If you are looking for a representative, delicious dish for special occasions, beef tenderloin is a perfect choice. Be it a holiday centerpiece, a special dinner for your sweetheart, or just a treat for the whole family, this cut of meat is sure to save the day.
That is if you know how to prepare it. Beef tenderloin, also known for its fancier name ‘fillet mignon’, is quite expensive and despite the simplicity of preparation, it is very easily messed up! Knowing a few simple secrets will save you lots of stress and effort and make sure you have spent your money well.
What is Beef Tenderloin?
Beef tenderloin is a high-quality, tender cut from the loin of beef, under the ribs and next to the backbone. It includes two primal cuts – the short loin and the sirloin.
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Beef tenderloins are sold as a whole or cut into steaks and can be used in various recipes, from simple sandwiches and sliders to more lavish dishes like carpaccio, Chateaubriand, and steak tartare.
Whole tenderloins are found in three varieties:
– Unpeeled, with the silver skin and fat unremoved
– Peeled, with the fat removed, but the silver skin remains
– PSMOs, silver skin and fat removed, but side muscle remains. This last option is the most expensive because it keeps only the best of the meat, but requires the least effort during preparation.
The division given above is important because the nutritional value of the tenderloin depends on the degree to which it’s been trimmed of silver skin and fat.
Beef Tenderloin Nutrition
– Beef is a complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids. As a general rule, the less fat it contains, the more proteins it has.
– About one-third of the fat in beef tenderloin is ‘bad’, saturated fat, that can result in increased cholesterol levels and atherosclerosis. The more fat you trim off, the healthier it will be.
– All cuts of beef are almost completely free of carbohydrates, including fiber and sugar, which means they have no negative effect on the blood sugar levels. This makes beef a perfect addition for diabetic and low-carb diet plans.
– Beef tenderloin is rich in B vitamins (B6, B12, and niacin). It also contains moderate amounts of vitamin E, vitamin K, folate, thiamine, riboflavin, and pantothenic acid. When it comes to minerals, it is a good source of phosphorus, zinc, and selenium, as well as decent amounts of magnesium, iron and potassium.
How to Make the Best Beef Tenderloin
As mentioned before, beef tenderloin is one of the most tender cuts out there, so whatever manner you choose to prepare it in, you can be sure that it will be soft enough. In addition, with its cylindrical shape, the absence of bones and almost no fat, it is easily carved into fillets for serving.
Unlike other roast meat recipes that require low oven temperatures in order to avoid overcooking of the surface layer, beef tenderloin can be cooked at high temperatures.
Fact: Beef tenderloin is best when roasted to medium rare. To clarify, it should be pink along the edges, preferably very light in the center and with a dark crust on the outside. This is what you are going for.
Why is (the Absence of) Fat a Problem?
Most of the flavor in meat comes from fat, so having almost no fat, beef tenderloin is very likely to end up flavorless and bland. That is the reason why almost all beef tenderloin recipes call for a strong punch of flavor in the form of spices, herbs, sauces, or pepper crusts.
The small amount of fat will make the meat cook faster. This is a problem because your tenderloin might easily end up being well-done and dry on the surface while remaining rare in the center. So, let’s go step by step and see what can be done to prevent a disaster.
Step #1 Cutting and Trimming
Take the beef tenderloin out of the fridge about an hour before cooking. Let it stand until it achieves room temperature; it will cook more quickly and evenly.
If you are preparing for a dinner party with a larger number of people, use a whole tenderloin. For a smaller group of people, choose a center-cut tenderloin, which has a smooth, cylindrical shape and cooks much faster.
For a quick trim, cut the narrow ends to obtain this perfect shape, together with the fat.
More thorough trimming is usually done by the butcher, but learning how to do it on your own is a good way to save money. Beef tenderloin has a thick, white layer of connective tissue over the whole surface, known as silver skin. If left on the meat, this silver skin will remain tough even after baking, making the meat difficult to cut and chew! More importantly, it will give the tenderloin a funny taste. That is why it needs to be trimmed.
