I despair of cooking instructions that say "season to taste" and "cook until done." So herewith is my own nerdy geek approach to a deontological preparation of Beef Wellington and its accoutrements...
We learned a bit of history of why it is called what it is.
One theory is that it is a celebration of Wellington's defeat of Napoleon by taking an intrinsically French dish (boeuf en croute) and making it intrinsically English as a final snub over Wellington's defeat of Napoleon.
First, however, reflect on the Duke of Wellington. This was one huge suck-up guy: commissioned in 1787, soon became aide-de-camp to two successive Lords Lieutenant of Ireland. He was a colonel by 1796, barely nine years later (most people take some twenty years to reach that rank: Army Colonel, Navy Captain).
Be that as it may, he certainly was one accomplished fellow. And he decidedly defeated Napoleon.
I just wonder about his love life.
But whatever, the meal is pretty wonderful and a lot of fun (if time consuming) to prepare (and consume). :-)
I happily spent about three hours preparing and another two executing in the excellent company of a friend and a lovely bottle of Malbec...
I drew inspiration this year from Tyler Florence:
His major contribution was his pointing me to Duxelles, a mix of mushrooms and herbs and other good stuff that supplants the hideous (IMHO) offal-based paté..
As good as it is, I have adapted it as described below.
So, with all that, pour yourself a small (100ml) glass of red wine and get started:
First, collect the ingredients. Tyler is targeting a three pound roast, I had a one pound Chateaubriand. So I divided his ingredients by three: half a pound (8 oz.) of mushrooms. But not enough, next time go for a pound of mixed mushrooms for a pound of meat.
Shaw's vegetable team are pretty awesome: fresh oyster, shitake, and portabella mushrooms, so I mixed them up. (The checkout counter calls them "Exotic" mushrooms...)
Next, add to Tyler's recipe: I want chestnuts.
Yes I know, roasting chestnuts by an open fire. Except it is 60°F outside and the fellow who promised me firewood sold it to someone else. So to heck with the open fire, do otherwise: Just roast them on a pan in the oven:
Note the 425°F oven instructions. This comes in handy, as bread requires 450°F while the Beef Wellington returns to 425°F. Time management, later.
OK, we chop all that up and put it in the mix and now are ready to cook the duxelles:
in a skillet at a low heat. As Tyler points out, the point is to remove as much liquid as possible while blending the flavors, so as to approximate a paté without including the offal. But do not throw away or burn off the liquid. Reserve it for the sauce (later):
So while that is simmering down, prep the rest. Cut out the eyes of the potatoes, get the rest of the mushrooms washed and cleaned, chop the ends off the green beans. (I don't like Tyler's "Wilted Greens", in fact I don't much like anything "wilted", including limp wrists...) And when done, we are ready to go into action:
Ah! And this is critical: SEAR THE MEAT.
The idea is to keep the juices inside the meat and not in the pastry!!
Last year we did not know this, so the juices ran and the bottom of the pastry was soggy. Once burned (or soggy), twice foolish.
Additionally, just to make sure, we used the turkey basting rack to keep the Wellington off the baking surface, to allow browning all around.
Phew. Another cup of wine and we are ready to execute:
Ooops. Not quite yet. The shell...
Tyler brilliantly suggests wrapping the duxelles with prosciutto. Yet another delicious barrier to sogging up the puff pastry. So we do so.
I know there is a huge argument of whether you want or don't want the fat in the prosciutto. Personally, I do not. So I strip most of it away, but save some to serve as horizontal binder across all the fractured bits.
So we lay out the puff pastry and cover it with prosciutto:
Yet another level of detail into which we shall not delve, except to say:
Most marketed "puff pastry" is margarine based. I wanted real butter, but could only buy it for a family of fifty (restaurant supply). OK, at the time I had some money so did so and froze the rest. It's been in the freezer for a year. And yes, Virginia, it dries out, even though frozen. So a huge opportunity for some capitalist purveying to the top percentiles with authentic prepared puff pastry using butter, not margarine.
But I digress. In the event we used what we had.
As Tyler points out, first lay a spread of plastic film (Saran wrap, whatever) and lay the puff pastry on top of it.
OK, now this is the really tricky part. As I found out, if you have let the puff pastry thaw out too long it sticks to the paper. So the first batch was a total loss. So I got out the second one. Except it had broken in the freezer. :-( Third time's a charm, except it also had a few breaks. But letting it mellow a while until you didn't have to force it (about thirty minutes) I could spread it out on the counter and using just a few drops of water seal the cracks, then spread the duxelles on top over the prosciutto. Like I said, we probably needed another ¼ pound of mushrooms and herbs (next time):
Phew. A top up for the wine...
Now we can carefully put the beef on the duxelles topside down about three inches from the left edge of the pastry and then, with the aid of a large knife and spatula, lift the edges of the puff pastry and duxelles over the meat and roll the whole lot to the right, obviously keeping the underlying Saran out of the way. Then tuck the ends in and cover them with the ends of the plastic wrap.
The butcher manager at Shaw's Middletown, RI did a perfect job: uniform size.
Now let that solidify in the fridge for half an hour while we do other stuff.
Like, bake the bread that we had prepared earlier...
• The Wellington requires 30 minutes or so to rest and solidify in the fridge.
• It then requires about 30-40 minutes in a 425°F oven.
• The previously prepared oven-ready bread requires a 450°F oven for about 30 minutes...
• The potatoes require a 425°F oven.
Duh, bake the bread while the Wellington rests, then reduce the temperature to 425°F for the meat and potatoes.
But when the time arrives, yet another important point:
Use a rack. Ensure Tyler's egg wash (whites of two eggs, save the other four eggs for tomorrow's omelette...) covers the whole assemblage, including the ends.
Last year we put the wrapped beef directly on the baking sheet. The bottom became soggy because of the juices. This year, despite the prosciutto, we expected the same, so used a turkey roasting rack to hold the entire assemblage up in the air. It worked just fine:
OK, yet another topup. Set the timer for 30 minutes to check things.
While the Wellington is doing it's thing get the vegetables, potatoes, and other stuff underway. Put the potatoes in the oven with the Wellington immediately:
And while that is going on, nick the remaining chestnuts and set them to roast in a pan under the meat in the oven, while preparing the bread to be rewarmed:
The meat thermometer is essential:
It looked done but the thermometer said 100°F, not 125°F.
Finally, it is done:
And it is served:
:-) Merry Christmas!