I’m getting pretty tired of worrying myself into an almost vegetal state over the presidential election.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m still cowering in a corner too paralyzed by fear to move.
I’m just tired of it.
Normally, of course, sex and alcohol would be an effective remedy, at least in the short term. And indeed, I’ve indulged in both extensively since Tuesday night in an attempt to pull out of this tailspin. However NewWifey(tm) is away ON ANOTHER STUPID STITCHING GIG, and it’s just not the same doing either without her. (This is hopefully her last trans-continental jaunt of the year though, so at least I can look forward to frantically making up for lost time when she returns next week.)
What’s left to provide succor then?
Food, of course!
And by “food”, I mean “MEAT”. And lots of it. Nothing assuages trembling flesh like more flesh.
One really fantastic food blogger I’ve begun following since setting up shop here at WP is Joe Black, a chef who plies his trade in London.* The guy has a passion for his craft that really comes through in his written descriptions as well as his art-book-worthy photos. He does exquisite plating too, something I really appreciate even if I don’t bother with it myself much any more.
I should also mention here my perhaps All Time Favorite Foodaholic: Sally BR at Bewitching Kitchen. Go. Drool. Research microbiologist, Brazilian living in America, foodie ne plus ultra with a particular genius for bread, and all around good egg (well, probably around 40 million eggs). I’ve made a number of her recipes over the years, and they’ve all been spot-on.
*Have I ever mentioned I’m a serious Anglophile? No doubt the result of my Lancaster City born paternal grandmother (go Dolly Blues!) who regaled me with stories of that green and pleasant land from the time I was old enough to decipher her funny accent. She was one of the best cooks I still have ever met, completely and singlehandedly dispelling for me that ugly stereotype of England as a nation of flavor-phobes. I’ve had a thing for English cooks/cooking ever since, from Keith Floyd’s fabulous-if-besotted “Floyd On…” series to the current crop of Ramsay, Heston, et al. And Joe now, too.
I hasten to add here that I’m not blind to some of the, ah, “peculiarities” of Ye Olde Cuisine. When I was fortunate enough to stay a month in Brentwood, just to the east of London, with a host family some years ago, a few things caught me off guard. Just a sample: finding out “toad in the hole” is NOT a euphemism for sex. How embarrassing to find I’d been using it wrong all those years! / Ordering a hamburger at the British Museum cafeteria and being served a burger made out of…ham. “Yes, I know the menu says ‘HAMburger’, but, see, the traditional animal of choice is actually….oh, never mind.” / Getting an actual hamburger at the Hard Rock Cafe London, but having every patron in the place turn and stare at me when I lifted it to my mouth with both hands, rather than sticking my fork through the top bun, then down through the lettuce…the pickle…the cheese….the burger….and finally the bottom bun, and carving out a small wedge with my knife. They eat their burgers with a knife and fork over there! The burgers that aren’t made of ham, anyway. / Spotting it on the menu, I asked my hosts “Wanna split a pizza?” They looked at me as if I’d just started speaking in tongues. “Er, no” the husband said. “But if you like pizza, go ahead and order it for yourself.” That seemed crazy to me. Pizzas in New Jersey are the size of manhole covers. Ordering one for yourself alone would be considered gluttonous even for an American. But I ordered it anyway, only to have a pizza set before me that resembled nothing so much as a large Cheerio. And of course, scornful looks when I didn’t eat it with a knife and fork. / Finally, being roundly chastised by my host for stirring my tea in a circular motion instead of back and forth. Why hadn’t my grandmother taught me that?!
One other non-food adventure I had out there in the hills of Essex worth relating: I was arrested for stealing a horse. My English friend took me to a pub my first night, and I went a bit overboard sampling the wares. God, but the Brits know how to brew. Anyway, staggering back to their house after Last Call, I spotted a horse asleep in one of the fields we were skirting. “Heyyyyyyyy, I know how to ride horses” I slurred. “Watch!” and I ran over and vaulted onto the beast’s back. The startled horse took off, letting out a prolonged and surprised yelp as it did so. I held on as long as I could – maybe a hundred feet – before losing my death grip on his mane and being unceremoniously dumped on my back. Which is where the Bobbies found me after the farmer called and complained someone was trying to steal his prize dray.
