I'm not an extravagant gal. My favorite cut of beef is a flat iron steak, but occasionally I'll put on the dog, flirt shamelessly with the butcher and come home with tenderloin so gorgeous that the mere idea of what's to come makes my mouth water. Year ago I learned a technique that guarantees perfectly cooked filets. It starts, of course, with good beef and, if you can afford it, grass fed beef is the way to go. I have the butcher take a center cut filet and slice it into steaks that are 1-1/2 inches thick. Once home, the beef is refrigerated, sans wrapping, for several hours on a rack in order to dry its surfaces. About an hour before cooking take the filets from the refrigerator and allow them to come to room temperature. About 30 minutes prior to cooking, select 2 heavy skillets large enough to hold the beef, adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position, place one skillet on the rack and preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. My skillets are cast iron - doesn't get much heavier than that. You'll need a 10-inch pan to make four filets and a 12-inch pan for six. I use twine to loosely tie the steaks to a fairly uniform size and shape. Place the second skillet on a burner over high heat. Meanwhile rub each filet with olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon per side, and sprinkle liberally with coarse salt and pepper. When the skillet is smoking hot add the steaks and cook, without moving, for 3 minutes. Turn and cook, again without moving, for another 3 minutes. Transfer steaks to the pan in the oven to finish cooking: 2 to 4 minutes for very rare; 4 to 6 minutes for rare; 6 to 8 minutes for medium-rare and 8 to 10 minutes for medium. If you are working with a non-professional oven use the higher time limit suggested for each category. Keeping in mind how hot the handle is going to be, remove the skillet from the oven and transfer steaks to a serving platter. Remove twine. Tent with foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving. If you like, the skillet in which the steaks were seared can be used to make a lovely sauce. I'm including a recipe for a jus lie and a quick wine sauce in case you need one or the other. Michael Chiarello has a treasure of a recipe for sauteed mushrooms that is a marvelous accompaniment to the filets and I'm passing that on to you as well. Enjoy - tomorrow we die!
Pan-Seared Filet Mignon
4 center-cut filets mignon, 1-1/2 inches thick
4 teaspoons olive oil
Coarse salt and pepper
1) Half an hour before cooking, adjust a rack to lower third of oven. Place a heavy skillet on rack and preheat oven to 450 degrees. Tie filets into uniform shapes. Set aside.
2) Place another heavy skillet, stovetop, on burner over high heat until it is smoking.
3) Meanwhile, rub each side of steaks with 1/2 teaspoon olive oil and sprinkle very liberally with coarse salt and pepper. Press seasonings into surface of meat.
4) Place steaks in skillet and cook without moving for 3 minutes per side. Use tongs to transfer steaks to skillet in the oven. Roast 2 to 4 minutes for very rare (cold center), 4 to 6 minutes for rare, 6 to 8 minutes for medium-rare, or 8 to 10 minutes for medium. Transfer steaks to a serving platter, tent with foil and let rest for 10 minutes before serving. Yield: 4 steaks.
4 cups low-sodium beef stock, divided use
5 teaspoons cornstarch
Salt and pepper to taste
1) Bring 3-1/2 cups of stock to a boil.
2) Mix cornstarch with reserved 1/2 cup stock. Whisk into simmering stock and cook until the mixture thickens and is clear. Adjust seasoning to taste.
Red Wine Sauce
3 tablespoons cubed butter, divided use
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots or scallions
1/2 cup full-bodied red wine
1 cup jus lie or canned beef consomme
1 teaspoon fresh chopped rosemary or 1/8 teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon fresh chopped thyme or 1/8 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
1) Using the skillet in which steaks were seared, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium-low heat. Add shallots and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes.
2) Add wine, raise heat and bring to a boil, scraping fond from bottom of pan. Reduce until almost gone; add stock, herbs, tomato paste and sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer until sauce coats a spoon. Remove from heat; whisk in reserved 2 tablespoons of butter and stir until sauce thickens and is glossy. Adjust seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.
Michael Chiarello's Button Mushrooms
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pounds whole small button mushrooms, wiped clean
3 tablespoons butter
Gray sea salt (kosher salt may be substituted)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup white wine
1 tablespoon chopped parsley leaves
1) In a large skillet, heat oil over high heat. Add mushrooms. Do not move mushrooms until they have caramelized on bottom (mushrooms will release liquid if moved and we don't want that to happen). When bottoms are caramelized, toss them and continue to cook for about 5 minutes.
2) Add the butter. Cook and toss for 5 minutes, until beautifully browned. Season with salt and add garlic. Saute another 2 minutes, and add thyme, lemon juice, and white wine. When liquid is evaporated add parsley and toss to distribute. Serve hot. Yield: 4 servings.