Thursday, May 5, 2011

Beef Wellington

The first time we had Beef Wellington was on Hans' birthday in March 1999.  He had decided to cook rather than going out to eat and wanted to try this dish.  It was wonderful.  With it, we had whole red potatoes cooked in broth and fresh green beans tied with bacon.  The sauce was excellent.  For wine, we had a 1992 Cos D'Estournel from Bordeaux, one of our favourite red wines.  I had made my frozen chocolate mousse for dessert, but it had to wait for the following day as we could not eat anything more!  The next time we had this dish, we invited friends here in Germany to share it with us and after that, we served it in Nova Scotia to family and friends.  Superb every time.
 The baked Beef Wellington
Hans has prepared and baked Beef Wellington a number of times since then.  It is rich, high in calories and a lot of work.  But why worry about that, we feel, as it is not as if one eats this every day or every week or, for that matter, every year.

The origin of the recipe is not really known, though most agree that it was named after Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington.  (Many of us heard about him in school when memorizing the date and history of the Battle of Waterloo, which took place on June 18, 1815 just south of Brussels, Belgium.  Napoleon was defeated by the Coalition led by Wellington and the Prussian Army commanded by Gebhard von Blücher.  At the end of that battle, Napoleon's rule as Emperor of France was ended and he was exiled to Saint Helena, where he died in 1821.)

The postcard below is one I bought at Waterloo in 1963.  Note the lion at the top of the hill, lying facing towards France.
Many believe the dish didn't come into being until the end of the 19th century, although roast beef with a flour and water pastry wrapped around it was likely served before that time in England and Ireland and perhaps long before that in France.  No one seems to know when that dish was first presented, nor who it was:  the English, the Irish or the French.  As Julia Child and Simone Beck say in their cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume II, the French would surely not have named it after Wellington!  (The French translation for this recipe is Filet de Boeuf en Croute.)

Many food writers say that it was popular in the 1960s' era in the United States (likely in Canada also as we all read American magazines), with many hostesses making it the star attraction at dinner parties.  I was not one of those, although that is when I began experimenting seriously with different recipes, both for the family and for dinner parties.  I had decided that if I had to cook meals for the rest of my life--little did I know someone else would take that on eventually!--I was not going to cook the same thing every week and I would look at it as a hobby.  Thus cooking and collecting recipes became a lifelong interest.  Although I don't cook that much today, it remains a huge interest of mine.  I still cut out recipes and file them away--in file folders in a filing cabinet and on the computer.  And occasionally I still do cook!  But "Beef Wellington"--that is Hans' specialty.
There are three main parts to the dish:  the fillet of beef itself, the goose or duck pate de foie gras mixed with the farce, plus the puff pastry that is wrapped around it.  We use duck pate as the goose pate (from Alsace) is from forced-fed geese.  The duck pate is less expensive (though not cheap) and is also very good.

These days it isn't necessary to make your own puff pastry, but if one is so inclined, it can be made the day before and kept well wrapped in the fridge.  We find the store-bought puff pastry to be excellent.

A good sauce is a must and that can also be made the day before, though if you wish to use the liquid from pan-frying the fillet as the basis for it, brown the fillet and make the sauce after removing the fillet from the pan.  (Wrap and place the beef in the fridge overnight before cooking it the next day.)  Hans made both the sauce and the farce the day before.

 There are many recipes to be found for this dish with each one being somewhat different.  Hans follows a German recipe from a book we have had since 1982, Das Grosse Buch Vom Kocken by the well-known cooking magazine essen und trinken (to eat and to drink).  We have never been disappointed.  Here is the recipe, translated from German.

Beef Wellington with Sauce Perigord - 6 to 8 portions
(The Perigord is a region in southwest France renowned for its truffles and also for its goose liver pate.)

