An offshoot of the pandemic is a craving for savoury pastries. Pot pies are huge right now, and Beef Wellington is just a sophisticated, stylish pot pie.
Presumed to be named for the Duke of Wellington after his victory over Napoleon, it more likely is simply the French Beef en Croute renamed for him. The dish appeared in the 1900s in ritzy English dining rooms, reaching its zenith in the 1960s and ’70s, and is returning to popularity now.
The dish showcases beef tenderloin encased in duxelles, a purée of mushrooms, sometimes with pâté, and covered with puff pastry. Once baked, the rosy beef, cradled by the filling and pastry, looks and tastes superb. Usually, a Madeira or other rich sauce is served alongside.
The challenge is to keep the pastry as dry as possible so that it will puff up properly. There are ways to do this. Encase the meat and mushrooms with prosciutto or serrano ham before rolling in the pastry. Alternatively, cover the mushrooms with crêpes, an English take, or use a single layer of phyllo, which basically melts when the dish is cooked but keeps the pastry dry.
Use all-butter puff pastry, if possible. Frozen Dufour, though hard to find, is the best. Bakeries will sometimes sell their pastry to you. If using frozen, thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
Salt and pepper a two-pound (1 kg) centre-cut beef tenderloin. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to a frying pan and sear over high heat until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. Remove to a plate, brush with 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (mix in some horseradish if you like) and let cool.
Process 1 pound (500 g) mixed mushrooms in a food processor until finely chopped but not mush. Heat a skillet, add 2 tablespoons butter, 2 tablespoons chopped shallots and 1 teaspoon chopped garlic. Sauté a few seconds, add all the mushrooms and ½ teaspoon fresh thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is very dry, about 8 minutes. Add ¼ cup whipping cream and reduce until the cream disappears completely. Season with salt and pepper. Cool.
Place a large rectangle of plastic wrap on the counter. Layer slices of prosciutto, slightly overlapping, to fit the tenderloin. Spread with a thin, even layer of the mushroom mixture, then add the tenderloin. Using the plastic wrap as a guide, roll up the tenderloin tightly so it is encased by the mushrooms. Twist the ends of the plastic wrap to seal and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Do the same with phyllo, if using.
Roll the puff pastry into a rectangle large enough to wrap the tenderloin. Unwrap the beef roll and place it on the edge of the puff pastry. Brush the inside of the pastry with egg wash (1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water and salt), then roll up. There should be a slight overlap on the seam to seal in the meat. Trim and fold the side edges underneath. Egg wash the pastry, make two small cuts for vents and then, with the tip of a knife, cut swirling lines into but not through the pastry (optional).
Bake at 425 F for 30 minutes or until the pastry is golden. The meat should be 120 F for rare. Let cool for 10 minutes then slice into about one-inch-thick pieces with a large, serrated knife. Serves 4.
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