Use a thin, flexible knife to cut and remove any part of the tenderloin that doesn’t look like meat or seems inedible. Insert the tip of the knife under the layer of silver skin in the middle of the meat cut. Keep the knife close to the surface to avoid removing too much meat.
Slide the knife while pulling the silver skin in the opposite direction with the other hand, then turn the knife and slide once more. Repeat until all silver skin has been removed.
Step #2 Spice and Pat Dry
As stated before, beef tenderloin is very tender but quite bland in flavor. That is why seasoning is imperative. The key ingredient is salt because it emphasizes its beefy taste. In addition, it makes the meat brown faster while cooking. So, be generous with the salt and sprinkle it all over the surface.
If you are not in the rush, it is always a good idea to leave the tenderloin rest after salting. Salt the meat and let it sit in the fridge overnight. Its surface will dry out and brown very quickly during cooking.
Proceed by rubbing the meat with dried herbs like thyme and basil, pepper, allspice, and crushed garlic to add extra flavors.
Pat the surface of the meat with dry paper towels before roasting, to additionally boost the process of browning.
Step #3 Fold and Tie
When cooking a whole tenderloin, the odd appearance is not the biggest concern. The uneven shape can result in unevenly cooked meat – thicker parts will end up rare, while the thinner parts will quickly overcook.
Fold the narrow end of the beef tenderloin back and tuck it under itself. Tie the cut with a butcher’s twine, at approximately 1-inch intervals, so that it has the same thickness all over.
#4 Roast and Grill
Method A Pan-searing first
Traditional beef tenderloin recipes require pan-searing the meat on the stove top, at a high temperature, before transferring it to the oven. This quick sear is not only to slightly brown the meat and give it a nice crust. It will seal in the juices and caramelize the tenderloin, making it even tastier, and shorten the time it spends in the oven.
Heat some butter in a large pan or skillet (using butter instead of oil will make help the tenderloin brown faster due to the dairy proteins it contains). Sear the meat for 2-3 minutes on each side, then transfer it onto a rack, in the middle of the oven, left uncovered.
The roasting time depends on the meat’s size. Smaller, two to three-pound cuts need about half an hour to 40 minutes to become medium-rare, whereas larger ones require about an hour roasting to achieve the same doneness.
An instant thermometer is very handy here. Stick it in the center of the meat to see if it is done. If you are going for medium-rare tenderloin, wait for the thermometer to reach a temperature of 135 degrees F. For medium meat, the thermometer should indicate 145 degrees F.
Alternatively, you can grill the tenderloin on a charcoal grill. Place medium-hot coals around a drip pan, then put the meat on the rack over the drip pan. Cook covered. A two or three-pound meat will need about an hour of cooking.
Method B The reverse sear
To prepare a slow-roasted beef tenderloin, place the raw meat on a rack in the middle of the oven and cook at a low temperature until the center achieves about 125 degrees F for medium-rare, or 130 degrees F for medium. Remove the meat from the oven and sear it, following the same technique described in method A.
Another option, especially if working with a beef tenderloin that is quite big, is to do the sear in the oven. Place the meat in a roasting pan and keep it in the oven for 6-8 minutes at 500 degrees F.
Cut the beef tenderloin into ¾ inch-thick steaks for roasting or 1 inch-thick for grilling. Trim the excess fat and season as desired.
Roasting: Heat a skillet greased with butter over medium-high heat. Cook ¾ inch steaks uncovered for about 8 minutes, and 1-inch steaks for about 11-12 minutes. Use an instant thermometer to check the doneness – 145°F for medium rare, 160°F for medium
Grilling: If using a charcoal grill, put the steaks on the rack, uncovered, directly over medium-hot coals. Cook for about 10 minutes for medium-rare or about 15 minutes for medium, turning them once during grilling.
#5 Rest Before Serving
No matter how impatient you are to indulge in your perfectly cooked beef tenderloin, you must wait for 10-15 minutes before serving, so that the meat relaxes and absorbs the juices! Cutting the tenderloin immediately after cooking will let the juices out on the plate instead of in your stomach, resulting in dry and flavorless bites. Patience!
What to pair beef tenderloin with? There a lot of possibilities and here are just a few: