Anatomy of a Dish: Beef Wellington
Take roast beef to the next level with this golden British classic.
Tender beef swaddled in layers of buttery pastry and pâté-enriched mushrooms, this classic dish honours either the gumboot (for the shape, some argue) or the man that gave the boot its name, the first Duke of Wellington. Beef Wellington is about as British as it gets – at least as long as you don't compare it too closely to boeuf en croute...
In any case, it's the stuff that dinner-party dreams are made of. Or it was in the 1970s at any rate. But it's far too tasty and creates too much impact at the table to consign it to the history books now. Break out the silver candlesticks, put on your puffiest toque and get into it.
ALSO READ: Anatomy of a Dish: Risotto alla Milanese
Beef Wellington: the Essential Elements
As with many savoury pastry dishes, the outer layer was once purely utilitarian — an inedible mixture of flour, suet and water that, according to The Oxford Companion to Food, was simply a protective casing. The rather tastier buttery puff pastry is now typically used to wrap the beef, but some variants deploy brioche dough.
Though it doesn't appear in every Beef Wellington, a layer of crêpe helps insulate the flaky pastry from the juices of the meat and mushrooms. Some cooks like to gild the lily further, substituting or adding a layer of ham.
Chicken liver pâté, mixed through the duxelles (see below), brings the richness and adds another layer of flavour.
Mushrooms – finely chopped and sauteed with shallots, garlic and thyme for a duxelles and flavoured with Madeira, sherry or a dry white wine – are a must. If you're using field mushrooms, consider adding some dried porcini or morels to boost the flavour. Cook the moisture out well to prevent the pastry from getting soggy.
Fillet is the standby here; brown it well all over in a pan to add flavour then, once it's cooled, smear it with a layer of Dijon mustard. Aim for it to come out of the oven medium rare. A probe thermometer takes away the guesswork.