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Sous Vide Beef Wellington

I love beef wellington! I only really buy fillet when making wellington or tartare as I like the increased deliciousness you get from sirloin or ribeye for steaks etc. However, there are few more glorious sights than a beautiful piece of aged fillet ready for being exposed to the wellington treatment. This one came from a butcher’s in Bessbrook, County Down which my friend Philip has been raving about.

We were staying at Philip’s place at the foot of the beautiful Mourne Mountains. I was cooking, the local pub summonsed the rest of our party to a Guinness drinking, rugby watching fest. My fine host Philip hanged fire for a while for us to catch up while drinking wine and prepping dinner – perfect.

The plan was for Beef Wellington served with potato gratin dauphinoise, turnip (which is what people here call swedes for some anomalous reason lost to history), deep fried brussels sprouts and a bordelaise sauce.

At this point I had intended to wax lyrical for a short while about the venerable history of that most British (English?) of dishes – the Beef Wellington. However, my precious go-to tomes on such matters (Larousse, Davidson etc) were not forthcoming (doesn’t even get mentioned specifically in Larousse – just the distinctly Gallic ‘fillet of beef en brioche’) – and so I’d have simply been regurgitating stuff pilfered from elsewhere on the web. Therefore – onto the cooking:

I’ve made this dish many different ways over the years – and it seems it’s one of those dishes which illustrate the elegance and utility of the sous vide/water bath technique. Here’s a pic of my water bath setup, on holiday as it was in South Down:

Some people recommend against the use of a hot plate with the PID controller this way – though I’ve been able to maintain temperatures accurately to about +/- 0.5°C – which ain’t too bad. I use an aquarium pump to circulate the water which really improved the uniformity of temperature in the bath (large pan). The controller is the Sous Vide Magic device from Fresh Meal Solutions – and it’s been performing great for around 4 years now.

So here’s how to do it:

Ingredients – serves 6 hungry fellows

One piece of beef fillet, trimmed of sinew/connective tissue etc – about 1.2Kg
Approx 100g butter
10 slices Parma Ham
500g chestnut mushrooms
Approx 500g puff pastry
Eggs for egg wash


1) Salt the fillet and vacuum pack with some butter (this melts in the bath and improves heat transfer when using non-chamber vacuum machines like I do).
2) For medium rare (safest bet I find cooking for a bunch of people) cook in a bath at 55°C – around 4-4.5 hours is required to ensure the beef reaches the required temperature all the way through.
3) When done – remove from the bath and plunge in a bowl of iced water. The fillet could now be frozen or kept in the fridge for later use.

4) When ready to use – remove the fillet from the bag – pat dry – and brown all over on a sooper-dooper hot pan, season with black pepper – then set aside. Preheat the oven to 220-240°C.

5) I like Wellingtons nice and simple, so prepare a very basic duxelles by finely chopping/pulsing in a food processor some chestnut mushrooms (about 500g for a 1.2Kg fillet), then fry without oil in a non-stick pan and salt to taste (you’ll see the moisture evaporate off, which is what you want – keep going until the mixture is dry).

6) Place a double layer of plastic wrap on a work surface, around 60cm by 45cm.
7) Place overlapping slices of parma ham on the plastic wrap as shown.

8) Spread the ham with the duxelles.

9) Place the fillet in the centre of the duxelles, then, using the wrap to lift the ham/mushroom coating, encase the fillet in the wrapping one side at a time. Fold the ham in at the ends. Twist the plastic wrap at the two ends to make a nice neat sausage shape.

10) Now a crucial detail: because we’ve already cooked the fillet perfectly in the bath, we don’t want to undo our good work whilst the pastry is being cooked. I’ve found that puff pastry can be a somewhat capricious fellow in terms of how long it takes to crust up, which means that there is the potential (if it takes longer than expected) that the fillet could be cooked further (i.e.: above 55°C), whereas all we want is it to be warm enough to feel good in the mouth.

So, to avoid overcooking the fillet I now place the fillet/mushroom/ham/plastic wrap parcel in the freezer for 30 minutes before wrapping in pastry. This additional step really helps add reliability. When in the oven to bake the pastry – the slightly cool fillet is brought up to a good eating temperature – with no risk of overcooking – unless you nuke the pastry…

11) Once the parcel’s been in the freezer for 30 mins, take it out and remove the plastic wrap – unless you’re low density polyethylene deficient and fancy a dietary boost. Lightly dust a work surface with floor, and roll out your pastry in a rectangle to around 3-4mm thickness, the rectangle should be sufficiently large to encase the fillet.
12) Wrap the fillet in the pastry, using an egg wash as glue and the tines of a fork to strengthen the seals; done well you can fold the pastry under at the ends and manage to get the top of the wellington seal free.

13) At this stage you can score the pastry with the back of a knife along its length – though I prefer to try to do something a bit prettier at this stage. Then brush the whole fella with egg wash.
14) Pop in the preheated oven until the pastry is golden brown – and you’re done! No need to rest the meat as you didn’t actually roast it.
15) Enjoy with delicious wine.

After a number of hours enjoying a selection of reds, it wasn’t the prettiest plate I’ve ever presented – but it was delicious:


Posted March 24th, 2012.


