Sunday, December 20, 2015

Filet Mignon with (homemade) Bernaise Sauce

If you're a true-blue red meat eater, then you'll probably agree that the very best cut in the butcher's case, is the Filet - or as it's also known - the Filet Mignon. When you find it on the menu in restaurants that tend to be known for their rendition of this delectable piece of beef, there can be some confusion about the name they use. Because the filet comes from what's referred to as the tenderloin section of the cow, the name given to the cut is usually determined by either the weight/size of the cut and/or the area of the tenderloin that the steak happens to be cut from. This can also vary from one country to another, but since I'm located in the US, I'll go with that one for demonstration purposes.

*Tip: If you do a search on the web for "beef cuts diagram (insert your country of choice)" you can easily find a diagram and an explanation of how beef cuts are determined in that particular country.

You can find a detailed explanation of the different cuts used in the US, HERE.

Source: Ask The Meatman
The above diagram shows how a whole tenderloin of beef is generally cut into different usable portions. (well... it's all usable, of course) So, this should help to explain why some menus might offer up a tournado, as opposed to a filet or a filet mignon, or why there might be a dish that highlights just the tenderloin tips. In the end, they are all parts of the same main cut of beef. (and of course, they're all delicious!) Now let's get on with the recipes, shall we?

This recipe is for 2 people, but it's the same method of prep and cooking if you're feeding 8. In all honesty, if the Hubbs and I are going to be doing that, we'll roast the whole tenderloin. The next time we do, I'll be sure to post it here on the blog.

The recipe for the Lyonnaise Potatoes that I served with this meal can be found HERE. I'll also include how I prepare the green beans at the end of this post.

Pan Seared or Grilled Filet Mignon
(Sauce Bearnaise Recipe To Follow)
  • 2 Filets, cut 1 & 3/4 to 2 inches thick, or approx 8 oz each
  • Kosher Salt
  • Fresh Ground Black Pepper
  • Vegetable or Light Olive Oil
1. Remove the filets from the refrigerator about 20 to 30 minutes before cooking, in order to bring it closer to room temperature. Throwing an ice-cold piece of any kind of meat onto a hot cooking surface will cause the meat to seize up from the shock of the transition and this will significantly reduce the overall tenderness of the finished product.

2. Once the filet has reached room temperature, season it liberally on all sides with the kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Now, you might be tempted to add some kind of steak seasoning or marinade at this point. Please don't! Why is that, you ask?

Well, if we were cooking a less expensive cut of beef, like say... london broil, then that would be just fine. In fact, it would actually be a good idea. But, in all seriousness, why would you ever want to add a bunch of different flavors, that are only going to compete or (even worse) mask the true flavor of a glorious piece of beef like filet mignon? Besides, we'll have the luscious bearnaise to "complement" the beef when it's served and that's all you could possibly want or need in this situation.

3. If you are going to grill this outside on your gas or charcoal grill, you'll want to start the heating method, around the same time that you take the beef out of the fridge. With either type of grill, you'll want to have one area where you can use direct heat and another that you can move the meat to an indirect cooking space.

3b. In our case, we cooked this in the house, because it was the dead of Winter here in the Northeast. We're just not that big on cooking outdoors in 10° F temperatures on a deck that we'd have to shovel a path through knee-deep snow, just to get to the grill. Ha!

4. When cooking the filet indoors, the first thing you need to do is to preheat your oven to 400° F. Once the oven is preheated, place a heavy skillet or grill pan on your cooktop and heat it up to just below the smoking point. (That's pretty hot, but it's necessary to sear the meat well.) It helps to have an outside vented fan, or to at least be close to a window or door that you can open a crack to keep any smoke due to searing the meat, from setting off your smoke detector. (If you can reach it easily enough, you might want to temporarily disconnect it, if possible. Just don't forget to reconnect it, as soon as you're done searing!!)