3 shallots, finely chopped
500 grams (approx. 1 lb) champignons, cleaned and finely chopped
30 grams (1-1/4 oz) butter
3 Tbsp Madeira plus 4 Tbsp (Hans uses 4 and 4)
3 Tbsp whipping cream
Salt and pepper from the pepper mill
1 bunch Italian (smooth/flat leaf) parsley, finely chopped

1.5 Kilo (3 lb) beef fillet (from the centre of a fillet) (*Hans' fillet was 800 grams, so smaller)
3 Tbsp olive oil
100 gram (4 oz) goose liver pate (or duck liver pate)
About 400 grams (about 14 oz) puff pastry (a good-size piece of pastry that will surround and cover the fillet)
1 egg, separated
1 tsp meat extract
Worcestershire sauce
1/8 liter (1/2 cup) whipping cream
1 piece of truffle, best fresh (Hans uses 30 to 40 grams--2 ounces or so--truffles)**

Note:  *Though Hans had a fillet of only 800 grams (more than enough for two full meals for two persons), he made the sauce and the farce according to the recipe above.  Any sauce or farce left over can be frozen.  **He buys the fresh truffles from a seller on the internet.  It isn't cheap, but it is well worth the cost as it adds tremendously to both the farce and the sauce.  He adds chopped truffles to both, the amount depending on how much you have!

Farce:  Saute the chopped shallots in melted hot butter until they are glassy (a couple of minutes).  Add the chopped mushrooms and saute until steaming.  Cook until all moisture has evaporated.  Add the 3 to 4 tablespoons Madeira and the 3 tablespoons cream and stir them into the mushroom and shallot mixture; cook until all liquid has evaporated.  The farce must be dry.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper; add the chopped parsley and stir it into the mixture.  Remove from the stove and allow to cool.  (This can be prepared the day before and kept in the refrigerator overnight.)

Preheat the oven to 225C (440F).  (Hans had a smaller fillet at 800 grams; he baked his at 200C (400F).

Season the beef fillet with salt and pepper.  Add the olive oil to a fry pan and heat until very hot; add the fillet and brown well on all sides, about 10 minutes.  Remove from the pan and allow the beef to cool.

It is then time to cover the fillet with the farce and wrap it with the puff pastry.  (I must now confess that I completely forgot to take pictures as Hans prepared the beef.  Instead, I took pictures replicating it well after the fact!  Foil is not used, of course; I am using that to represent the farce that would be around the beef (also it stands out).  A picture is worth a thousand words as the saying goes.

While the beef is cooling, break up the goose or duck liver pate and mix it in with the cooled farce (mushroom and shallot mixture) and stir it all together well.  Unroll a piece of puff pastry, a rectangle large enough on which to place the fillet and one that will cover it well. 

Place the length of the fillet on the pastry lengthwise, not directly in the centre but a little towards the (narrow) side as shown at the left.  Spread the farce all around the fillet with your hands so that it is well covered.

Now, lift the (narrower) side of the puff pastry onto the fillet as shown on the left.  Then lift the bottom of the pastry onto the fillet, as shown at right.  (You need more pastry at that end than I am showing but you get the idea.)

Now place the top of the pastry onto the beef and farce as shown on the left; now both ends are covering the pastry.  Finally, lift the long and wider side of the pastry onto the fillet so that is is totally covered and all the sides overlap, as shown on the right.

Brush the egg white over the pastry so that the seams are well covered, as that will keep the sections together.  Brush the egg yolk over all to give a nice golden colour to the puff pastry when baked.

Place on an oiled baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes if you like it medium-rare.  Longer for well done.  Leave in the oven until the puff pastry is nicely browned.  Remove it from the oven and let it stand for 10 minutes.  (Hans baked ours for 35 minutes at 200C (400F); keep in mind that our fillet was 800 grams.)  Remove the Wellington carefully from the pan.  Then take a picture before carving into slices and placing them on a serving tray or on the plates!

The picture below shows the Beef Wellington as it came out of the oven.
Sauce:  In the (hot) drippings left in the pan from searing the beef fillet, add some broth (about 1/8 liter or 1/2 cup water and some meat extract).  Stir quickly.  (Note:  You can use a package of sauce (instead of the broth), such as Knorr or Maggi, one that is relatively neutral.  That will help thicken the sauce; otherwise, it will be thinner and need a thickening agent.  Follow package directions and then add the rest of the ingredients.)

