When I was in my twenties I decided to throw a black-tie holiday party. I had invitations printed and mailed to my friends. Everyone went out and got all gussied up and arrived in a very festive mood. I had a series of appetizers for people to snack on through the course of the evening, with new offerings coming out every half hour or so. Now, imagine all this going on in a tiny one-bedroom apartment, with everyone packed in. We had a blast! People pitched in to help, someone took over bartending duties, others manned the buffet table, helping to keep it stocked, while I put the finishing touches on the next items coming out of my kitchen.
The highlight of the evening’s meal was a full filet of beef that I had roasted and served sliced paper thin with small dinner rolls and assorted mustards. My friends couldn’t believe I could afford to serve such an expensive cut of meat … I had a good job but it didn’t pay much at the time. None of them knew that the secret is to buy a whole tenderloin and cut it myself!
When you go to a swanky restaurant and want to order the most expensive thing on the menu, it will often be the filet mignon. A steak cut from the tenderloin, it is meltingly tender and almost buttery in texture. A lovely meal for sure, but costly. Butchers charge for the cost to clean up and portion out large slabs of meat, but if you buy the whole piece and carve it yourself, you can save a lot of money. Most good butchers will be happy to clean and trim it for you if you ask nicely.
These days I am much less likely to throw a fancy party, but more often a cozy dinner with friends. I am always looking for meals I can either do mostly in advance or that require little attention while my guests are over. A whole roasted beef tenderloin is the perfect centerpiece to a magical dinner. It is extremely easy to cook, takes very little time and effort, and is simple to carve. When you put a little effort into a flavorful pan sauce, you have an elegant entree that even your most discriminating guests will admire.
A pan sauce is the simplest of sauces, and yet, because of the components, it can be one of the most complex and delicious. As with my roast chicken, I like to use onions as a “rack” when I am roasting meats. They add a lot to the drippings, including a slight sweetness that always complements savory items. By studding the garlic with whole cloves, you get a hint of spice with the bold red wine that I find intoxicating. Combine that with the sweetness of the onions and other seasonings and I have a feeling you will put this on your “Must Make Again” list!
You can serve this with lightly steamed green seasonal vegetables and creamy mashed potatoes. Try adding some celery root or sweet potatoes to the regular potatoes for a nice change and increase your vegetables, vitamins, and fiber intake without even realizing it!
Whenever you cook with wine, make sure you use a wine that you would drink on its own. NEVER use “cooking” wine. It is horrible and will ruin your dishes. What I do is buy two bottles of the same wine. I use part of one to cook with and then serve the rest of that bottle and the second one if needed, at dinner. That way your wine will always complement your meal!
If buying wine intimidates you, there are many people available to help you choose. You can look up wine pairings online, or go into your local wine shop. Explain what you will be cooking and let them make a recommendation for you. I hit my local Beverages and More and Costco regularly, looking for good deals on wines that I like. Keep a couple on hand so you can whip up a dinner quickly when you want to.
So, set the table with your finest dinnerware, open the wine, turn down the lights and light the candles. Turn on the French music and pretend you are dining at the finest restaurant in Paris! Oui, oui monsieur, c’est magnifique!
Kitchen Skill: How to Clean and Prepare a Beef Tenderloin
Why: Most of the time when you buy from a reputable butcher, he will have trimmed all the meats prior to weighing. Make sure you don’t pay for anything you won’t be using, but you can utilize some of the trimmings for other recipes. If you don’t remove the silver skin, the meat will be difficult to chew.
How: Using a sharp, thin-bladed knife, remove the chain muscle from the beef tenderloin. (The chain muscle is the long, thin muscle, connective tissue, and fat that runs almost the length of the beef tenderloin. Reserve it for another use, such as stir-frying or ground beef.) Then remove and discard the silver skin (the thin tendon sheath) and most of the surface fat from the tenderloin.
