Just when you think you’ve got an original idea, everyone else seems to go and do it. Ok, so it wasn’t an original idea, it was born out of my obsession with watching Gordon Ramsey TV series, and his obsession with that quintessential English dish, the beef wellington.
I’ve been watching Hells Kitchen, Restaurant Nightmares, and his F-Word series, all of which at some point feature a delicious looking beef wellington recipe. A thick beef fillet wrapped in mushroom and proscuitto and again in puff pastry, and baked to a perfect moist pink, being sliced open everytime to the sound of his own self satisfied praises.
Now good sense and a little judgement would normally steer me away from attempting something that after a good hour or so of preparation, can come out looking and feeling like a burnt lump of wood… Not this time though. I had at least 3 different Gordon Ramsey episodes to cross reference and a giddy sense of self assuredness, that this would all be easy.
So after poring over the video footage with all the intensity and analytical skills of a coach preparing for the grand final, I was ready to go. I picked up a lean been fillet from my favourite Chinese butchers (Wing Hong in Northbridge) that looked like it would do the job nicely, and then made an important executive decision that I would not be making my own pastry. Puff pastry in itself has a degree of difficultly of around 9.5 in my book… and coupled with the standard degree of difficulty of the rest of the wellington, would push it way out of the reach of my meagre skills. So I picked up a pack of puff pastry sheets and hoped noone saw me in the frozen food isle.
So… to the recipe (batman) !
- 1 beef fillet (or long roundy log shaped piece of meat)
- Salt and Pepper to season the fillet
- Mustard (Gordon used English, I used Dijon)
- Field mushrooms (lots of, we’re going to blend them into a paste of sorts)
- Thinly sliced prosciutto (enough to cover the fillet)
- Puff pastry (enough to wrap the fillet entirely without stretching too far)
- Egg wash (egg yolks and water (or milk)) to help the pastry seal
How I Made Mine
So firstly season the fillet with salt and pepper and some olive oil. Get a pan nice and hot and sear the fillet all over. I put it in on one side and left it there for 30 seconds to a minute til it had some nice colour, then turned it 90 degrees and did the same thing, turning each time so you get a good colouring all over the fillet. Once thats done, take it out and smear the mustard all over with a brush. Let that sit for a bit while you get the rest of it ready.
So take the mushrooms and put them into a blender or food processor, or just chop them really really small. I blitzed mine in the food processor and then into a hot pan with nothing else except a little salt to season. You’ll quickly see all the moisture that’s in the mushrooms start to evaporate and after a few minutes they’re good to go.
Now get some gladwrap (cling film/plastic wrap) and lay it flat on the bench. Lay the slices of proscuitto down next to each other in a row and slather the mushroom paste (or duxelle as it’s properly called) on top in a thin layer. Place the fillet in the middle and roll from one side to the other until the ends touch. Then wrap the cling film up tightly and put it in the fridge for about 20 minutes, try to avoid having to explain to your house mates or loved ones why there is a ball of skin in the fridge if you can.
Now take it out of the fridge, lay out your puff pastry sheet(s) and put the wrapped fillet in the middle. Using a pastry brush, get a good coating of egg wash all the way around the edges of your pastry, so it will stick nicely when you try and wrap it up.
Then summoning all the dark powers of great pastry chefs that have long since past, attempt to roll the fillet up in the sheet of pastry and have it look like something one of those professional present wrappers in department stores might come up with, rather than the twisted mess you manage to make each time you attempt to wrap anything more complicated than a small box (that was more for my myself than anyone else btw).
Glaze the wellington all over with more egg wash and score the top with a knife for some elegant post baking patterns.
Now comes crunch time. Pre heat your oven to around 180C and place the wellington onto a tray. Season with a bit more salt and pepper and put it in.
The tricky part is exactly how long you should leave it in the oven. Never having cooked one before I was a little hesitant to take it out too soon, unless it was a mess of pastry wrapped raw meat. I left it too long though, and what I ended up with was best described as what they must serve to meat lovers in hell. The outer shell was nice… the pastry, proscuitto and mushroom formed a beautiful casing, but sadly were not protective enough to save my fillet from becoming a hard rubbery mess of dry meat.
So after going to bed hungry and crying myself to sleep, I woke up with a determination that I would not let any pastry wrapped meat dish get the better of me, dammit !
So back to the trenches I went. Another beef fillet, more mushrooms, proscuitto, mustard, seasoning, pastry… The very next night, and now with the added pressure of guests with expectations of culinary mastery… it was do or die.
The second time around was much faster to prepare, the steps of the preparation came back to me like a seasoned veteran, fillet, season, sear, mustard, proscuitto, duxelle, fillet, wrap, chill, pastry, egg wash, wrap, bake… All in all taking me about half an hour less than the night before.
I was also damned if I was going to let this one get overcooked. We’d be eating raw meat or nothing if it didn’t come out right. I’d taken the precautionary measure of finding my thermometer (previously used solely as a milk frothing thermometer before my coffee making skills developed), to test the inside temperature of the fillet while it was cooking.
So this time after about 15 – 20 minutes we were done. A check of the temperature in the middle of the fillet said just above rare, and that was good enough for me. Beef fillet doesn’t have the fat content to handle over cooking, so if you go much past pink you’re destined to be chewing your way through leather.
This time however, it was cooked to perfection. Succulent moist and tender all spring to mind as admirable words to use to describe it. The pastry and duxelle and prosciutto adding a delicate salty exterior that made for a nice feeling when you got a big mouthful of it all (which i always do).
My guest satisfied, my stomach filled, and my faith in meat wrapped in pastry restored, it was off to bed with happy thoughts of what to cook next, and whether it would pushing it to cook the same thing three nights in a row.