Add 4 tablespoons Madeira and a little Worcestershire sauce.  Let simmer for a few minutes until melded well and then stir in the 1/2 cup of whipping cream.  Add the remaining finely chopped truffles just before the sauce is finished.  Do not cook more.  Place the sauce in a sauce boat and let the guests serve themselves.  (Hans tastes often as he cooks and will add a little more to his sauces of certain ingredients when he thinks it is needed, especially when it comes to sweet or sour cream, creme fraiche, butter, Madeira, Sherry, Cognac or wine--though not too much more.)

I have several other cookbooks that also give a recipe for Beef Wellington.  In the food of France published by Murdoch Books--a British cookbook--you make your own pate from chicken livers, with garlic and brandy or Cognac added to it.  The pate is spread over the puff pastry rather than onto the beef fillet first and then all is wrapped around the fillet.  The oven temperature is 200C (400F) and baked for 35 minutes for a 1 kilo (2 lb) fillet.

In Johann Lafer's Meine Kochschule, he adds cooked Schinken or bacon to his farce.  For 800 grams of fillet, he bakes it at 230C (450F) for about 25 minutes.  Lafer is a chef and owns his own restaurant and has a TV cooking show.  He writes for magazines as well.

In Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume Two, by Julia Child and Simone Beck, they recommend brioche dough rather than puff pastry.  They say that it is beautiful to look at along with being light, thin and cooked all the way through.  They also say that is never the case when using puff pastry as it is always damp under its exterior.  We, however, find that our puff pastry was cooked through, though it can be somewhat damp with the farce directly underneath it, a good reason to make sure the puff pastry is browned well and thus crisper.  It is also much easier than making brioche dough!

In The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker, they say they are not devotees to this dish.  Their recipe is interesting, however.  They roast a 5 lb (2-1/2 kilo) beef fillet for 25 minutes in a 49C (120F) oven.  They then suggest, on taking the beef out of the oven, to flambe it with 1/3 cup of brandy.  They then spread the farce over the puff pastry (not on the fillet) and set the fillet on top, wrapping the pastry around it.  They bake it in a 220C (425F) oven for 10 minutes before lowering the oven temperature to 190C (375F) and baking it for another 20 minutes or so.  They allow it to stand for 15 minutes before carving.

In The Gourmet Cookbook Volume II, published first in 1957 (I have the 1971 Third Printing edition), the recipe is somewhat simpler.  They season the fillet and then smear it with butter.  It is then placed on a flat pan along with small pieces of celery, onion, parsley, a bay leaf and a pinch of rosemary.  It is baked at 230C (450F) for about 25 minutes.  After removing it from the oven, it is cooled.  It is then wrapped with a good layer of pate de foie gras (not a homemade farce) and wrapped in pie pastry (not puff pastry), which is brushed with egg yolk.  It is baked at the same temperature for another 15 minutes or until the crust is browned.

The Gourmet Cookbook Volume I also has a recipe, somewhat different.  The top of the fillet is spread with pate de foie gras (not a farce) with chopped black truffles sprinkled across it.  It is then covered with puff pastry and baked.

As you can see, there are many recipes for this dish with variations, some of which are good ideas.  I am sure the other recipes are excellent, but we shall stick with the one we have had for many years as it has always been superb.  (We might, however, try flaming it with brandy or Cognac next time--prior to adding the farce and puff pastry--as suggested in The Joy of Cooking.)

Beef Wellington is a meal to remember, whether you have just eaten it yesterday or long ago.  It is oh, so good!
Our Easter dinner this year


Our wine was a 1994 Lafite Rothschild.  Perfect with Beef Wellington.  Expensive these days, but luckily we had ordered a case of it in 1992.  I believe we have only one left.

Guten Appetit!  Bon Appetit!   Enjoy!

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