Beef Wellington 101
December 11, 2015 5:54 PM   Subscribe

Hi all! For Christmas dinner this year, I am following through on a long-held dream to cook a Beef Wellington. Have you ever done this (successfully?) I'd love your guidance!

I am a fairly accomplished cook, and have done some research, but would love your thoughts on a few questions.

1. What do you think is the best cut of meat to use? Should I special order?
2. I want to skip the pate (we're not liver people) and just use the duxelles. Any problems with this? Any substitution ideas?
3. Any hacks to make sure beef is not overdone and pastry doesn't burn?
4. What are some good side dishes to serve with it? Since it's already heavy with both meat and pastry, can you suggest some lighter but festive sides?

posted by Miko to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I have assisted with this task, although I was more of a sous chef to a friend. :) She ordered a whole beef tenderloin -- basically it is filet mignon that has not been cut into pieces, and I do think it was a special order (would depend on your grocery store). We also did not do the pate and it was still really yummy with just the duxelles. I am pretty sure this is the recipe we used as my friend has a Tyler Florence obsession. :)

For sides, we made a mushroom gravy, green beans, and Brussels sprouts. I'm not sure on exact recipes, but for both the beans and sprouts we did the type of recipe where it stays more crisp-tender and brighter green (rather than well-cooked), which I think worked well. A nice winter salad would also be tasty.
posted by rainbowbrite at 6:02 PM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

I used blue cheese and roasted portobellos once, it was crazy good.

I like red meat quite rare, so my tactic was to sear on stovetop, and only cook as long as it took to brown the crust, not actually aiming to continue cooking the meat in the oven. Something like green beans or asparagus cooked simply is a good side.
posted by Dashy at 6:04 PM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

We did this last year for Christmas. It was great. The ends overcooked a bit and the centre was rare, which was good because my husband likes meat well done and I don't. But if I wanted it to be a bit more even I would do individual sized Wellingtons instead of one big one.
posted by lollusc at 7:06 PM on December 11, 2015

Oh and we served it with a green salad with toasted almonds and pomegranates, which was very festive, and did lemon meringue pie and home made ice cream for dessert.
posted by lollusc at 7:08 PM on December 11, 2015

I've never done it, but have held onto this video link because it seemed helpful... Gordon Ramsay cooks Beef Wellington (keep in mind this is UK so he means 200 degrees C not F). And here's a shorter version of the same idea with less info but still not a bad demo. Good tips - such as making sure to remove moisture from the portobello mushrooms! I'm inspired by your post and might try to do this as well - many times an eater of Beef Wellington, but never a cook... yet.
posted by belau at 7:16 PM on December 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

I've made it a couple of times and would recommend preparing the duxelles the day before you assemble. Dealing with the mushrooms can be time consuming, and it is nice to have it ready and to concentrate on assembly.
posted by dumbasamuppet at 7:39 PM on December 11, 2015

Tenderloin. Sear the beef, hard, before rapidly chilling and then doing the rest. If finances permit, do a trial run first. Ensure your guests are good with med rare because it's not going further without burnt pastry. Pate doesn't have to be made with liver.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:17 PM on December 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Seconding belau's Gordon Ramsey video above. I am not an accomplished cook, but I successfully made Beef Wellington using his recipe after watching the video a few times, and it had the additional bonus of giving me the courage to make it beforehand to save stress on Xmas day. Aside from the tremors of terror at possibly ruining an expensive cut of beef, it was actually a lot easier than I thought it would be and it turned out perfect and quite delicious! I had the most difficulty with the two steps involving plastic wrap, which took considerably longer than it did for Ramsey to get the right shape.

The good folks behind the BBC also some gave some tips which I found useful as well.

I served it with with an arugula, radicchio, and fennel salad with lemon-truffle vinaigrette along with lemon zested & lightly buttered green beans.

(Plus, watching Ramsey get passionate about food and the kitchen instead of being angry is a real treat. I laugh every time he says "a chefy thing".)
posted by barchan at 10:09 PM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Great choice! I went through the exact same process last year, and used this recipe from the Guardian with great success.

