#1 – 48 Recipe Challenge: Recipe 48 – Beef Wellington (and CHALLENGE COMPLETE!)
For my final recipe of this challenge I felt I had better do something worthy of being the recipe on which the task concluded; something technically challenging, something I was a little scared of, something I wouldn’t have attempted when I started this challenge four years ago. Beef Wellington definitely fitted the bill. It’s a dream dish (for meat eaters anyway) but it’s also notoriously difficult to cook. There is no way of checking whether it’s cooked through apart from cutting it open and once it’s cut open you can’t cook it any more without turning it into a totally different dish. And as if that’s not bad enough there’s the perennial problem of the soggy bottom to contend with…
As this challenge has above all taught me to research recipes and read around the method rather than just grabbing a recipe and jumping straight in to trying it, I was grateful to find this Guardian post evaluating different recipes and methods and giving some sound advice on what to do (and more importantly, what not to do):
Of course, I also checked out a number of other recipes by chefs whom one assumes know what they’re doing (Raymond Blanc, Delia, Michel Roux, Gordon Ramsey for example) but actually I came back to the Guardian’s in the end.
There were two key decisions involved in making the Wellington:
- crepes or no crepes, and
- homemade or shop bought pastry
I was so worried about the soggy bottom I decided for crepes and bought ready-made pancakes reasoning they would be thinner than anything I could make. I also decided for ready made puff pastry in the interests of saving time. (Frankly, I can and have made puff pastry before and I had a busy week. There was no need to demonstrate that I can do that, again.) The advice about getting a good quality all butter puff pastry was worth listening to but finding one proved more tricky. Most of the supermarket puffs (and indeed Jus-Rol which you might assume to be a leader in the field) are made with margarine. Eventually however, I eventually tracked down all butter puff in M&S. (If desperate, I imagine Waitrose probably sell it too.)
Difficult decisions over, the first step in making the Wellington was to make the mushroom duxelle. I fried off chopped onion and mushrooms in a not inconsiderable amount of butter, adding a couple of tablespoons of double cream at the end. I chose to use chestnut, shitake and porcini mushrooms, with the tiniest drizzle of truffle oil as well.
The beef fillet I had bought from my local butcher (who I totally trust to not only give me meat with a good provenance but also exactly the right cut for what I’m doing), and it was indeed a beautiful piece of meat – just look at that marbling:
The fillet simply had to be seared in a pan of hot vegetable oil and left to cool. I was very careful to ensure that both the duxelle and the fillet were totally cool before I tried to assemble the Wellington – pastry likes to be cool and any warmth at this stage would simply melt the pastry, meaning it wouldn’t puff. (You’ve seen panicking cooks on Bake Off because their pastry was melting. Well, that wasn’t going to be me.)
Then came assembly time. I looked at the bought pancakes. They looked really thick. I thought about the comments in the Guardian article about the pancakes not being pleasant to eat but the meat-juice-soaked-buttery pastry being extremely pleasant to eat and, at the very last minute, decided against the pancakes. This gave me a bit of an assembly problem as I had been intending to follow the Michel Roux method and use the pancakes to wrap the fillet with the duxelle and chill down so it firmed up. But without the pancakes this was nigh on impossible. Instead I simply unrolled the pastry, spread the duxelle onto it, placed the beef fillet on top and attempted to roll up the pastry in much the same way as you roll a Swiss roll.
This is not a method I would recommend.
The pastry very quickly came up to room temperature, started melting and became very sticky. (Yes, I know, Bake Off and panicking bakers…. I was there.) It was impossible to turn the Wellington over so I ended up with the seam on top. Nevertheless, it needed to go into the oven before it melted any more, so I rapidly egg washed it, sealed the ends and popped it to cook.
It was then a waiting game….
Waiting for the cooking time to elapse….
Waiting for the Wellington to rest….
Delivering the Wellington to the table…
Taking a deep breath, offering up a short prayer and cutting the Wellington…
Relief! The pastry was beautifully crisp on top and made a satisfying crunchy noise as it was sliced. The very bottom super thin layer was also crisp, and the pastry above it had soaked up the meat juices and turned beautifully oozy whilst still being cooked. Best of all, the meat was stunningly pink.
I was immensely proud of this magnificent Wellington.
I served it with a simple mustard mash and steamed spinach as I had decided the much lauded accompaniment of dauphinoise potatoes would be too rich. I think I was right. The Wellington was amazing, but boy, was it rich. The beef literally melted in the mouth – no need for a knife to cut it, it pulled apart with a fork (thanks butcher). The mushrooms were tasty, the pastry was great. I went back for a second helping and ate far more than I reasonably should have. Yes, it could have been presented better and I wish I had had time to chill the prepared Wellington before cooking it (and got the seam underneath) but the taste was absolutely bang on.
So, there it is. Recipe 48, challenge complete! Definitely going out on a high with this one.
Scores for my Beef Wellington:
Healthiness – 2/10 (There’s a few mushrooms in this but it’s all about the red meat, butter, pastry… Basically it’s hugely calorific, especially if you eat as much as I did!)
Ease of prep – 7/10 (Actually easier than I thought it would be, especially using ready made puff pastry. Would definitely have benefitted from more chilling time though)
Flavour/taste – 10/10 (Absolutely stunning, I wouldn’t change a thing if I made this again)
It’s difficult to believe that I’ve been working on this challenge every month for the last four years and I’ve actually done it – 48 new recipes made, new ingredients experimented with and new techniques learnt. During that time this challenge has led me down so many new avenues as I initially realised my limitations, then found ways to learn and be more adventurous. It’s made me try new foods, expand the repertoire of cuisines I cook, and made me far less fussy about what I eat. It’s introduced me to a group of ‘Cooking Friends’ I can turn to for all manner of foodie questions and inspiration, it’s made me take cookery classes and it’s made me join a Cake Club. In short it has expanded my diet, expanded my knowledge and expanded my circle of friends – both real and virtual. It’s been so much more than just 48 new recipes, and although it was originally one of the more prosaic challenges it’s one I am so pleased I set it for myself because it has literally changed my life and will continue to do so. So many more recipes to try and techniques to test! The one thing it was meant to do and hasn’t in any way actually done is reduced the huge pile of ‘recipes to try’ lurking in my kitchen – if anything I’ve added to it. But never mind, it’s been a great ride and hopefully my cooking will continue to go from strength to strength.