Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Beef Wellington experiment finale (so far)

Beef Wellington is one of my favourite meals to make - it's relatively easy to make and the effects are absolutely stunning. But I knew, while simplicity is key, I can still make it better.
I went through all recipes for Beef Wellington from Gordon Ramsay I could find and combined the most interesting elements while also adjusting it to what's available in Poland. So, here it is:

  • a good beef fillet of around 0,5kg / 1lb
  • some olive oil
  • 150g / 5oz champignons
  • 1tsp butter
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme (not too big, they're really aromatic)
  • a bottle of dry white wine, refrigerated (come on, who'd want to drink warm white wine?)
  • 7 slices prosciutto
  • 250 g / 0,5 lb pack puff pastry, thawed if frozen - and this is important - you can only use butter based puff pastry - margarine just won't to, believe me, I tried
  • 1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tsp water
  • freshly ground pepper
  • coarse sea salt

oven: 220C/fan 200C/gas 7

Open the wine bottle and pour yourself a glass - you need to see if it's right, don't you? Then start with the mushrooms - clean them, cut them and throw them in a food processor - you'll want them chopped in little pieces, but not blended. Melt some butter on a pan and throw in the mushrooms, add the thyme sprig and a splash of wine. Now that you don't need the wine anymore you can drink the rest. If there's someone in your kitchen that doesn't get in your way - share.
Now, the thing about the thyme sprig is, it will add a hell lot of aroma - you don't want it too big, as it will simply kill the flavour of the mushrooms. Fry the mushrooms until they loose all the liquid (remember to move them around every once in a while, so that they don't stick to the pan and/or burn).

When ready, take out the thyme sprig, put the mushrooms in a bowl and just wipe the pan with a paper towel - I'm not a fan of doing the dishes, so I try to use as little things as possible when cooking. It's your home, not a restaurant, it's mostly about your convenience and fun. Now comes a quite important step - you have to "close" the beef, so that it doesn't "leak" later - if it does, it's not only going to lose a lot of flavour, but also the pastry will be soggy and no-one want's that. So heat up some olive oil on the pan and throw in the fillet, just sear it quickly on every side, so that you don't see any redness lurking on the surface, set it aside and season it with freshly ground pepper and sea salt.

This is when we're getting to the assembly. For that you will need cling film and a lot of patience if, like me, you are utterly terified of using cling film. So, unroll some cling film, let's say 2x longer than the meat you have. Place the prosciutto slices on the cling film, so that they slightly overlap. Eat the last one or feed it to your non-annoying companion. Then spread the mushrooms on the ham and put the meat on those layers. Now gently wrap it all up - remember not to overlap cling film with the rest - it has to be the outer layer. Then grab the excess foil on the sides and twist it as strong as possible - this is important for shaping the thing evenly, and regular shapes seem to be key to impressive presentation. Put the meat in the refridgerator and go watch an episode of some show.

If at this point you have a thawed margarine-based puff pastry laying in front of you, throw it out and go buy one made on butter. Don't worry about the meat in your fridge, it can stay there until tomorrow if it has to. Now that you have proper puff pastry, roll it out on the table and prepare another sheet of cling film. Strip the meat from the foil and put it in the middle of the puff pastry. Use the egg wash on all the sides of the pastry then wrap the meat in it as if you would wrap a present. Cut the excess pastry away (but not too much, as it won't hold when it grows in the oven). Now repeat what you did with the cling film before - wrap, squeeze tightly and put in the fridge.

At this point you can do whatever - you can leave the prepared wellington in the fridge until next evening, or just for one hour, as you wish. When you take it out just paint it with the remaining egg wash and put it in the pre-heatet oven for about half an hour. Take it out, let it rest for 15 minutes, amaze your guests. The last time (picture above) I served it with this amazing salad from Sass and Veracity and it worked great together.

Recipe notes:

  • use butter based puff pastry, never margarine - unless you're vegan there's no reason to poison yourself with that stuff, but if you were vegan you wouldn't be reading this recipe, would you?
  • don't add too much thyme to the mushrooms as it will dominate the whole thing
  • I've read recipes for a 1kg (2lbs) piece of meat - don't do that, it doesn't make much sense - if you want to serve more people just make two smaller wellingtons, like I did recently (fed 6 and had a small bit for breakfast)