Menu for Saturday

Day off today to get some prep done for our dinner party on Saturday. It’s my friend Tom’s birthday so we’re heading up to his place and Tom and I will cook some food for a bunch of people, here’s what’s on the menu:

Smoked Eel Parfait, Rhubarb, Kombu Crisps

Miso Soup, Mackerel, Negi

Sumac Chicken ∗ Deep Fried Egg Yolk ∗ Cod Crostini

Roast Butternut Squash Risotto, Queen Scallops, Sage, Pancetta, Cauliflower Foam

Venison Tartare, Honey Wasabi Pearls

Confit Duck Leg, Pommes Sarladaise, Madeira Sauce

Tarte au Citron

Lots of Stuff from Brent Savage’s Bentley book. All the duck’s been done last week using the sous vide method from Modernist Cuisine, they were cooked for 8 hours at 82°C. Lots to do – we’ll take some pics as long as our sobriety remains somewhat intact…

Posted February 16th, 2012.

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Smoked Eel Parfait

After all my gelatin mysteries were solved I managed to give the smoked eel parfait a go. Tasted great and it turned out the technique suggested in the Bentley book worked a treat.

PVC plumbing pipes are used as molds like so (see pics below): cut your PVC pipe to the required length (for this I used 22mm pipe and cut it to 7cm lengths), then cut out a rectangle of acetate sheet large enough to be rolled into a tube that will fit inside the pipe and protrude a couple of centimetres (in my case these were 9cm by 7cm) – once the acetate is inside the PVC pipe cover the flush end with cling film and tape secure. The pipe thingies can now be used as molds: fill just up to the end of the pipe – when your filling is set just pull out the acetate and it will unfold from your perfect little cylinder of loveliness.

For this dish the eel was then wrapped in celery jelly which had its green colour boosted by spinach – I served it with a rhubarb coulis. The eel parfait was set with gelatin and kappa carrageenan, it tasted beautifully but subtly of the smoked eel – I didn’t get too much of the celery but it certainly looked great.

Posted February 6th, 2012.

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Gelatin Conversion Confusion

My friend Tom’s birthday looms, and to celebrate he’s organising a soirée. We’ll be cooking for about 12, more of that anon. One of the dishes I’m keen to try is from Brent Savage’s Bentley book. I’ve had it for a while and despite lots of great sounding stuff contained therein, I haven’t actually tried any of the recipes. I’ve long been tempted by the exquisite sounding ‘Smoked Eel Parfait with White Soy Dressing and Seaweed'; not only because of how I imagine it tastes: also on account of how cool the dish looks. The eel parfait is set in a cylinder shape, then wrapped in a thin film of celery jelly – looks like a liquorice allsort.

So I have my smoked eel – courtesy of Sawyers in Belfast (Lough Neagh smoked eel is a big deal it turns out – though most of it is exported – see here and here for interesting articles). I’ve also ordered some new carrageenans from Cream Supplies – who do a range of modernist ingredients. So really all to do was to get going with practicing the recipe – that’s where I hit the snag.

The book calls for two sheets of titanium strength gelatin. Well – I only have platinum strength, and it turns out that finding out how to convert leaf gelatin amounts according to class is more tricky to work out than I would have thought.

Gelatin strength is measured by bloom – the higher the bloom value the greater the gelling strength (or the less gelatin required to set the same amount of liquid). Gelatin leaves (or sheets) are sold classed as titanium, bronze, silver, gold and platinum. Additionally different leaves have different weights, and different manufacturers use slightly different bloom strengths. So to convert a recipe that calls for a certain number of sheets of gelatin of a certain type for use with another type of gelatin you need to know: 1) the weight per leaf of each type of gelatin, 2) the bloom strength of each type and lastly, a conversion formula. You will by now appreciate that this takes a little effort to work out.

Cue the fabulous Texture – A Hydrocolloid Recipe Collection which is put together by Martin Lersch at his Kymos blog, which has amongst it’s extremely informative pages a chart of gelatin leaves, the range of their bloom strengths, and a conversion formula. Unfortunately titanium strength gelatin is not included, though most sources that I can find suggest it’s around 100 bloom.

Here’s the formula suggested in Texture: $Mass B = \ Mass A (\frac{Bloom Strength A}{Bloom Strength B})$, where Mass B refers to the mass of the leaves you have, Mass A to that of the leaves in the recipe, and similarly Bloom Strength B refers to the bloom strength of the leaves you’re using etc.

Some sites suggest applying a square root to the fraction: $Mass B = \ Mass A \sqrt(\frac{Bloom Strength A}{Bloom Strength B})$ however Martin Lersch suggests the former works better for the bloom strengths he supplies. So putting it together is a bit of a hotchpotch, I’ll go with his initially as he’s clearly a legend given how comprehensive Texture is (see below for a table of info re different bloom strengths etc).

The smoked eel parfait recipe calls for two sheets of titanium strength gelatin, which earlier in the book he explains weigh 5 grams each. So putting all that together using our formula and the table below suggests the weight of platinum gelatin we need is $\ 10(\frac{100}{240})$ which is 4.2, and as the platinumn sheets weigh 1.7 grams that means we need 2.5 sheets: easy!

Leaf TypeBloom StrengthGrams/leaf

Posted February 1st, 2012.

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Scrumulous Returns…

Well what a disgraceful show that was. Although I imagine typical of nascent bloggers. An initial display of enthusiasm – giving way to apathy in the extreme. It’s been well over a year since the last Scrumulous post – however all things culinary have continued apace at Scrumulous central. My new resolve to get the blog back up and running should have plenty of material to get started with, including the arrival of Modernist Cuisine (I love that book) and the rather delicious badger bourguignon (with sous vide badger loin).

There’s several food related events to come this year which should provide significant challenges – more of that later. Earlier today I salted a leg of pork as the first step towards making prosciutto type ham so that seems like a good place to start.

Posted January 22nd, 2012.

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