This is where things were when we left off on Day 1 of this cook. The roast was wrapped in prosciutto and the duxelle mixture which was held on plastic wrap. The roast was in the refrigerator for an overnight stay.
Saturday December 31, 2011, or Day 2 of my cook dawned cloudy & wet, with freezing rain. It looked like my rather odd 7 year long streak was in jeopardy. The streak was that I have never had to fire up my charcoal chimney in the rain. I have smoked many times in the rain, but it has always been dry when I’ve actually started the cook. The EZ-Up shelter that I use 7 months of the year has helped with that. But I have had good luck the other 5 months when I couldn’t light the chimney under the shelter. With the looks of the weather that morning, it seemed my streak would be broken. There were freezing rain warnings up until noon, with rain after that. I was hoping that the freezing rain would be over before my parents and my parents need to travel. I got up at 5:00 AM and started some household related tasks which I finished around 8:00 and then it was off to the kitchen.
Step 1 when I got to the Kitchen was to figure out the proper time to light the CG. I was planning to eat around 2:00 and the CHEESY TATERS I was serving with the meal took 3 hours on the smoker. This I knew as a fact from previously making this dish several times with other meals. Figuring on a 45 minute warm up for the CG and 30 minutes for the coals to light, this added up to 4:15 minutes of time. So I needed to light the coals at 9:45. I would prep the potatoes during the warm up time and would take the frozen hash browns used out of the freezer around 9:30 to give them an hour to thaw a bit before I need them. I could do the prep for the potatoes while the CG was warming up. The CINNAMON-SCENTED SQUASH I was also making was new to me. The recipe called for 2 hours on the smoker for the acorn squash and I decided to bump that up to 2 1/2 hours. I figured with the cold things might take a little extra time and also an extra 30 minutes on the smoker wouldn’t hurt them. This left the Beef Wellington. I wanted it to come off the grill at 2:00. Here I had a bit of a dilemma because the recipe called for a 40-45 minute cook time, but many of the folks posting comments said their versions cooked up in 25-30 minutes.
I decided I would shoot for the 30 minutes bringing me to 2:00 and the 45 minutes being 2:15. This meant getting the Wellington on the grill at 1:30 sharp and lighting the grill at 1:00 which would give me plenty of time for it to reach the 425 degree (220 C) indirect temp I was shooting for. I was leaving 15 minutes to roll the meat in the puff pastry which meant 1:15 was the time to start the remaining Beef Wellington prep. The puff pastry needed 45 minutes (at least according to the package) to thaw out. This meant the puff pastry should come out of the freezer at 12:30. Originally where the Beef Wellington had a puff pastry crust, I wasn’t planning on having any bread with the meal. At the last minute I’d picked up some flaky crescent rolls, so I would need to work them in. I decided to start them at 12:30 and have them finished before things began getting hectic. The last item was the Green Peppercorn sauce, which needed a gentle reheat to prevent curdling the cream. I decide to start it at 12:30 on very low heat. Since I was going to be monitoring the temps of the beef with a remote read thermometer, I figured I would be inside enough to keep an eye on it. I jotted these critical times down on a sheet of paper, just to insure I wasn’t going to need to be two places at once. It also gave me a reference to check as I progressed through the various phases of the cook. Things were still looking pretty low key and predictable at this point.
The Cheesy Taters were the first item to go on the smoker. They use thawed frozen hash browns, butter, chicken soup, shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, salt & pepper (top left). The ingredients are combined in a large bowl (top right) and get thoroughly mixed with a whisk (bottom left). Once mixed the ingredients get added to a 13” x 9” x 2” (33 x 23 x 5 cm) disposable foil pan and then it is off to the smoker for the next 3 hours.
