all the liquid is gone and they have browned.   Add 2 tablespoons of Madeira wine…which smells thick and boozy, like an after-Masterpiece-Theater kind of drink, and cook until evaporated. This is duxelles.

Cool this mixture.  Later mix the duxelles with about 1/2 cup of the pate and a couple tablespoons of Madeira to make a paste.

Next, sear your roast on ALL sides just to start the cooking.  Then let cool.  While this happens get your puff pastry situated so you can wrap your whole roast in it.  I needed two sheets rolled together to cover the roast.

Puff pastry, smeared with goodness, getting wrapped around the beef

Sprinkle the counter with flour and don’t over handle the pastry or it will start melting…it’s 1/2 butter.  No, I’m not joking.  Puff pastry is half butter.  So. Amazing.

So next you smear the duxelle/pate mixture on the pastry, center the beef on it, and smear the remaining mixture all over the beef.  Then, fold the pastry over the beef and seal the edges with an egg wash (egg + a little water + a little milk).   Disclaimer: this looks gross.

The whole things goes SEALED SIDE DOWN on a greased pan.  Cut a few slits to release the steam and to create a place where you can check the temp of the meat. Traditionally, you decorate the top with leftover pastry in the shape of vines and flowers.  I attempted two flowers but they looked like the trees in Horton Hears a Who.

350 degrees for about 45 minutes, then start checking with a meat thermometer. 160° is about medium, but keep in mind  it will keep cooking post-oven.  Pull it out and let rest.  I had to use a meat fork and a massive spatula to move it…veeerrry gourmet.

And…..drumroll please……

TA DA!!!

And it tastes even better!!

Beef Wellington is DELICIOUS. I had concerns.  I mean, the majority of recipes that were “hot” in the 1960’s concern me.  And, in some recipes, its supposed to look like a shiny boot when done.  Hmmmm.  BUT– it was spec.tac.u.lar.  Hell, we were even eating the “scraps” off the platter.  I could go on and on…rich, buttery, earthy from the pate and mushrooms.  And really really tender.  No steak knives required.

Butter, could you go wrong?!

UNEXPECTED BONUS(es): Double bonus this time kids! 1) Madeira is fantastic flavoring….its richer and less acidic than most wines I’ve cooked with.  Suit up, Madeira: you’re in the game.  2) I made friends with butchers.  Ooohhhh…do you think they could find me a goose?!

Did I convince you to try beef wellington?  Because you should.  And serve it to a table full of friends.  Friends who bring wine.

Up next: hollandaise sauce!

4 responses to “Beef, Butchers, and Butter

  1. what a beautiful job with the beef wellington….very impressive!! I never knew that about the name…lol….thanks for sharing!

  2. Great tasking Noreen! Lovely presentation on your china-was it? Anyway, the sauce is very excellent – & I do love it. Try meatloaf en ‘crote – humble but very stately. Now, the 2 best casserole ideas that I’ve done is the Taco Casserole that I made for the teachers @ Aquinas during parent teacher conf., I believe it’s in your Feeding the Flock – but I have it fr. the original kBl. Sac. bk. Next, well you’ll just have to phone Simon re this Casserole – it’s my homemade Chicken pot pie/Brenda will give it a Yes, also. Let me know if you’re interested. Now, I’m out to the garden-flower time-Dad’s rule “Sunny must plant all that she buys before any more can be bought. LLast night I did some seeds before the Hawks game – Can’t wait to watch them in person – which was one of the 1’st times I spent an evening w/ my father-in-law. xx Mother

  3. John M McKinney Jr.

    The Becker’s (authors of TJOC) were very big on squeezing all of the liquid from the mushrooms prior to cooking for the duxelle (reduces bitterness).

    • John:
      I made Beef Wellington many years ago using TJOC recipe and I distinctly remember squeezing finely chopped mushrooms through a cheesecloth. Thanks for refreshing my memory before I make it again for the first time in 40 years for this Christmas!

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