Food for Thought: Beef it up
I’ve always been somewhat of a “plain” cook. A dish that I liked at a restaurant, or a recipe with a long list of ingredients seemed too intimidating to shop for or attempt.
But I recently tried my hand at what I thought sounded like a very gourmet dish. And it is gourmet – it’s just that it was so much easier than I thought it would be. Now I know that I should tackle more seemingly complicated meals, because chances are, I will be successful with it.
Years ago, a friend of mine and I ate at the restaurant in the old Henry VIII hotel in St. Louis. She ordered Beef Wellington, which, at the time, I knew nothing about. It looked delicious, and as she kept groaning with every bite, I said to myself, “I should have ordered that.” I don’t even remember what I actually did order that night.
But I thought about her Beef Wellington many times since then. It isn’t something you see on that many menus, and the Henry VIII is long gone. But please, if anyone has recommendations for a restaurant with Beef Wellington, please let me know. I would love to try it and see how it compares with my own newfound talent for preparing it.
And me being me, I started thinking about the name. Why Beef Wellington? It must be English, right? Turns out, it’s not quite clear. Supposedly, it has no direct connection to the Duke of Wellington, and the English-sounding name for it may be a “copy” of what was originally a French dish (filet de bœuf en croûte, or fillet of beef in pastry), renamed Wellington in England as a patriotic homage. Well, we may never know, but it gives us all a little more “Food for Thought.”
So anyway, I happened upon the website www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com. And lo and behold, there was a recipe for the delicacy that I thought seemed approachable. Here it is, though I made a few little variations.
My steaks were actually a little larger than what’s listed on the recipe, but that’s because the ones I purchased were already cut. You can always ask the butcher to cut the exact size listed on the recipe. I didn’t have quite as many mushrooms as it called for (I had maybe a 1/4 pound, and I think that was just right). If I had doubled the mushrooms, they would have been too overpowering.
When it says to defrost the phyllo dough sheets, take it seriously. I started to work with mine before they were thawed, and it wasn’t pretty. They crumbled. Luckily, I had more, which I let sit for longer. So make sure you take them out of the freezer and let them sit on the counter long enough that they unroll with ease.
And … unfortunately, my finished product didn’t turn out quite as pretty as the picture that came with the original recipe. I was supposed to twist the layers of dough together on top, but they weren’t long enough (this could be because the steaks I used were larger than 1-inch, 4-ounce cuts). Anyway, I made the best of it, and drew the dough together and cooked them upside down, so they looked nice – just not as good as I was striving for. But by all means, give the twist a try. I will be making these again, and I will continue to set twisting the dough on top as a goal. And my last variation is that I didn’t garnish with Dijon mustard. Of course, that’s optional, but the dish was so good, I wouldn’t want to mask any of the flavors with mustard.
Individual Beef Wellingtons
4 beef tenderloin steaks, 1-inch thick (4 ounces each)
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 pound mushrooms, finely chopped
3 tablespoons dry red wine
3 tablespoons finely chopped green onions
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
Salt and pepper
6 phyllo dough sheets, defrosted
Dijon mustard (optional for garnish)
Heat oven to 425 F. In large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; cook and stir until tender. Add wine; cook 2 to 3 minutes or until liquid is evaporated. Stir in green onions, thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Remove from skillet; cool thoroughly. Heat same skillet over medium-high heat. Place steaks in skillet; cook 3 minutes, turning once (steaks will be partially cooked. Do not overcook). Season with salt and pepper, as desired. On flat surface, layer phyllo dough, spraying each sheet thoroughly with cooking spray. Cut stacked layers lengthwise in half and then crosswise to make 4 equal portions. Place about 2 tablespoons mushroom mixture in center of each portion; spread mixture to diameter of each steak. Place steaks on mushroom mixture. Bring together all four corners of phyllo dough; twist tightly to close. Lightly spray each with cooking spray; place on greased baking sheet. Immediately bake in 425 F oven 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Let stand 5 minutes.
For those who try this recipe, please let me know how yours turned out and if you came up with any tips or tricks to make it better, easier, prettier, etc. This is my new favorite meal, so I really do want to know. And that same website has a Classic Beef Wellington that involves an entire center-cut beef tenderloin roast. That could be interesting to try, too, and would make for an impressive centerpiece for a holiday meal.
In this column, Bennington shares her love of food and all that involves, from special dishes at local and regional restaurants to new trends and fads, and things to try at home. Contact Bennington at email@example.com with comments, ideas or suggestions.