It uses fillet which you sear off first, and no pate just the duxelle, which works perfectly.

We had it with runner beans and wilted spinach on the side which balanced the meat /carbs of the Wellington very well.
posted by Albondiga at 10:33 PM on December 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh also, two baking trays that nest. Cook about halfway, then add another tray under the first. This helps prevent the bottom from burning. (Also useful for butter-rich breads and pastries.)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:51 PM on December 11, 2015 [12 favorites]

I did this one year I was angry with my (now ex, long forgotten) in-laws. It came out perfect. Came in to say YOU WILL DO FINE.

I also did only the duxelle. SHALLOT. And white wine to reduce. Use crimini and some dried porcini or shiitake in the duxelle - AND USE BUTTER.

I don't remember what pastry or recipe I used. I did not chill the Beef Tenderloin, maybe just to room temp? Came out perfect medium rare. I don't think I used a recipe and went entirely by experience. I turned the oven high to start, then low to finish

I'm pretty sure I used an old school meat thermometer at one point - you should, too!

Going from memory, egg wash? Right? Dock the pastry.

I guess you can screw this up, but I can't see how. If you start with a really high oven temp to cook the pastry, then knock it down for an even finish, I think you can not go wrong. I think that's how I avoided chilling the tenderloin. You do NOT want the heat from the seared loin or duxelle to inadvertently melt the butter nodules in the pastry, but starting with a super chilled beef tenderloin will screw up your chances at a perfectly baked puff + medium rare tenderloin. The oven is your friend, not your enemy. Every time you open the oven, you lower the temp...

Because I live fast, I'd start with a 475/450 oven for 15 to 20 min, then check on the roast and close the door - knocking the temp down to 400 or 350 depending on progress of meat temp and pastry looks.

Did I mention you should use butter for your duxelle? You also want to use a pan wide enough to dry that duxelle out - salt makes the mushrooms give off ALL of their moisture - MAKE SURE YOUR REDUCED DUXELLE IS SUPER DRY.

If your duxelle is not dry, and your seared tenderloin is not rested and room temp (at least) the moisture will fuck up your pastry.

Salt your duxelle while cooking liberally. Salt your beef tenderloin less so. Add GOOD black pepper to your duxelle at the end of white wine reduction. Why? Because black pepper + beef is delicious, but black pepper burns. I suppose you could dust the tenderloin after searing with black pepper. Meh. Just slightly over-season your duxelle and count on the heat of the oven to carry the flavor over and meld the dish into something cohesive.

Use a thermometer on the meat. Dock your pastry. Do not be afraid of your oven. You control your oven. Make it work for you.

posted by jbenben at 11:47 PM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

*taking notes in case he can persuade his sister to not want turkey for Christmas*
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:54 PM on December 11, 2015

Re-thinking this advice, I remember making that Wellington like it was yesterday, but I probably seared a very cold tenderloin and let it rest on the counter in a cold climate - I dried my tenderloin before searing and salted while it was searing - so I avoided a lot of moisture loss from pre-salting the beef + it was internally still fairly cold when it finally got wrapped in pastry.

Searing requires an absolute absence of moisture. Tenderloin is known to get dry because it lacks fat.

Your best bet might be to over season your duxelle (use more mushrooms than you think, add any maybe extra to your sauce!) and sear the meat without salt drawing off moisture.

Your other choice is to under season your duxelle and salt brine your tenderloin 2 days in advance with a powder of salt (less than you think) garlic powder, and dried thyme that you whiz up in a coffee grinder or with a mortar and pestle. That is some Jedi level technique, tho, so only go there if you are feeling boss.
posted by jbenben at 12:00 AM on December 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, dip! Do you want to take this pastry next level? (Thanks feckless fear mongering for jogging my brain!!)


How could I forget?? I did not use this years ago, but I never now bake anything crispy without using one...

For this application, I would assume the weight of the Wellington would sink into the screen, so I would use parchment paper under the Wellington Roast, and a sheet pan (or skip that) on the bottom of the oven just in case. The screen will allow amazing heat distribution, further cutting down on baking time. This is a $5 investment you will use for EVERYTHING. So much better than a heavy pizza stone, too, but just aces for anything you want crispy, including frozen foods of all types with a breaded or dough exterior.