5. (Only after it's heated) Brush a thin layer of vegetable or light olive oil over the surface of your pan. Filet is basically a very lean cut of beef and while you don't want to add a lot of fat to it, you do want to put just a thin barrier of oil between the meat and the very hot pan in order to keep it from charring too much or too quickly. The searing process is going to form a lovely brown crust on the meat as the juices caramelize while it cooks.

5b. So... that being said, using a pair of tongs, place the steaks in the pan. Even though you'll be tempted to turn the steaks in just a minute or two, allow them to cook on the first side for about 3 minutes, before touching them again. This is the start to that lovely brown crust that you know and love, on the steaks that you get at the high-end steakhouses. You'll find that this crust will allow the meat to release effortlessly from the pan. If it's stuck, it's not quite ready to turn. Repeat this process for about 30 seconds on all sides.

*Tip: (never use a fork when cooking meat, because piercing it will let all of the wonderful juices run out into the pan and not stay inside the meat where we want them.)

6. Once the steaks are all seared, place the pan in your preheated oven for about 5 minutes for medium rare (130° F to 135° F) or 6 minutes for medium (135° F to 140° F degrees).

Now, the last thing I want to do is offend any of my wonderful friends and readers, but if you want your steaks any more well done than that, you're on you're own. My whole life, I've been a medium rare kinda gal and the Hubbs is the same. The only time you'll ever see either of us order our beef cooked medium, is when we are ordering a hamburger. Medium well or (heaven forbid!) well done, especially when you're dealing with an amazing cut of beef like this, is pure sacrilege! Since it is Valentines Day weekend, for those who insist on cooking the meat further, I will at least give you THIS LINK, so that you can gauge the proper time and temperature.

7. When your particular cooking time is up, remove the pan from the oven and cover the steaks loosely with some aluminum foil. As is true with all meats, there will be a bit of carryover cooking during this time, so if you really like your steaks more on the rare side, you might want to take them out a minute or two earlier.

You can use an instant read thermometer if you wish, but we don't like piercing the meat at this point, because we want to keep every bit of juice in there that we can. Using one of those on a whole roast beef or chicken is one thing, but on a delicate steak like this... we'd just as soon go by our gut. (and past experience!)

Now... On to the sauce!

Sauce Bearnaise is our favorite of all of the classic French sauces ever created! I used to think it was something that only a classically trained chef could possibly achieve. That is until one night several years ago when I finally gathered up the nerve to ask the owner (and wife to the chef) of our most favorite of restaurants, if her husband could possibly share his recipe with us. In her lovely French accent, she asked me to wait just a moment and she would go ask. The sheer anticipation had me both giddy and terrified at the same time. After all, we'd been celebrating our most special occasions at this restaurant for many, many years and I certainly didn't want to anger the chef!

Luckily, my fears were completely abated, when she appeared back at our table with a small piece of paper in her hand. Yes, you guessed correctly! It was his recipe for Sauce Bearnaise! And I've been happily and proudly making it ever since! This wonderful man has since passed away, but his wife and children continue to run this amazing French bistro style restaurant that has served it's delectable food to many a celebrity, apr├Ęs races at the Saratoga Thoroughbred Race Course over the years. And I am now about to share one of my most very prized culinary possessions with all of you!

Sauce Bearnaise
(Serves 4 to 6 people)
  • 1 Lg Shallot, finely minced (or 2 small)
  • 3 Tbls Fresh Tarragon, chopped (heaping)
  • 1/4 Cup Champagne or Tarragon Vinegar
  • 3 Lg Egg Yolks
  • 2 Sticks (8oz each) Butter, cut into 5 pieces each
OK... So, this is not a low fat sauce, but remember that each person is only going to be using a couple of tablespoons in total. It's not something that you're going to eat every day of the week. (although once you've tasted it, you might want to. lol)

1. Finely mince the shallot(s) and chop the tarragon. I recommend that you do your best to get your hands on some fresh tarragon because in this recipe I truly believe that it does make a difference, but you can use dried tarragon if that's all you can find or have on hand. Just be sure to use only half of the amount that you would use of the fresh herb. As a rule, dried herbs are generally about twice as potent as fresh.