At 9:30 I pulled the frozen hash browns out of the freezer. Next I went out to carefully uncover both the smoker and the grill. I say carefully because there was a coating of ice on the outside of the covers. Then I headed down to the basement to grab some charcoal and pecan wood chunks and then it was back outside. When I was out uncovering the grills, I found it was no longer raining. Instead it was damp and there was a light mist. So I’d dodged a bullet and my streak of not lighting the charcoal chimney in the rain continued. But where it was still damp, I put the bag of charcoal in the base cabinet of my gas grill while I set up the smoker. Once I had the remote thermometer in place and synchronized with it base unit, the charcoal & wood chunks loaded in the baskets in the side firebox and chimney, I ran inside to get three sheets of newspaper for use in the charcoal chimney. As soon as I had stuffed the newspaper in the bottom of the chimney, I lit the chimney immediately before the dampness got to the newspapers. It was now 9:45 and I was right on schedule.
At 10:15 the coals were ready and I added them to the side firebox of the CG and opened all the vents. Then it was back to the Kitchen to begin to gather and measure out the ingredients for the CHEESY TATERS. I easily had everything ready to go out on the smoker by 11:00. The smoker was at 220 (104 C) when I took the foil pan of potatoes out to the smoker and I closed the vents a bit to keep the temperature from rising past 225 (110 C).I actually lost 10 (6 C) degrees between opening the lid and adding cold food to the smoker, but I’d let the temps get close to 225 (110) before throttling them down, so the recovery time was less than 10 minutes. I’ve found in the cold it is quite easy to kill rising temps and much harder to get them to rise. So I let the CG get fairly close to 225 (110 C) before closing the vents.
The prep for the squash couldn’t have been much simpler: Cut the squash in half & coat it with oil, or spray on it as I did with my Misto mister (left). The squash joins the Cheesy Taters on the smoker(right).
I headed back to the kitchen, where I had 30 minutes to prep the squash and get it on the smoker. This was a piece of cake because the squash just needed to get halved and sprayed with some vegetable oil before going out to the smoker. I had the squash out in the smoker at 11:30 as planned. So far everything was going like clockwork and was very low key. I threw some dishes in the dishwasher and set the table while I was waiting for the next critical path item. The next critical path item was pulling the puff pastry out of the freezer at 12:30 and starting the crescent rolls. I set a timed start on the oven to have the oven pre-heated and ready for the rolls at 12:30. One less thing to think about. Speaking of one less thing to think about: I made a phone call to my parents and asked them if they could get there 30 minutes early so one of them could help me with the final prep and plating the food I brought in form the smoker. As it turned out, this was a good call. My dad ended up doing the work for me and he actually seemed to enjoy it. He had been a short order cook for several years in his younger days and he seemed quite interested in what I was doing and why. He asked lots of questions and seemed to enjoy himself. Me, I got to have things be a little less hectic at the end, which was a good thing as it turned out.
One thing I was unsure about right up until it was time to fish or cut bait, was whether I would use my pizza stone. I’d looked at various recipes using puff pastry to see if pizza stones were used. I wasn’t sure whether it would be a good idea. It might speed up the cooking the puff pastry too much, not be good with puff pastry or who knows what. I found enough recipes for puff pastry that used a pizza stone to make me feel like it wasn’t a mistake. I also figured the slightly convex surface would drain away any liquids that seeped out, keeping them away from the bottom crust. I had no idea how the use of the pizza stone would affect the temps for indirect grilling, so I lit the grill an extra 15 minutes earlier than originally planned and used an oven thermometer to check the temps. My grate level thermometer was in use on the smoker this day, but the oven thermometer worked perfectly well. I just had to run outside to check it. My instincts about lighting the grill earlier were correct. I did have to make adjustments to the burners several times before I homed in on the 425 (220 C) degrees I was looking for.
Time to wrap the meat in the puff pastry, coat it with an egg wash & salt the top. At this point I was expecting it was all downhill from here. Instead things almost fell off a cliff. There will be no further pictures until I had gotten things straightened out.