Thanks to this AskMe, I'll probably do Wellington this year just to confirm I'm spot on. I use that damn pizza screen almost daily when weather allows. It's the trick you were looking for with this question.

Check your 475 oven at 15 min. 25 min might be all you need to get the pastry + tenderloin perfect with this method.
posted by jbenben at 12:15 AM on December 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've made this with success a few times. Pretty much the gold standard of technical instruction, IMO, is from Serious Eats' The Food Lab.
posted by slkinsey at 5:20 AM on December 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

The first time I tried to make this I had a total pastry fail. It would not adhere to the meat. So I put everything in a casserole with the dough on top and we had Wellington pot pie. It was still really good.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 5:47 AM on December 12, 2015

Refrigerate prior to baking - good for both the pastry and ensuring rare tenderloin.
Also, I just used store-bought puff pastry.
posted by lizbunny at 7:13 AM on December 12, 2015

You are all geniuses! I am a thousand times more confident about taking this on thanks to your advice and links. I very much appreciate your sharing your wisdom!
posted by Miko at 11:43 AM on December 12, 2015

I've done beef wellington for Christmas dinner before, and had to do some stressful last minute rescue hacks after some rookie errors.

It's a real pain in the arse I'm afraid - one of those dishes that the ingredients are too expensive to practice beforehand. I'd suggest you bake some less critical pastry dishes beforehand if you're not completely knowledgeable about the idiosyncrasies of your oven - does it run hot / cold compared to the thermometer? Are there hotspots to avoid?

If I did it again, I would at least consider the following:

1. Despite what the recipe says - prep everything ahead of time (including cooking the meat to a seared crust and blue / rare state in the centre). Assembling / rolling in the pastry is so much easier when everything is completely fridge cold
2. Making individual wellingtons from portioned medallions of fillet (should be a lot easier to assemble, there is less chance of having cold meat in the middle, and overdone end pieces)
3. Serve with a very hot sauce (especially if individually portioned), in case the very centre is slightly under serving temperature at the point at which the pastry is clearly done (obviously you'd only want to do this if you've cooked the beef to an edible stage of done-ness - not just seared the outside)

Fantastic dish when successful of course - good luck!
posted by bifter at 12:36 PM on December 12, 2015

I make individual Wellingtons each year for New Year's Eve. Here are my tips:
- Use all-butter puff pastry (which can be hard to find) - Dufour is excellent and available at Whole Foods.
- We've successfully substituted creamed spinach for pate. Blue cheese can be nice. But you don't really need to substitute anything.
- Sear the meat, then put it in the freezer for 15 minutes to make sure it stays medium rare after baking in the oven.
- Salt very well before searing the meat, otherwise it will taste bland.
- After assembling the Wellingtons, put the whole thing in the freezer for another 15 minutes. Puff pastry is better when it starts out cold. It can go from the freezer right into the oven.
- If you want it to look extra fancy, take your pastry scraps and make little shapes out of them, then place the shapes on top before doing your egg wash.
posted by chickenmagazine at 1:56 PM on December 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hi everyone! I wanted to report back and thank you for your tips and moral support. It went really well! I found the Ramsey and Florence how-tos incredibly useful, and profited by all of your advice. Key, I think, to the success were Ramsey's great tricks with using cling wrap to do the rolling and shaping, a thorough chilling after each step, and really cooking that duxelle until it was just about crumbly. The whole thing was incredibly delicious, perfectly medium rare in the center. The only issue I had was the crust breaking upon slicing, rather than staying in a halo around the meat. That may have more to do with my knife than anything else. We had it with roast fingerlings, parsnips, and carrots and a light butterhead lettuce salad.

Even though this was quite impressive, I think in future I might make mini Wellingtons instead of one big one. More crust for everyone, and a little less fuss with the rolling and wrapping.

Thank you so much for "saving" my Christmas dinner!
posted by Miko at 8:50 AM on December 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

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