Most of the major chain supermarkets and stores like Walmart Super Centers carry these small packets of fresh herbs in their produce departments.

2. In a small heavy bottomed saucepan, add your vinegar and shallots and bring them up to a simmer. Reduce by about half. You don't want it to boil too rapidly, because the reduction could happen very quickly and that could easily leave you with less liquid than you need. The mixture should be slightly thicker, or maybe a better description would be a little bit syrupy.

3. Once this is reduced, add in your tarragon and stir well to combine.

4. Separate your three eggs and place the yolks in a small bowl.

5. Taking the pot off the heat for a moment and with a wire whisk in your hand, carefully add one egg yolk at a time to the mixture and whisk it in completely before adding the next one.

6. You'll notice that the mixture is getting a little thicker with each addition. Once all three are whisked in, turn the heat down as low as it can go and place the pot back on the burner.

7. Begin adding the butter, one pat or piece at a time, whisking the entire time, until both sticks are fully incorporated. You'll notice that the sauce is going to keep getting creamier and a lighter yellow color as you go along.

8. Once you've finished adding the butter, season the sauce with about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of fresh black pepper and serve right away.

If you can't serve the sauce immediately, it's important to keep it warm, while not scorching it, drying it out, or having it separate on you. This is the part about making homemade Bearnaise that used to make me all anxious and spazzy - especially if I was serving it to company. But, I've learned a few little tricks over the years that have taken all of the anxiety out of it.

Tip #1 Keep the pan covered tightly after removing it from the heat. Just before serving, preheat a burner to low (or turn on a very low flame, if you have a gas stove). Once the burner is ready, remove the lid, place the pan on the heat and begin whisking rapidly. If the sauce looks like it's about to separate, add a tiny amount (1/2 tsp) of very hot tap water and keep whisking. Repeat adding the tiny bit of hot water until the sauce is smooth and creamy.

Tip #2 As soon as the sauce is done, pour it into a thermos. This should keep it warm for about 30 minutes, without it separating.

Tip #3 When all else fails, give your guests a fresh (and very large) glass of wine, quietly dump out the separated sauce and start all over again. It helps to have a spare shallot already minced, some extra tarragon that's already chopped and a couple of sticks of butter already cut into pieces. It really only takes a few minutes to make and if your guests are within sight of the stove, they'll be pretty impressed that you're just whipping up an uber fancy gourmet sauce, right in front of them!

The Sauteed Garlic Green Beans

In case you'd like to duplicate this meal exactly, I included the link to the recipe for the potatoes just prior to the filet instructions and here's a quick explanation of how I prepare the beans. I swear I could make these in my sleep, because they just happen to be one of my family's favorite vegetable sides. :)

These beans couldn't be more simple. They are washed, trimmed and blanched for 2 - 3 minutes in a large pot of liberally salted water, brought up just barely to a boil. They're removed from the pot with a large slotted spoon or strainer and immediately shocked in a large bowl filled with ice and water, in order to stop the cooking process. (This part can be done ahead and the blanched and shocked beans set aside at room temperature until you're ready to finish cooking them)

When the rest of the meal is just about ready, I place a heavy non-stick pan over medium-high heat, add a tablespoon or two of butter and 1 large clove of garlic that's been finely minced. (If you aren't a garlic fan, you can substitute about a tablespoon of finely minced shallots instead) The garlic is sauteed for just a minute, then I add the drained beans that have been patted dry with some clean paper towels to the pan and season them with 1 to 1 & 1/2 teaspoons of kosher or fine sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. I then saute them for roughly 4 minutes, or until they are heated all the way through and are just barely tender, stirring frequently. Serve them immediately with your meat and potatoes.



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