Ten years ago, my father turned 60. In an effort to commemorate the event, my sister and I reached out to his entire network asking for stories about the man. The responses came in thick and fast and we managed to compile quite a sizeable tome. To me one story, in particular, stood out. It was a recollection of a debate between my father and his wife about the color of Yorkshire pudding. She contended it was brown, he white or vice versa*. Either way it was a heated debate. At some point during the discussion my father got up, left the room and quickly returned with what was probably the 1968 version of the Oxford English Dictionary. The amount of time between his departure and return meant he hadn’t yet looked up the answer and as the author wrote “he was willing to win or lose in front of us all.”
That is how I feel about Beef Wellington: a major gamble, likely a failure, but potentially a roaring success. The actual origin of the dish remains unknown but lore behind the dish revolves mostly around the Duke of Wellington: it was his favorite dish; it resembled the eponymous boots; it was just a rebranding of “boeuf en croute,” the “Freedom Fries” of the Napoleonic age.
The premise of the dish is simple: flaky pastry and tender beef. Simple but not so simple. The pastry is often soggy and the meat overcooked and dried out. It is necessary to avoid both at all cost, yet seemingly difficult to achieve.
You will need a filet of beef, store bought puff pastry, button or cremini mushrooms, pate, thyme and maybe a little mustard.
First sauté the mushrooms in olive oil with some thyme. A traditional recipe calls for a duxelle, which are very finely chopped or minced mushrooms with shallots. We opted for sliced mushrooms and no shallots and it turned out just fine. After you have sautéed them, put them in a strainer over a bowl to strain out the liquid. This is as very important step in avoiding soggy pastry.
Then brown the meat on all sides. Once cooled, place the meat on one sheet of puff pastry and slather with mustard, if using, followed by the pate. Now take your mushrooms and ring them out further to get even more liquid out. Spread a layer of mushrooms over the top. Cover the meat with puff pastry, paint with egg wash.
Roast in a hot oven for about 35 minutes at around 180°C or 375°F until the pastry is golden brown. Allow it to rest for 10 minutes.
Here is where the hope comes in. When slicing down the center, the beef should be a perfect medium rare and the pastry browned and flaky.
*The color of Yorkshire pudding can vary from white to brown depending on the amount of beef drippings added. As a result it was a tie.