Monday, 13 July 2009

Beef Wellington - The Winner

A few months ago, I was asked by Olive Magazine to do a recipe test. Essentially, it was to try two recipes out; one was a celebrity chef's recipe, the other a reader's recipe which we were then to rate. It sounded like good fun, so I said yes.

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:

Beef Wellington

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

Herb crepes

50gr plain flour

Half an egg

125ml milk

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.

26 comments:

Patrick said...

Is John Charles the butcher next to the station? That's prob my nearest too but I haven't used it yet as tend to go to Drings in Greenwich.

I remember reading in another post of yours a butcher at the standard too. Do you have a preference for any of them?

Lizzie said...

Hi Patrick - Yes, John Charles is the one by the station. I must confess I have recommended GG Sparkes before but I got my names mixed up - It's always John Charles I've used. I've tried Drings before but didn't find the meat as good.

Kavey said...

Sounds quite a fun exercise - actually comparing two recipes side by side rather than on different days, when one's memory of the first one has faded somewhat!

Did Olive give you expenses for that huge bit of beef, otherwise a bloomin' expensive night?!

Helen said...

DROOL! WANT WANT WANT!!! That beef looks amazing. I once made individual beef wellys for some mates and they still came out absolutely massive, hilarious on the plate. Yours look amazing - I can't believe the size of them!

Mrs_G_ said...

No Pate? I always put pate in my beef wellington, then the mushroom mixture, then the beef, then more mushroom, then finally pate, wrap it all in pastry.

Also once I have seared my beef, I brush it with brandy while it is resting.

I love beef wellington, I have to make it this weekend.

Brilliant post.

Gourmet Chick said...

Oh my goodness Lizzie I can't believe it was you who did this! I read the article and had already cut it out to try at home - it helps now to have your post to add a bit more context. How fun to be the Olive recipe tester! Next step to be the punter who gets to review the restaurants...

Chris said...

I want to eat that right now, please.

gastrogeek said...

This looks SO tasty, and I agree, there's 'owt wrong with a bit of soggy pastry now and again, not when the meat looks this good!

Ben said...

Interesting. I made one once but years ago. I remember being surprised at the crepe faffery when they did were given a recipe as a test in the last series of Masterchef. But it clearly works wonders.

Did either recipe suggest you made your own pastry. Or is life too short...?

Martin said...

I remember drooling over these when they popped into your flickr stream a while back!

That beef... I want to paint a room of my house that colour, it's gorgeous, and those portions...I'm dribbling again, so uncivilised!

Mental note - try this recipe sharpish.

gastrogeek said...

This looks so good it's got me practically frothing at the gash. And there's 'owt wrong with soggy pastry, not when the meat looks this tasty!

Lizzie said...

Kavey - Yes, the ingredients were compensated... thank god!

Helen - Individual ones, you say? I'd love to try that. Mmm.

Mrs G - I understand people usually use pate, but as I was comparing two recipes I needed to follow them to the letter. Pate is a good idea though.

GourmetChick - it was really good fun! I'd love to do it more.

Ben - I was told to buy some. I think life is too short to make puff pastry, but then I've never tried so who knows - homemade may well be infinitely better!

Martin - I do remember some excitement over the flickr set! Do try it soon.

Gastrogeek - No need to get pornographic...!!!

Chris said...

Gastrogeek: Blimey, it MUST be good...

gastrogeek said...

Sorry. I didn't think my comment posted properly the first time, then I looked at the photo again and came over all herbal essences!!!

genuiness said...

Darn Gordon and his version of beef wellington. Definitely needs pate - gives the dish more richness and flavour. Bear in mind this is beef fillet you are using (I won't start the whole British beef thing again I promise) so it will always have less flavour and needs a little push.
Also maybe a nice port jus on the side to finish the dish off.
mmmmmmmmmmm... I might just go look for beef wellington tonight...

Dan Coward said...

My brother, wife and I recently made a massive one for my Dad's 60th (picture on my blog) and we used a recipe from John Torode's beef book. the mushroom duxelle definitely made the bottom pastry soggy but it was still delicious. A proper 3 man job to create the beast...

Cold leftovers were a treat too...

Lizzie said...

Thank you for your advice, Genuiness. We don't agree on your opinion that British beef tastes anaemic, and as I was recipe testing I didn't want to stray from the recipes (obviously). Nevertheless, it was a very tasty (and beefy) dish - and very rich too.

Helen Yuet Ling Pang said...

I don't usually read Olive but I bought two issues recently and was just reading about the beef Wellington the other day! Photos look incredible. Yum...

Dan said...

Wow - excellent chance to try a rather expenive recipe out. Great fun. Looks gorgeous. As for Chervil, did you have any trouble finding it? I've only seen it for sale once in the UK - in Fortnum and Masons food hall (not that I'm a regular customer).

Lizzie said...

Thanks Helen!

Dan - Nope, I didn't find chervil; I just used tarragon and chives instead. I've never seen it for sale anywhere!

Chris said...

I saw chervil in Whole Foods once. I think it was about £50 a gram.

penny brooks said...

good god i wouldnt mind eating that for breakfast... is that wrong? I enjoyed it so much that the tube journey home feeling massively sick was worth it...

genuiness said...

You can pick up chevril from borough market (then again you can get anything from Borough market). They are about £1 a bunch, Chris, so you won't have to break the bank just yet.

James Marwood said...

That looks awesome. Clipped to the 'to cook' file. Thanks for posting.

Hengki Budi Prasetyo said...

Beef Wellington? Hemmmmm, very gorgeous!!!

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