At 1:15 it would be time to start the prep to wrap the refrigerated beef tenderloin in it’s puff pastry shell. I decided to start 10 minutes early. This proved to be most fortuitous because this is when two problems came from out of the blue. One of these problems had the potential to kill the cook. The first problem I discovered when I began to unfold the puff pastry. The 45 minute thaw wasn’t enough time. The dough was still a bit frozen as I found when the first piece I unfolded cracked along the fold line. I could repair this by painting the seam with a little egg wash, but I waited another 5 minutes to see if it helped. The extra time and a little care helped get past the cracking seam issue. But the next problem truly almost killed the entire cook. When I’d read about the Pepperidge Farm puff pastry sheets, the description said the package contained two 10”x15” (25x38 cm) sheets of dough. I unrolled the pastry twice and it was now 10”x10” (25x25 cm) at this point, but I couldn’t see another seam to unfold. I grabbed a magnifying glass to see if I could spot the missing seam. Unfortunately there was no missing seam, they were 10”x10” (25x25 cm) sheets. This was a BIG problem. I’d planned on using the 15” (38 cm) dimension to wrap around the circumference of the tenderloin. I wrapped a piece of butcher’s twine around the roast and cut it to the length of the circumference of the tenderloin. This told me I’d need at least 12” (30 cm) to cover the entire tenderloin. I wasn’t worried about that before, because 15”(38 cm) was more than enough.
My mind was racing. The one thing I couldn’t do was go to the supermarket and pick up more. That would add 30 minutes drive time plus the 45 minutes thaw time to the equation and that added up to disaster. I placed the second sheet down on the counter to the right of the first and gave it a 3/8” (0.8 cm) minimal seam. I then placed the end of the meat as close to the left edge of the puff pastry as I could. I needed to leave enough room so the puff pastry could be folded over and sealed at each end. This left me a 2 1/2” (6.25 cm) or so piece I could cut off from the right side and use to extend the top edge of the dough. This was going to be cutting it real close. The other choice would be to cut off a 1 1/2” (3.75 cm) piece off of the tenderloin which I would not use. This was the safer of the two choices. If I guessed wrong and the 2 1/2” (6.25 cm) piece proved to be too short, I would end up cutting the roast and having to scab on a second 1 1/2” (3.75 cm) piece of puff pastry. It would truly make a patchwork quilt of the crust and would be prone to leaking. Before deciding anything I tried rolling out the crust with a rolling pin to see if I could lengthen it a bit and make the decision easy. This didn’t work at all. Despite using a silicone rolling pin dusted with flour, the dough started sticking to the rolling pin. I decided to go for it and try just using the 2 1/2” (6.25 cm) piece I’d have to work with if I kept the roast intact. I used a pizza cutter to cut the dough and brushed any overlapping seam areas with egg wash before joining all the pieces. Since the rolling pin had proved problematic, I used my fingers to try my best to seal the seams. I began rolling the meat in the puff pastry and breathed a BIG sigh of relief when I managed to get the dough to wrap around the entire beef tenderloin. I breathed a second sigh of relief when I found I had enough dough to seal the ends.
Although it was more af a patchwork quilt than I expected, I did finally get the meat enclosed in the puff pastry and brushed with egg wash & the top of the pastry was salted with some sea salt. (left) The Beef Wellington surprisingly made it out to the grill on time, despite the issues I encountered thanks to the 10 minute early start I made. You can see the Beef Wellington is on the pizza stone & the temperature probe is inserted (right).
I don’t have any pictures of this part of the process because I went into pure problem solving mode and anything that wasn’t contributing to the solution was off the table. Once I had the beef wrapped, I painted the outside of the puff pastry with egg wash and inspected the dough to see if any seams needed further sealing. Then I salted the top with some Kosher salt and poked some holes in the top with a paring knife. This would serve to vent the roast and keep the crust from cracking. As I took the wrapped Beef Wellington out to the grill, I looked at the clock and was amazed to find it was 12:30. This was when I originally planned to get the roast on the grill. It seemed like far more time had elapsed when things started going south. I am just glad I’d decided to start the process 10 minutes early. I wasn’t expecting trouble, but I figured I’d be a little slower the first time I did it. The extra 10 minutes had helped keep me on schedule.
