Saturday, December 24, 2011

Pepper-Crusted Beef Tenderloin

It's a classic holiday dish that is simple to prepare and will 'wow' your dinner guests.  It is not however inexpensive, so this treat should be saved for your most important events.

Because this cut of meat is so tender and rich, pairing it with a pepper crust makes for the perfect balance.  Although the preparation is quite simple, you can even do that ahead and just pop it into the oven when the time comes.  It cooks quickly.  It also marries quite nicely with a fig sauce, which you can also do ahead and finish with any pan drippings just after the meat comes out of the oven.

Meat Selection:  I generally suggest a 3 or so pound center-cut beef tenderloin.  There are three main sections of the tenderloin: the butt, the center-cut, and the tail.  The center-cut is the part used for steaks (fillet mignon) as the diameter of the meat remains relatively consistent. This is also the cut used for Chateaubriand and Beef Wellington.  If you get an entire tenderloin, you can use the entire piece for your holiday dinner, but the size at either end will be inconsistent with the center portions.  This isn't so much an issue with the butt end, but the other end tapers off into a tail.  You can tuck the tail under for roasting (as I did in the photos here) and use this portion for children or others who need a smaller portion. Or you can cut it off and save it for a very tender and delicious beef stroganoff.  If you get just the center-cut from your butcher it will generally be trimmed of its fat and silver skin.  However, whole tenderloins may be sold as unpeeled (the fat and silver skin remains), peeled (the fat is removed, but silver skin remains) or as "PSMOs" (it is peeled, silver skin removed, and side muscle left on.) While it is the most expensive, if you are given and option take the PSMO version as this not only will save you work, an experiened hand at this trimming task will ensure you get all of the meat and a better presentation.  Finally, a note about meat grades.  I usually try to buy meat that has been graded as 'prime'.  However, my purveyor only had 'choice' cuts of beef tenderloin.  Most meat is clearly marked and you pay a premium for 'prime' cuts.  I  have to say that the 'choice' tenderloin was excellent and I could not tell the difference from prior purchases of  'prime' tenderloin.

Meat Preparation:  Cover two heavy duty cooking sheets/trays or shallow roasting pans in aluminum foil and spray them with food release.  Unwrap, rinse and dry the tenderloin.  Trim away any portions you will not be cooking at this time. Trim fat/silver skin if necessary.  Place the tenderloin on one of the roasting trays.  Mix together:  1/4 cup Dijon mustard, 1 Tablespoon olive oil, 2 cloves of finely crushed garlic.  Spread evenly over the top and sides of the tenderloin.  Turn over and spread the remainder on the bottom of the meat.  Mix together 1 1/2 Tablespoons of course salt, 3 tablespoons of coarsely ground black pepper and a pinch of paprika.  Season the bottom side and then turn onto a clean space on the roasting tray and season the top and sides.  Transfer the coated meat to the clean roasting tray.  At this point, you can cover with foil and refrigerate until ready for roasting but not more than four hours ahead.

Fig Sauce:  Melt the butter (see below) in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and saut√© until soft and translucent. Add the figs and cook a minute or two until they start to breakdown. Stir in the honey, wine and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes until reduced and thickened. Add the thyme leaves and check seasoning. You can do this all ahead and let sit on the stove top to cool.
1 Tablespoon salted butter
1/4 cup chopped red onion
6 fresh ripe figs, stems removed, chopped
1 Tablespoon honey
1/4 cup red wine
2 T balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1/4 cup red wine as needed for proper consistency

Roasting and Plating:  Preheat the oven to 450F.  Roast about 35 minutes, or until a meat thermometer instered in the middle of the thickest part of the tenderloin registers 135-140F for medium.  Remove from the oven and tent with foil and allow the meat to rest for 15 minutes while you finish the sauce.

Add any meat drippings to the fig sauce, return to a medium-high heat and add more red wine (1/4 cup or less as necessary to get the desired sauce consistentcy) and cook for 5 minutes. Strain by pushing through a sieve.  Slice the tenderloin into 1/2" slices and plate 2 to 3 slices per person.  Spoon sauce over each serving.

From my kitchen to yours,  Merry Christmas!

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