While Jeanne of CookSister! is frantically writing the round-up to this last month's edition of "Waiter! There's Something in my...", I have to publicly stand up to the fact that I am desperately late for this event. I have spent weeks pondering over the theme of retro-classics, in fact, I came this close to posting recipes for prawn cocktail, carrot cake (which in Austria is a retro classic, not the daily sugarfix most Brits know it as) and Waldorf salad (in the case of the latter, I realised all to late that I have already written about it here).
Retro classics are a funny thing in that a given dish might be considered as such, having enjoyed immense popularity over a certain period of time in a certain stretch of land, whereas elsewhere (often the country of origin) it might still be a staple food and not be considered retro. Take pavlovas, for example, which have been featured up and down the food magazines here in the last two years and are now on the way out (I believe), gaining popularity on the continent this year (if various food magazines across the channel can be trusted)... whereas Down Under they're the most popular dessert ever and will probably remain so forever.
Having recently discovered a fabulous butcher that sells online and delivers straight to your door (the only shame is that most of the food is sold frozen... but then it reaches you as such, ie hard as a brick and cold as ice, so you can put it straight in the freezer and defrost when needed - more on this supplier soon), I was keen to try their fillet steak on which they have a half-price offer at the moment. I instantly thought of beef wellington, individually presented rather than as a whole log. You should think that a keen and curious cook like myself should have mastered such a classic a long time ago, but I haven't... in fact, I have tried it once only and it was a miserable failure, not in terms of taste, but presentation - the dough rose at the same exponential speed as the beef shrunk, leaving me with a gaping hole that the tastiest mushroom duxelles could not compensate for.
This time, I consulted the Cordon Bleu cookbook from which I never cook, just because the pictures are SO retro that they don't appeal... great cookbook to buy when you're on a diet - you're much more likely to salivate watching paint dry than leafing through this. But in this very instant, it did what it does best: be reliable with regards to kitchen classics. I didn't even look at the list of ingredients, all I was interested in was the technique. The key things are to seal the meat beforehand by frying it sharply in a pan (or the meat will shrink in the pastry), leave it to cool (or the pastry will get soggy) and cut a tiny slit into the pastry at the top (I am guessing this is also as a ventilation measure to keep the pastry crisp and sticking to the meat).
The technique worked, but I made a fatal mistake: I failed to translate cooking times from a whole rack of beef to individual (small) portions of steak, resulting in meat that was well done rather than medium, as I normally like it. (the recipe below has been amended to factor this in). Well, another thing to improve on, since the family loved it, there shall be many requests for it. Beef Wellington was at the height of popularity in Austria two, three decades ago, when it was the ultimate dish to impress with at your dinner party... thirty years on, I might finally be able to master it ;-)
Individual Beef Wellingtons
4 x 160g beef fillet steak (trimmed of any fat and sinews)
1 tbsp ghee (or butter)
1 tbsp ghee (or butter)
80 g onion (peeled and finely chopped)
100 g shitake mushrooms (cleaned and finely chopped)
200 g chestnut mushrooms (cleaned and finely chopped)
1 swig sherry (if needed)
1 handful parsley (finely chopped)
400 g puff pastry (ready-rolled)
2 egg yolks
Heat the ghee (or butter) in a frying pan, place the beef fillets and brown very quickly on all sides to seal in the juices. Transfer to a plate, season with salt and pepper and leave to cool.
For the mushroom duxelles, heat the ghee (or butter) in a frying pan, add the onions and fry until softened and just starting to brown. Add the shitake and chestnut mushrooms. If the mixture is too dry and starting to stick to the pan, add a swig or two of sherry. Stir in the parsley and season to taste. Leave to cool.
Pre-heat the oven to 200C.
Cut the puff pastry into 4 squares or rectangles matching the size of the individual steaks. When the duxelles have cooled, spread about a quarter of them on each puff pastry sheet, leaving a 1 cm margin free. Place the fillet in the centre and envelop it closely with the pastry, sealing the ends tightly. Place, seam down, on a baking sheet and brush with egg yolk. Using a sharp knife, make a 1 cm slit on top of each parcel, to allow evaporation and prevent the pastry from going soggy.
Place in the preheated oven and bake until the pastry is puffed up and golden.
I like to serve this with broccoli, quickly steamed, refreshed and sautéed in garlic butter and/or a purée of butternut squash and celeriac with a squeeze of lemon juice.