Beef Tenderloin with Balsamic Onions and Red Wine Sauce
Based on a recipe from Williams Sonoma
Yield: 10 to 12 servings
1 whole beef tenderloin, about 6 lb
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2-1/2 lb large onions (about 5), peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
4 to 5 cloves garlic, peeled, halved, and any green centers removed
4 to 6 whole cloves
1/4 cup water
2 fresh thyme sprigs
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Red Wine Sauce
1/2 cup robust red wine, or more as needed
3 cups beef stock or reduced-sodium beef broth
2 to 3 tbsp beef flavored “Better Than Bouillon” or other demi glace
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 fresh rosemary sprig, well rinsed
3 fresh thyme sprigs, well rinsed
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp butter, at room temperature
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
Prepare Beef Tenderloin: Ask your butcher to clean up your tenderloin, removing the chain muscle and silver skin. If you don’t have a butcher to do this for you, you can trim it yourself using the following directions outlined above in Kitchen Skills.
Next, about 5 to 6 inches from the narrow end of the beef tenderloin, make a shallow cut crosswise across the tenderloin, cutting about halfway through the meat. Fold this narrow end piece under so that the tenderloin is uniformly thick from one end to the other. This helps the roast cook more evenly. Secure the tenderloin with kitchen string, tying it at 1-1/2 inch intervals along the length of the tenderloin.
Rub the meat on all sides with 2 tbsp of the olive oil. Season generously with salt and pepper, pressing to be sure they adhere. (The roast can be refrigerated, uncovered, for up to 24 hours. Let stand at room temperature for about 1 hour to warm up before roasting.)
Prepare Balsamic Onions: In a large skillet over low heat, warm the remaining 2 tbsp olive oil. Add the onions, stir to coat with the oil, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, and then add 1/4 cup water, the thyme, and the balsamic vinegar. Press the cloves into the garlic pieces and add to the pan. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are very soft but not browned, about 15 minutes. Uncover and, if any liquid remains in the pan, increase the heat to medium-high and cook just until the liquid evaporates. Again, do not let the onions color. Discard the sprigs.
Roast Tenderloin: Preheat the oven to 425°F. Position a rack in the upper third of the oven. Arrange the onions and garlic along the center of a shallow roasting pan just large enough to hold the tenderloin. (If you have a rather large roast, you can spread the onions on the diagonal to make space for it in the pan). Place the tenderloin on top of the vegetables. Add another 1/4 cup water to the pan.
Roast the tenderloin until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 125°F for medium-rare, about 45 minutes. The roast will vary somewhat in doneness depending on the thickness of its sections. Remove the pan from the oven, transfer the meat to a cutting board, and tent with aluminum foil. Let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before slicing.
Make Pan Sauce: In a saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the 1/2 cup red wine to a boil and cook until reduced to 1/4 cup. About halfway through the reduction add the thyme and rosemary sprigs.
Strain the pan juices from the roasting pan through a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl. Discard the garlic and cloves, but keep the onions in the roasting pan. Pour 1/2 cup of the pan juices into the saucepan with the wine. Add the beef stock or broth, bring to a boil, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes to reduce slightly and blend the flavors. Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir in the demi-glace and balsamic vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper and, if desired, 2 to 3 tbsp more wine or to taste. Remove the herb sprigs and discard.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the butter and flour to make a paste using a fork. (In French cooking terms this is called a beurre manie, and is used like you would a roux to thicken sauces.) Reduce the sauce to low heat, whisk in the butter/flour paste a little at a time, whisking until smooth between each addition. Simmer until the sauce thickens to the desired consistency, about 2 to 3 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. Cover and keep warm over very low heat stirring occasionally.
To Serve: Transfer the tenderloin to a carving board. Remove the strings and slice the roast into pieces about 1/2 inch thick. You can add any drippings from the cutting board to the pan sauce if you like.
Place a spoonful of the reserved onions onto warmed individual plates and top with a slice of tenderloin. Spoon a little of the sauce over the meat and pass the remaining sauce at the table.
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