When I found out the recipe I'd be doing was Beef Wellington, I was rather pleased. Beef fillet rolled in pastry? Yes please. So off I toddled down to my local butcher, John Charles in Blackheath. His eyes widened when I asked for 1.5kg of beef fillet. I salivated.
The first recipe, the finished product above, was the most complicated. 500gr of beef fillet needed to be seared quickly and then left to cool. Meanwhile, we needed to make two herb crepes with chervil, tarragon and chives. Then we were to lay down some cling film (a feat in itself), lay the crepes down slightly overlapping, and also some Parma ham. Next, 500gr button mushrooms, chopped and fried to a dryish paste was to be spread over this, and finally, the beef plonked amongst it all. This was then to be rolled like a big log. Now, I am a master cigarette roller but this was tricky. Mushroom mixture flew everywhere, cling film tore, and it took three of us to get it into a neat log. This was meant to be then chilled before being wrapped in pastry, but being a school night, we didn't have time for such luxuries. I had spent the entire previous evening chopping a kilo of button mushrooms (yes, really!) and half a kilo of shallots, cooking them into duxelles.
After a good ol' egg glazing, this went into the oven. We set about making the next Wellington - a kilo of beef fillet was seared, splattering myself and my kitchen in a fine film of oil. This recipe was easier, but as I smeared the fridge-cold duxelle mixture - half a kilo of button mushrooms cooked with shallots and a pack of butter - it occured to me this Wellington might be slightly soggier. The butter was bound to melt into a sodden buttery mess. Nonetheless, we soldiered on gamely.
We all laughed manically at this beast of a Beef Wellington. It was massive. In it went, and we settled back with a few glasses of wine to wait.
Considering I didn't time it much, they both came out perfectly cooked. The beef was beautiful; Aberdeen Angus, perfectly medium rare, well seasoned, and all the juices held in nicely with the mushroom, crepe and parma ham layering. The puff pastry was light, buttery and it was all sinfully delicious. The herbs in the crepes gave it a nice freshness too. My friends who had come to eat the beast had told me not to bother with vegetables as they had an abundance of purple sprouting broccoli; upon arrival, they had forgotten it. Thankfully they hadn't forgotten the beverages. And so, we ate it au naturel. Except I had prepared a dish of Dauphinois potatoes incase we felt the need.
The second beast fared less well. While again, perfectly cooked, my fears were confirmed. The duxelle only served to make it a soggy mushroomy mess. However, I'm a bit of a fan of soggy pastry and I quite liked it, as rich and calorific as it was. By this point, we were fit to burst and were happy we didn't have much in way of sides.
The winning recipe said it served 2, with 500gr beef. The second, with a kilo of beef claimed to serve 6. Between five of us we ate it all.
So, I hate to say it but as July's edition of Olive revealed, it was Gordon Ramsay's recipe that won out. The Parma ham and crepe combination made it a bit of a faff, but ultimately proved better results. The recipe:
Serves 2 - 3
500gr button mushrooms, chopped
1 sprig of thyme, leaves stripped
500gr centre-cut piece of beef fillet
2 tbsp English mustard
500gr pack of puff pastry
3 slices Parma ham
i egg, beaten
50gr plain flour
Half an egg
1 tbsp melted butter
Soft herbs such as chervil, chives and tarragon chopped to make 1 tbsp
To make the crepes whisk the flour, egg and milk with a pinch of salt until smooth. Pour into a jug and stir in the herbs and some seasoning. Leave to rest.
Fry the mushrooms in a little oil until they give up all their moisture and it has evaporated leaving you with a thick paste. Add the thyme leaves and some seasoning and keep cooking for a few minutes. Cool.
Stir the melted butter into the crepe batter, Heat a 15cm crepe pan and oil it lightly. Pour in a little batter, just enough to make a thin layer on the base of the pan, cook until the top surface sets and then turn over and cook briefly. Remove and repeat with the rest of the batter. This will make a couple more than you need so choose the thinnest ones for the recipe.
Sear the beef all over in a little oil in a very hot pan. Brush with the mustard, season and leave to cool.
Lay a large sheet of cling film on the kitchen surface and put 2 crepes down on it, overlapping a little. Lay over the Parma ham. Spread the mushroom mixture over the ham and put the beef in the centre. Roll the cling film up taking the crepe with it to wrap the beef completely into a nice neat log. Chill for 1 hour (I didn't do this).
Heat the oven to 200C. Roll out the pastry, remove the cling film from the beef and wrap the beef in the pastry like a parcel, with the ends tucked under. Trim as you do so the parcel is nice and neat without too much excess pastry. Brush with egg, score with shallow lines across the top and chill for 20 minutes (I whacked it straight in the oven).Cook for 20 minutes or until the pastry is nice and brown and then rest for 20 minutes before carving. If your piece of beef was very fat it may need longer. The best way to test is to neatly and carefully stick a skewer into the beef, count to three and then test it against your inner wrist. If it is cold the beef will be raw, warm then rare, and hot cooked through.
Serve with steamed greens and Dauphinois potatoes or, as I did, just on its own.