Beef Wellington, Well Done! not Well Done ♯

I like my beefsteak rare. Really rare. And when making Beef Wellington, I want it well done (in preparation), but not well done (overcooked). Because its ingredients are (expensive!) tenderloin and puff pastry, I just can’t, in good conscience, cut the calorie count, sodium content, and carbohydrates to minimal values and still retain the quality of the result. So this recipe is one for special occasions, after which the regular dietary regimen may be resumed.

The origin of Beef Wellington is unclear. The earliest recipe found with this title was published in 1940 in The Palmer House Cook Book, but that was a much simpler version than the now-classic version that came into prominence in the 1960s. Beef Wellington was the premier party dish of the time—it was rich, dramatic, expensive, and difficult and time-consuming to prepare. It defined what a gourmet dish of the day should be like.

As for its title, some theories suggest that the dish was named after Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo. Other accounts simply credit the name to a patriotic chef wanting to give an English name to a variation on the French filet de bœuf en croûte. Still another theory is that the dish is not named after the Duke himself, but rather after its resemblance to one of the brown shiny military boots that were named after him. Yet another claims it was invented for a civic reception in Wellington, New Zealand.

Whatever its origin, among its various versions with layers of pâté, mushroom duxelles, sometimes prosciutto*, and puff pastry wrapped around a tenderloin, my Beef Wellington recipe stands as the best I have eaten anywhere.

  • 1 package puff pastry, frozen
  • 2 lb beef tenderloin, whole
  • 1 4½ can chicken liver pâté
  • 1 oz brandy
  • ¼ lb white or brown button mushrooms
  • 1 large shallot, peeled and minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • ½ tsp dried thyme leaves
  • ¼ tsp dried nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp unsalted <butter>
  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ tsp <salt>
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 oz water
  • 1 cup Madeira, My Dear, Sauce

Thaw puff pastry in the refrigerator a day before preparations begin. Make duxelles by putting mushrooms, shallots, garlic, thyme, and nutmeg into a food processor and pulsing until it becomes a finely chopped mixture. Add <butter> and olive oil to a large saute pan and set over medium heat. Add the mushroom and shallot mixture and saute for 8 to 10 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated, leaving a paste-like consistency. Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool. When cool, fold in the chicken liver pâté and brandy. Refrigerate while preparing the tenderloin.

To prep the tenderloin, tie it up in four sections using kitchen twine to help retain its shape, drizzle it with olive oil, season with <salt> and pepper, and then sear it all over, including the ends, in a hot, heavy-based skillet that has been lightly sprayed with olive oil, for about 2 minutes per side. Remove from the heat and set aside. When cool, remove the string.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the thawed puff pastry out to about a ¼” thickness. Overlap the sheets and press them together as needed to enclose the entire tenderloin and duxelle mixture. Set a sheet of plastic wrap that is long enough to wrap up the roast and duxelles mixture on top of a pastry board, lightly flour it, and top with the puff pastry sheet*. Use a rubber spatula to cover the wrap evenly with a thin layer of the duxelles-chicken liver pâté mixture. Sprinkle this with <salt> and pepper, to taste. Place the tenderloin at the center of the mixture, fold the pastry over at the longer sides, roll it up tightly, removing the plastic wrap during the roll, and twist the ends to seal it completely and retain a nice log shape. Set this in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to ensure it maintains its shape.

Preheat oven to 425° F. Make an egg wash using the egg and water.

Remove the wrapped tenderloin from the refrigerator and unwrap and discard the plastic. Trim the pastry ends if necessary. Brush the pastry seams with egg wash to completely seal the beef. Use the pastry scraps and a cookie cutter or other means to make decorative bits of dough and place these, egg washed, on the top in a nice pattern. Place the log seam-side down on a greased cookie sheet.

Brush the top of the pastry with egg wash; then make a few small slits in the top of the pastry (not on the decorations) using the tip of a paring knife. This creates vents that will allow the steam to escape while cooking. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown and beef registers 125°F on a meat thermometer inserted at the end of the log. Remove from the oven and let rest for 15 minutes before cutting into thick slices.

Serve with Madeira, My Dear Sauce. Allow ½ lb per person.