Beef Wellington (Recipe)

An old-fashioned, seriously indulgent British dish for special occasions

Beef Wellington, supposedly named for the first Duke of Wellington (who also gave us wellies), is the show-off British classic made with beef tenderloin coated in pâté and mushroom duxelles, and encased in puff pastry. Whether its origins had anything to do with nobility is debatable, but it’s a wonderfully decadent dish for special occasions.

The last time we ate beef Wellington at our house was New Year’s Eve, 1999. My husband, Alex, said he’d make individual ones for our six guests and us as a splashy way to see in the new millennium. For reasons that remain unclear to this day, he then decided to go shopping for clothes, leaving me to cook. Shortly after he drove off, our cleaning lady at the time, who was from New Zealand, called to tell me that the Queen had declared the day a holiday, so she wouldn’t be coming.

I spent the final hours of the last millennium racing about with a vacuum cleaner and creating mini beef Wellingtons tailored to each guest’s requested doneness, with their initials in pastry on top so we’d know which was which. Our friends arrived that evening bearing enough hors d’oeuvres for about 30 people. They and Alex, who had been shopping at the Johnny Cash outlet, judging from his all-black attire, got completely stuffed, as well as a little snookered, so that when dinnertime rolled round, nobody could manage more than half their pie. Our dog celebrated the arrival of 2000 with the world’s finest table scraps.

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It was certainly a memorable night, but I’m over it now, and I’m making beef Wellington again this New Year’s Eve. (I have to submit these posts ahead of time, so it’s still 2013 as I write.)

Anyway, if you want to spoil your friends in the dreary mid-winter, scrape up some shekels and go for it. It’s not as fiddly as it sounds, and although it’s expensive, it costs less than going out for dinner. Here’s how it’s done.

Beef Wellington

Serves 8
  • 3½ to 4 lbs beef tenderloin fillet
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • ¾ lb mushrooms, finely chopped 
  • 2 shallots, finely minced
  • 3 Tbs butter
  • 4 ounces of liver pâté (optional)
  • 2 sheets of thawed puff pastry
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 Tbs Madeira (optional)
  1. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan and brown the beef all over, including the ends. Cool completely on a wire rack.
  2. To make the duxelles: Over moderate heat, melt the butter and sauté the minced shallots and mushrooms until the mixture is nearly dry. Add the Madeira, if using, and cook until it evaporates. Season with salt and pepper and let cool completely.
  3. Mix together the pâté and duxelles and spread evenly all over the beef. 
  4. Overlap the edges of 2 sheets of puff pastry on a lightly floured work surface and roll out to a rectangle about 12 by 20 inches. Place the coated beef lengthwise in the middle and carefully wrap the pastry around it. Tuck the ends under, and seal the joints with egg wash. Trim any excess. The beef should be completely enclosed. Set the package seam-side down on a baking sheet, brush with egg and cut a few shallow slits in the pastry to allow steam to escape. Refrigerate for 15 minutes or up to 4 hours.
  5. Bake in the middle of a 400-degree oven for about 35 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and the center of the beef registers 130 degrees for medium rare. Let rest for 15 minutes. Serve in inch-thick slices.

Some cooks think adding liver pâté is gilding the lily on a ritzy cut like tenderloin. You can leave it out, but the mushroom duxelles is a must.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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