While the Wellington is cooking on the grill it was time to finish some final prep. The Green Peppercorn Sauce is gently reheated on the stove and the brined green peppercorns are strained to remove the brine & the peppercorns are added to the sauce. The sauce for the Cinnamon-Scented Squash was also mixed. It used melted butter, cinnamon, brown sugar & ancho chili powder.
The Cheesy Potatoes & Cinnamon-Scented Squash are finished & both are nicely browned from the pecan smoke (top). The Cheesy Taters go straight to their serving bowl (bottom left) and the squash has the seeds removed, then they get quartered & sauced (bottom right).
When I got back in from the grill I started the reheating the Green Peppercorn Sauce. I’d actually pulled it out of the fridge 30 minutes earlier to let it start warming up a bit. I set the stove to the temperature I wanted to use and my dad took over from there. He kept a close eye on it and stirred it often, which freed me up to do other things. One of the things I like about roasts that are mostly meat and a uniform shape, is they have predictable temperature rise. Once the temps rise 20 or 30 degrees ( 11 or 16 C) they start having a uniform and therefor highly predictable rise. I could soon see that this roast was going to take the 45 minutes the recipe called for to hit the target temperature of 130 (55 C) I was shooting for. This would be a rare level of doneness and the meat had a short rest of 5 minutes or so. Knowing within the first 10 minutes when the roast would finish up allowed me to start pulling other items off the smoker and handing them off to my dad to plate in a timely manner. While I was waiting for the roast to finish, I mixed together the sauce for the squash, which used melted butter, cinnamon, brown sugar and surprisingly some ancho chili powder. I took the CHEESY TATERS off at 2:10 and my dad put them in a bowl and covered them with some foil and brought them to the table. I immediately ran back out and got the squash and brought it in and turned it over to my dad to plate and add the sauce. It was a good thing I put the squash on earlier than the recipe had called for, cause it had just finished getting soft when I went out to get it. Two hours wouldn’t have been enough.
The remote read thermometer & an instant read thermometer confirmed the meat was at 130 degrees (55C) and was done.
At 2:17 the alarm went off telling me the meat was done. I went out and double checked the temperature with an instant read thermometer which confirmed the meat was done. While the meat was having it’s 5 minute rest, I strained the green peppercorns to remove them from the brine. My dad added them to the sauce and put the sauce in a bowl while I began carving slices of the meat. I skipped past the end slice and plated the next 4. Since this was a delicate roast I used the double spatula method to cut and plate the slices. If you are interested: I will place a link to a blog entry about that technique at the end of this entry. The slices were indeed rare as promised, but I think next time I will take them 5 degrees (3 C) higher to 135 (57 C) and give them a 10 minute rest instead of 5, just like I do with my tri-tips. They were cooked, but I like the extra 5 degrees (3 C) of doneness. With the meat cut it was time to eat.
The finished meal was awesome and one of the best meals I’ve made.
The BEEF WELLINGTON had amazing flavor. The prosciutto/duxelle layer just inside the puff pastry crust gave it this wonderful burst of flavor when you bit in. The meat was set in a bed of the Green Peppercorn Sauce which had a wonderfully complimentary flavor. You could taste the beef flavor as well as the flavor of the shallots, garlic & herbs used. When you bit into a green peppercorn, which was softened by the brine it had been packed in, you got this little hot & peppery burst of flavor. Not too strong, but just right. I knew the sauce was a hit when people started dunking their bread and potatoes in the sauce as well. The meat was fork tender and the puff pastry was flaky and golden brown. Everyone loved the potatoes, they were already a favorite of mine from a test run, but my parents had never had them before. They kept sneaking extra servings even when they were saying they were too full to eat another thing. The squash was a big hit too, the sauce for the squash was the perfect combination of flavors to go with the base flavor of the squash.
My bullet point items for this cook are: