Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Mini Beef Wellingtons

This dish is very, very special - as well as somewhat time-consuming and expensive to make. If you can vault those hurdles, I promise that the result will be spectacular.
Mini Beef Wellingtons
The recipe has three components: The buttery, finely chopped mushrooms fine chefs call 
Duxelles; the tender, lean, steaks the whole world recognizes as Filets Mignon; and the magic of Puff Pastry. This beautiful combination of ingredients will produce an unforgettably mouth-watering steak laced with mushrooms top and bottom and lovingly swaddled in pastry. 

Don’t use bacon-wrapped filets in this recipe! If that’s what you’ve bought, remove the bacon before covering the meat with pastry. Not removing the bacon will infuse the pastry with fat, spoiling its flavor, rise, and flakiness. Some pre-packaged beef filets (advertised and sold as “4-oz. filets”) actually weigh just 3 oz. That’s because they have a 1-oz. strip of bacon wrapped around them. I consider it misleading advertising to promote bacon-wrapped filets as “4-oz. fillets.” If your filets actually weigh 3 oz., remove them from the oven after 20 min. rather than the longer baking time the recipe calls for.

I found this recipe on an Internet video - which, in its slick, minute-long presentation, made the recipe look simple. Hah! I prepared this dish on three different occasions before I felt confident enough to blog it. My version of this glorious dish serves 4. 

Below are the step-by-step instructions I’ve written to make this recipe foolproof and help you get it right the first time you try it.  Allow a generous 1-1/2-to-2 hr. to prepare this outstanding dish, not including its 25-min. baking time. The good news is that you can prepare these Mini Beef Wellingtons up to 3 hr. in advance before popping it into the oven. 

Here’s the video, giving you some idea of the assembly of this dish. Ignore the quantities the video stipulates. I’ve made the quantities, the method, and the recipes instructions far more precise: 

Mini Beef Wellingtons:

The night before you make this dish, do three things:
• Prepare, cover, and refrigerate the Duxelles
• Place commercially made frozen Puff Pastry in the fridge to thaw (If you’ve never used Puff Pastry before, you may want to thaw extra). 
• Make sure you have all the ingredients you’ll need. This isn’t the time for last-minute shopping!

To Prepare the Duxelles: 

6 tbsp. (90 mL) butter (no substitutes)
2/3 c. (160 mL) finely minced onions
About 20 large mushrooms (about 14 oz. or 400 g, producing 3-to-4 c. when finely minced) 
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
Coarsely ground sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper, to taste
4-to-6 large sprigs fresh thyme (no substitutes)
1/2 c. (120 mL) dry sherry
1-1/2 tsp. (7 mL) coarsely chopped flat parsley, stems removed

Assemble and prepare all ingredients before starting. In heavy skillet, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add onions, mushrooms, garlic, salt, and pepper, stirring frequently until mushrooms absorb all or most of their liquid, about 40 min. Mushrooms should be greatly reduced and almost dry. 

Cook Duxelles slowly, until liquid is absorbed.

Add thyme sprigs and sherry, cooking slowly and stirring frequently a further 10-to-15 min. or until mushrooms are dry. You’ll have about 1-3/4 c. when you’re done. If a little butter remains, leave it; if it’s excessive, strain most of it off. Cool to room temperature; remove thyme sprigs. Add parsley, stirring to disperse here and there throughout Duxelles. Refrigerate in airtight container up to 48 hr. until needed.

To Prepare the Beef Filets:

Four 4-oz. (113 g) filets (filets mignon)
Coarsely ground sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper, to taste 
2 tbsp. (30 mL) canola oil (as you go along, add a further 1 tbsp. oil if needed)
3 tbsp. (45 mL) Dijon-style mustard, divided

Assemble and prepare all ingredients before starting. Preheat oven to 425 deg. F. Combine salt and pepper in small bowl. Gently dip filets into bowl, lightly pressing salt and pepper into all sides of meat.

In heavy skillet over high heat (see Skillet Note), bring oil to sizzling point. Working quickly with one filet at a time, use small tongs to sear all surfaces of meat; do not cook through. 

Sear meat in sizzling oil, working fast.

Cool filets on wire rack. Spread top of each filet with just under 1 tbsp. mustard. Briefly set aside until needed.

Slather the top of each filet with Dijon-style mustard.

Skillet Note: Cast-iron is ideal, though any other heavy skillet will do. I am not a fan of non-stick skillets used on high heat.

To Prepare the Puff Pastry:

One 14-oz. (397-g) pkg Puff Pastry dough, thawed and divided (see Puff Pastry Note)
Flour, as needed

Following the marked divisions on the block of pastry dough, divide the block in half. Refreeze or reserve the remaining well-wrapped half for another use or another day. You are now working with about 7 oz. (about 200 g) of pastry. Slice this small block’s marked division, vertically dividing the pastry dough into two half-blocks that each measure 4 x 4 x 1 in. (10 x 10 x 2.5 cm). Using a sharp knife, cut each block horizontally to produce four small squares of pastry 1/2 in. (1.3 cm) high. 

On a lightly floured work surface, flour each pastry square, top and bottom. Working with one square at a time, roll out thinly. Give pastry a quarter-turn as you work, adding more flour as needed. Depending on the size and thickness of your filets, you’ll want a pastry rectangle of about 10-1/2 x 8 in. (27 x 20 cm). 

Roll pastry thin, assuring enough to wrap the meat. 

Puff Pastry Note: I buy the Tenderflake brand of Puff Pastry. This brand’s marked divisions make it easy to divide the block as required. Do not substitute pie shells, tart shells, or patty shells for the block of Puff Pastry in this recipe.

To Prepare the Recipe to Completion: 

Duxelles made as recipe previously directs
Beef Filets made as recipe previously directs
Puff Pastry made as recipe previously directs
Cello wrap 
1 whole egg
1 skewer

How carefully you do the following steps will greatly affect the presentation of this dish: Divide Duxelles into eight portions, compressing one portion tightly in your hand. Place this portion in center of pastry rectangle, ensuring that not even one sliver wanders beyond pastry center. 

Place one beef filet atop compressed Duxelles, lightly pressing edges of meat to flatten Duxelles underneath. Compress  another of divided portion of Duxelles in your hand, pressing it carefully onto mustard-topped meat.

Gather up every last stray bit of Duxelles under the meat. 

Bring sides of pastry up and over meat, squeezing together until meat is completely wrapped with pastry. Turn meat over; mustard side with pastry seams will now be on bottom rather than top. With cupped hands, gently press all sides of wrapped meat until pastry assumes a “baseball” shape.  

Top side of pastry should be smooth and elastic. 

Transfer pastry-wrapped meat onto sheet of cello wrap that overhangs each side of pastry-wrapped meat by at least 8 in. (20 cm) Leaving ends of cello free, wrap top of pastry securely. Lifting meat by each end of cello, flip and roll in air several times, wrapping meat securely (The video above displays this technique well). Once again press meat-wrapped pastry with cupped hands, forming a tight, smooth “baseball.”

Place on parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerate up to 3 hr. Repeat with remaining filets (So I wont forget anything, I cover a small bowl of egg wash, putting it and the skewer on the same baking sheet). 

Cello-wrapped meat? Check! Egg wash? Check! Skewer? Check!

If you plan to serve this dish for guests, the timing of the next step is critical (See Dinner Party Note).

Preheat oven to 425 deg. F. Remove cello wrap from each bundle of pastry-wrapped meat. Brush pastry with egg wash - a whole egg mixed with a fork. Skewer single hole at center of pastry. For a medium-rare finish, bake 25 min. on parchment-lined sheet. Serve immediately. Yields 4.

So let’s see how this time-consuming recipe turned out! 

Ready for a peek inside?

Once more, with feeling: Tender and tasty! 

Ron took the photo above the first time I made this recipe. In my first attempt, I used bargain-priced meat wrapped in bacon. It was then I learned only to use the very best filets bought from a quality butcher. As my subsequent trials showed, this fabulous dish got better each time I prepared it. I can honestly say that this is the best main dish I’ve ever made! Would I freeze this uncooked dish in advance? No.

Dinner Party Note:

As I wrote at the top of today’s blog, I made this great dish for a Dinner Party, preceding it with a tossed salad. With the oven already preheated, the timing that works best for me is to excuse myself from the dinner table soon after the start of the salad course, at which point I remove the cello from the meat, wash the pastry with egg, skewer it, and slide it into the oven. 

Because the final preparation of the meat and its baking time are short, my guests are still eating their salads when I return to the table. This timing allows me to eat at a leisurely pace and participate in the conversation. 

The parchment-lined sheet, the egg, the skewer, and anything else needed (heated plates and sprigs of parsley to decorate them) are already at hand in the kitchen. When the meat’s done, ready to serve, each filet goes onto a heated plate, with the vegetables served separately.

My secret weapon in all of this is Ron, who usually prepares the vegetables and brings them to the table (as well as doing all the later clean-up). If you don’t have someone like Ron in your life, ask a friend to help you out. 

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