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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

Directions

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:

 

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