Thankfully, this happened back before the days where anyone who commits even a parking violation is suspected of being an international terrorist. I was placed in a (rather nicely appointed) cell to sleep it off, served a nice breakfast the next morning, then let out with just a stern warning to “please respect other’s property whilst you’re a guest in our country”. Oh, I also had to go and give obeisance in person to the farmer, who was still rather miffed but took my apology graciously nonetheless. Very sporting, the lot of them. I hope I can go back someday….
Ok, enough stupid side story. Back to the plot.
Yeah, so Chef Joe (remember him? The guy I mentioned, like, 4 hours ago before going off on an extended tangent?) recently posted a gorgeously composed plate consisting of beef tenderloin, mushrooms, and a puree of Jerusalem artichokes, all dotted with a classic sauce. What caught my eye initially was the Jerusalem artichoke mash, something I fully intend to try as soon as I can find a source for the little buggers (sadly, no luck so far). But everything else there looked terrific too, so when I hit on MEAT as the perfect prescription for my Post Election Blues, his Beef Fillet got the nod.
Now I’ve been cooking up beef fillet since before my restaurant days, courtesy of the aforementioned Lancashire granny. She taught me a lot of basic butchering skills, including how to break down a full tenderloin into constituent cuts. (Shameless self promotion: I once wrote a Diaryland entry about our little old lady friend who wanted to make filet mignon, but the butcher cadged her into buying an entire tenderloin instead. It’s right here if you’d like to see the mayhem that can ensue when you neglect to learn your bovine anatomy.)
Anyway, I got no beef with beef. Especially since NewWifey(tm)’s favorite dish in the observable universe is probably Châteaubriand – the roast center portion of the tenderloin. It’s way-hay-hay too expensive to purchase just that one cut though, so I only make it when full loins go on sale at our local grocery, which they do about twice a year.
This is one of those times. So as an homage to Joe, and because I really feel that dead cow in large enough quantities will sooth my blistered nerves, I’m going to make an entire beef tenderloin all for myself tonight. If NewWifey(tm) wants any, tough titties. I’ll send her pictures. There won’t even be sinew trimmings left by the time she gets back. That’ll teach her to desert me in my time of need(s).
I do make my tenderloin slightly different than Chef Joe does, although his is certainly an excellent way to go if you’re so inclined. But over the last few years I’ve come to more appreciate the “Reverse Sear” method: roasting on low heat, then a quick sear to crust the outside. It seems this makes for a much more even degree of doneness throughout the entire roast, without a grey ring of well done meat around the outside and pinker meat only in the center. Still, again, there’s nothing wrong with having variegated slices of beef if you enjoy that sort of thing.
A year or so ago I did a picture tutorial for a friend who wanted to make Châteaubriand, and also put it up on my (oft neglected) Pinterest page. Might as well cut-n-paste the thing here also, in case anyone else is still so depressed that only a 3 foot long tube of medium rare beef can offer any comfort at all.
Or you can try my first choice: sex and booze. Don’t get me wrong, a well made fillet of beef is a joy. But let’s be real here.
Alright, enough words. Watch and learn, kids.
1. Mise en place: whole tenderloin, salt, pepper, butter, twine. That’s all you need. Oh, and a knife. Unless you have very long, sharp, and possibly serrated teeth.
