Friday, September 17, 2010

Filet Mignon

Cut from the tenderloin section of a steer or heifer, the filet is the most tender piece of meat on the animal. every animal probably only yields about 8-12#'s of tenderloin (two per animal-one on each side of the spine) total, so with trimming and cleaning you are looking at close to 7-8# of total, center cut, product that is available for steak usage. this means they are always expensive, on the other hand they are perceived to have amazing value to them as well. many people consider it to be a real treat (we sell more filets at work on New Years Eve than any other night of the year). personally,  i am not a big fan. i dont like the soft, almost mushy texture of most filets. they are in an area of the animal that gets no work, doesnt bare any weight, or have any movement, and they dont contain any fat, and the result is what is, in my head, the equivalent of eating a beef pillow. if i am going to eat steak i want it to have a bit more fight to it. for the same reasons mentioned a lot of restaurants will serve a sub-par filet as it doesnt contain any give in the first place. it is usually tender regardless so people can get away with selling dairy cow filets. furthermore it is rarely available "dry aged" which wont help the mushy problem i mentioned at all. bottom line is, if it sounds to good to be true it probably is. a good filet will be spendy, always. some things worth mentioning-

wellington- a wellington traditionally is a filet of beef wrapped in puff pastry, baked to a golden brown. while it sounds easy it is a amazingly difficult dish to pull off, and my hats off to chefs and cooks that are brave enough to be selling it on menus. the beef will cook at a totally different rate then the puff pastry will, so the steak has to be seared first then wrapped. the puff will burn in a hot oven so it takes a long time as well.  then it has to be pulled from the oven and served. there is no peeking or poking to check doneness, and you cant fake it. wellington will also often contain a mixture of mushrooms packed around the steak then wrapped in the puff pastry.

Chateaubriand- is a bigger chunk of beef tenderloin that is usually served for two people. often carved tableside in thin slices

Tournedos- technically the French only consider the small end of the tenderloin true filet mignon. as the muscle gets larger they call those steaks tournedos. usually two thick slices of steak (think 3-4 oz each) seared or grilled.

Au Poivre- while classically a NY steak pepper seared then topped with a sauce of brandy and cream, i see it on menus as a filet dish fairly often.

barding- when you wrap a cut of lean meat with a fat it is called barding. this if often done to even the total fat in the protein, and give a better mouthfeel. the most popular example is a filet mignon wrapped with bacon.  conceptually its a grand idea, problem is it is never executed correctly. again the steak will cook at a totally different rate then the bacon. not to mention when you grill a filet (or any steak for that matter) the sides of it dont get any heat, and are very prone to cause flare-ups on the grill, so the fat wont render out of the bacon, and instead you get par-cooked, limp bacon, or a burnt steak. neither one is very good. your call but dont be disappointed when you are presented with some stringy, fatty, razor thin slice of bacon. there are better ways to bard, and better products to bard off. a better idea would be to mount the sauce with more fat, or the starch to keep a per bite balance on your palate.

if you are looking to entertain family or friends and want to blow it out of the park a whole tenderloin may not be a bad idea. they are available at my local costco for a respectable price. they are relatively easy to clean and prep (i am sure a you tube video exist, or hey just ask me) and you could easily cut 8 steaks out of a decent sized tenderloin. not to mention you get all of the fun trim parts. you will pay too much money to waste any of it so be wise with your usage.

one last tip- i am sure you have seen the diamond marks on grilled foods at restaurants. this is a amazingly easy trick to pull off at home. when grilling on a really hot grill place your oiled and salted steak on the grill and allow it to cook for a few minutes, grab your tongs and turn the meat exactly 90 degrees, allow to cook for the same amount of time, turn over, repeat. you never want to touch grilling meat more than you have to, so you have to estimate how long the steak will need to cook and time your turns to match. the picture is a few of the 70 filets i needed to mark yesterday for a banquet last night. no pressure, those steaks only costed well over a thousand dollars.

no matter what, always remember that a whole animal was slaughtered to put 16-18 filets on plates across the world. it is not an injustice to that animal to cook them, appreciate them, treat them with dignity, and enjoy the work and life that went into their cooking, fabrication, aging, and butchering. season them, temper them, cook them, rest them and serve them with the respect they deserve. a good filet, some salt, and some heat will speak for itself.

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