Beef Wellington
Tricks and Tips

 >> Make sure that the pastry is cold when it goes around the beef. Make sure that the beef is cool when the pastry goes around it. Otherwise, the pastry will soften, droop, and sag before it cooks. Likewise, cool the duxelles before spreading them on the pastry.

 >> Some restaurants cook this at a higher temperature for less time, resulting in a more brown crust with a more rare interior. It's fine, as long as the crust is cooked. Nothing ruins a beef Wellington for me like saggy, gooey crust.

Notes: Puff pastry is well documented in the lexicon, but Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking does my favorite job of presenting it.

For my simpler version, I make an all-butter pie dough with a few variations:

1. Put the butter (unsalted) in the freezer for at least an hour before making the pastry.

2. Put the flour in for at least half an hour (or just keep it there).

3. Freeze the bowl, knife, and other paraphernalia (I usually make my pastry these days in the food processor) as well.

   You want everything to be as cold as possible.
4. Use ice water, and use *very little*, as little as it takes to get the stuff to hang together, more or less, into a loose, crumbly ball in the processor.
Named after Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, some people suggest this was created to satisfy his love of beef, truffles, mushrooms, Madeira wine and pâté... cooked in pastry!
Although any Beef Wellington recipe is fairly time consuming to prepare, almost all of the preparation can be done well in advance, with only the final baking left to the last moment.
Beef Wellington
with Madeira & Black Truffle Jus

1 x 3lb (1.35kg) Beef Tenderloin
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 oz (30g) unsalted butter
salt and freshly milled black pepper
6 oz (175g) pâté de foie gras
4 ready prepared pancakes
   (pastry layers)
1 small egg, beaten
1 lb (450g) puff pastry

2 oz (55g) butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
8 oz (220g) mushrooms, finely chopped
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
salt and freshly milled black pepper

3/4 cup Madeira wine
3/4 cup beef broth (stock)
2 tablespoons finely chopped
    black truffles (mushrooms)
knob (2 tbs) of unsalted butter

bunch watercress, washed
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 >> The technique: Cut the butter into small pieces (I split the stick down the center into fourths, then cut "pats" off the end). Put flour -- good lord, I can't begin to guess how much, let's call it 2 cups -- into the bowl of the processor, then add a dash each of salt and sugar and add the butter. Process till the butter is cut into relatively coarse lumps, about the size of shelled sunflower seeds; you want these lumps to remain in the mixture so that they melt while cooking and make flaky pockets in the dough.

 >> Now, add the water while running the processor. Add it a teaspoon at a time, and try to add no more than about an ounce all told. (What is that, about 60 ml.) You want the dough to be very loose when you take it out of the bowl. Adding too much water to a butter crust will make it tough, chewy, and dense; leaving it dry will make it flaky, crumbly, light, and heavenly, and if your butter crust doesn't come out that way, try again; mine does, but it takes practice.

 >> Take the dough out while it still resembles coarse meal -- grains about the size of couscous loosely clinging together. Wrap it in plastic or paper -- it should be crumbly and difficult to handle -- and put it in the refrigerator for half an hour. (And yes, this IS the simplified version. Try making real puff pastry some time.)

 >> After half an hour, cut the ball in half and roll it out on a floured board. It should want to come apart, to crumble, and to separate into its individual grains. That's good; as you roll it, it will coalesce. Keep the pin well floured as well. Now wrap the beef in the dough and cook as directed.

 >> If you have extra dough left over, it makes incomparable jam tarts by wrapping a little jelly, jam, marmalade or preserves inside a square of the dough, folding it over to a triangle, and baking for 15 minutes or so at 400 degrees, or until the pastry puffs up and turns golden. Or you can roll it all out, sprinkle cinnamon and sugar on it, roll it into a spiral, cut it into discs, and cook these. That's an old family tradition for using up leftover pie dough.

 >> Good luck, and note that beef Wellington is a traditional Valentine's dish, as it represents a lot of work and a lot of love. Enjoy!
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 The first step in this beef Wellington recipe is to prepare the stuffing (Duxelle). This can be prepared up to 2 days in advance when covered and stored in the refrigerator

• Heat the butter in a frying pan and add the chopped onion. sauté for 3 minutes until soft and golden.

• Add the chopped mushrooms and sauté until all of the moisture evaporates

• Add the cream and season well with salt and freshly milled black pepper. Continue to cook over a low heat until it has reduced to a thick pureé

• Remove from the heat, mix in the chopped parsley and allow to cool completely before refrigerating until required

Although this stage of this Beef Wellington recipe requires a little time and patience, it's not difficult... and can be completed up to 2 hours before baking!

• Heat the olive oil and butter in a large frying pan

• Season the Beef Fillet with salt and freshly milled black pepper. Place in the hot pan and brown on all sides over a high heat. This should only take 4 minutes

• Remove the Beef from the pan and allow to cool completely. Reserve the juices (not the fat) from the cooking pan and any from the beef as it rests, for the au jus later

• On a floured surface, roll out the puff pastry to an oblong big enough to fit the Beef Fillet (about 1/2 inch, 6mm thick). Lay 2 pastry layers on top of each other, overlapping slightly

• Spread a strip of pâté across the centre of the pastry, the same width as the Beef Fillet

• Spread the mushroom stuffing over the top of the pâté

• Place the Beef on top of the stuffing and push down gently to settle it into the mix

• Place the 2 remaining pancakes over the top of the beef

• Cut away the middle of the ends of the pastry and brush all edges with some beaten egg. Now carefully fold the pastry up to completely envelope the beef, tucking in the ends neatly

• Carefully turn the parcel over onto a buttered, large baking tray

• With a tip of a sharp knife make 4 or 5 small incisions in the pastry
Decorate the top with pastry leaves cut out of the trimmings. Refrigerate, uncovered for at least 30 minutes

• Preheat the oven to 450F/230C

• Remove the beef from the refrigerator and brush all over with the beaten egg

• Bake the beef fillet at the high heat for 10 minutes. Then turn the heat down to 375F/190C for a further 20 to 25 minutes until the pastry is golden brown

• Remove from the oven and leave to relax (uncovered) for 10 to 15 minutes

    PREPARE THE MADEIRA JUS (this can be done while the beef is baking)

• In a saucepan, bring to the boil the reserved juices from the beef pan with the Madeira and beef broth (stock)

• Simmer gently until reduced by half. Add the finely chopped truffles (if using them), and bring back to simmering for 2 minutes

• Take the pan off the heat and add a knob of butter. Shake the pan gently until the butter melts and gives a shine to the sauce

• Season to taste

Cut the beef into thick slices and arrange on warm plates. Pour over a little of the Madeira Jus and garnish with a generous sprig of fresh watercress.
This beef Wellington recipe is so rich and complex, it barely requires a potato accompaniment or perhaps some French beans?
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September 2012