2. This is how you break down a full tenderloin. There’s a small tube of meat that runs along one side, which you separate (that’s the thin tube of meat at the top). The remaining large muscle is trimmed of silverskin and sinews, then cut into 3 pieces. The middle piece is the Châteaubriand cut. Try to cut it so that it’s even diameter from end to end. The smaller diameter cut on the right (the “tail”) is used for filet mignon and/or Beef Stroganoff (Stroganoff is often made from the Châteaubriand/center cut as well, just because more volume is often needed). The larger diameter cut on the left (the “butt”) is used for steaks known as “tournedos”…but you can just say “freakin’ incredibly tender steaks”
(If you really want to go all out over-the-top extravagant, you can grind or chop any or all of the remaining meat into the world’s best hamburgers, or meatloaf, or even meatballs. I often grind that top tube of trimmed meat, but sometimes I add the tail or butt also, for larger portions. It’s absolutely worth doing this at least once in your otherwise pathetic life.):
3. Ok, once you have the meat trimmed and portioned, take the center cut (the Châteaubriand) and just snugly tie some twine around it at intervals of about an inch and a half or so. This will help it feel loved, as if someone was hugging it and appreciating it as it gets sent into an oven where it will writhe and scream and rue the day it was born. It’s the least you can do. Once the meat is tied like that, lightly sprinkle salt all over it, lay it on a plate, and loosely cover it with plastic wrap. Let it sit out on the counter like that for one full hour. No less, but also not much more. There’s actual Science behind that, believe it or not. Do it:
4. An hour later, wipe off any surface moisture from the meat, then sprinkle pepper all over and smear about 2 Tablespoons of butter over the entire thing. Helps if the butter is room temp, which I probably should have mentioned earlier. Sorry. Now lay the buttered meat on a rack over a sheet pan, and put it into a 300 degree oven. Um…I probably should have mentioned also you needed to start pre-heating your oven earlier. Sorry.
Set your timer for 23 minutes. When your timer goes “Ding!” (or whatever – do I really have to tell you this?) turn the meat over and rotate the pan 180 degrees. Just spin it around so the front is now in the back. I dunno, that’s just what all the cool cooks around here do. Set your timer for 23 minutes again. Go watch an episode of “Girls und Panzer” while you wait:
5. When your timer goes “Ding!” (or other) again – in other words, after about 45 minutes total – check the meat’s internal temperature. Between 125 and 130(f) will give you rare-to-medium rare, which is traditional. If you thumb your nose at tradition and like chewing wallboard, put the meat back in the oven and never talk to me again.:
6. At this point you have two options: cut the twine before you brown the meat, or after. I normally cut my twine before. But this time I didn’t. Thank you, Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest. I don’t miss those brain cells at all. Yeah, so, whether you’ve cut the twine or not, you now have to brown the outside of that meat tube you just baked. I mean, the meat is cooked. But at 300 degrees, it stayed a rather dingy shade of grayish brown. You need to put a good, rich, textural crust on the outside.
Here’s how to do it: 1. Gather every fan you own and set them up in the kitchen, facing out any and every window in the place. 2. Have your local burn unit on speed dial. 3. Take the batteries out of all smoke alarms in your house. Call your neighbors on either side of you and have them do the same.
7. GAHH! The most important (to me) pic, and of course my camera’s flash battery died. Oh well.
When it’s browned all over – and you really want to use high heat so that it crusts fast, before the heat can transfer farther down and overcook the layers below – let the meat rest under a loose tent of aluminum foil for 10 – 15 minutes. I spread a compound butter over the top of mine (butter, fines herbs, Worcestershire, mashed garlic, salt and pepper) as it rested, but that’s optional.
It’s tough to tell from the lighting here, but the inner pink color is remarkably consistent right to the very edge. You can see it best on the cut slice, lower right of the picture. Only a very thin grey ring right under the outside crust:
If you have a sou vide setup, of course, that’ll also work. But if you’re like me and don’t have one, this is the next best thing. And not even “next” best. I’ve had sou vide steak prepared in this manner (at the CIA, in fact) and frankly, it was not discernibly better than the method I described here.
Well, that’s all. Hopefully I won’t have to repeat this recipe 4 years from now.
G’night, kids. If you’re like me and aren’t able to spend these trying times in the arms of a loved one, I hope you at least can enjoy their tenderloins.