The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke

Beef Wellington - Day 1

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This first blog entry starting the new year in 2012 is about how I ended my year in 2011: Making Beef Wellington on the grill. For whatever reason I’d decided about two years ago that I wanted to make Beef Wellington. There was something about meat and puff pastry in the same dish that intrigued me. Making it in the oven had zero appeal to me though, but somehow the idea of doing it on the grill was intriguing. I actually put it in my year end blog entry LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD 2010, where I listed it as one of the 5 new things I would like to make in 2011. It was looking like I wouldn’t make that goal in 2011. But then I was looking for something different to make for New Years and I hit upon the idea of making Beef Wellington. Just as I did with the cook, I’ll divide this blog entry into two parts: One covering Day 1 and one covering DAY 2.

The first step was to find a good recipe. I looked at many recipes including several for the grill. The ones designed for the grill didn’t look interesting, it seemed like most of them were Wellington lite. I certainly didn’t want to lose anything by doing a dish on the grill. I finally found a Tyler Florence recipe from his Tyler’s Ultimate TV show. I would change two things to adapt it to the grill. I would sear the beef on the grill and not in a saute pan and I would cook the Beef Wellington indirectly on the grill instead of in the oven. This recipe had several new things I would need to try to accomplish the recipe. There was a flambe involved in making the sauce. Next there was a mushroom, shallot, garlic, herb paste blend, called duxelle, that I needed to make. Lastly I needed to wrap the Beef Wellington in puff pastry, an item which I hadn’t worked with before. I was joking about any recipe that starts to have lots of French terms in it being serious cooking. It was beyond the type of cooking I usually do. This one certainly had it’s share of French terms, but I had some resources to help me.

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Two things that helped me with this recipe were the recipe comments (left) which showed many people made this dish over 2 days. The video of the recipe (right) showed me how to do the aspects of the recipe that I was not familiar with.

The first resource was that not only did I have the explanations in the recipe, I also had 211 comments from people who made the actual recipe. There was also a video of the actual TV show where Tyler Florence made the Beef Wellington. The video allowed me to actually see some of the techniques I was unfamiliar with. One of the things that worried me was the length of the cooking time the recipe listed: 7 hours. From reading the comments I saw that the 3 reductions used in the recipe seemed to take longer than what the recipe listed. So although the seven hours wasn’t necessarily accurate if you added up the times shown in the recipe, it was accurate if you used “real world” times of the folks who made the recipe. Where these times were somewhat unpredictable I was quite concerned about the odds of getting the meat to finish off when the veggies were done. There were simply too many variables. The user comments solved that problem for me too. Many folks made the Green Peppercorn Sauce ahead and refrigerated it. The only thing they left out were the green peppercorns which they added when the sauce was reheated and they were about to serve it. This prevents the sauce from getting too strong with the addition of the peppercorns. Others had made the Beef Wellington up to the point of placing it in the puff pastry and then refrigerated it overnight. I was psyched because this solved all of my problems with timing.

The ingredients are gathered for the Green Peppercorn Sauce which starts with a quick saute & then a flambe. Note the metal measuring cup containing the brandy. The long handle helps protect your hands from the flame, as does the butane lighter.

On Friday I would begin by making the Green Peppercorn Sauce. This sauce would take the longest time and had the most variables with two separate reductions. It also had the flambe and I figured it was smart to do that while I was at my freshest. Next I would make the duxelle which also had a reduction of sorts where you cooked off the moisture from the mushrooms. This was needed to wrap the beef tenderloin. Once the duxelle was finished and cooling, I could sear the beef tenderloin on the grill. While the tenderloin was resting for a few minutes, I could lay out the prosciutto and the now cooled duxelle to wrap the duxelle in. At this point the tenderloin could be slathered with whole grain mustard, and wrapped in the prosciutto & duxelle and then placed in the refrigerator overnight. The beauty of this approach is I could take as much time as I needed Friday, since I had no precise deadline to try to hit. It would be relaxing, I could get my pictures in for this website and just enjoy the moment. On Saturday the roast would take about 40-45 minutes on the grill and this would be easy to coordinate with the two veggie dishes I was making.

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Sep 1 is a saute of the shallots, garlic, thyme, & beef gravy. The picture on the right shows the ingredients after 3 minutes.

And so it began. I started Friday around 9:00 AM and gathered and prepped all of the ingredients that were to go into the Green Peppercorn Sauce. I sliced the shallots, crushed the garlic, removed the thyme leaves from the sprigs and measured everything else out. When I was almost done I fired up the stove and heated a medium sized saute pan with some EVOO in it to medium hot. The EVOO was just starting to smoke a little bit when I added the slices of shallots, crushed garlic, thyme and 2 tablespoons of Savory Beef Gravy. This last ingredient was to make up for the pan drippings I would not get because I was searing the meat on the grill. Nobody would know the difference and this substitution would allow me to make the peppercorn sauce out of sequence when it was more convenient for me. I wouldn’t have wait until I’d been able to sear the meat to get the drippings and fond in the pan. After 3 minutes the shallots and garlic were soft and aromatic. It was now time for the flambe.

The flambe, which I am used to seeing in restaurants at the end of the cook when the meal is served, came right at the beginning of this particular cook. I had done a little reading up on the flambe process because I was unsure about using my non-stick pans for the flambe. Along the way I picked up some useful tips about other aspects of the flambe process. In terms of using the non-stick pan there were lots of people who said “yay” or “nay” without offering any supporting evidence. I finally found someone who offered up some more scientific evidence. They showed that the temperature of the flame is much lower due to the lower ignition temperature of the liquor used.The flame was also burning mostly on the surface of the liquid and not touching most of the surface of the pan itself. I also found some similar recipes that said to use a non-stick saute pan. I decided to go for it because this wasn’t something I was going to do all the time. The other useful flambe-related tips I picked up were to be sure to take the pan off the heat. I’m sure this is more important for an open gas burner than a glass top electric stove like I have. Still, I suppose I could have problems if I spilled the brandy on the hot burner. Another tip was to not pour directly out of the bottle and to instead use something with some sort of handle to help keep your hands away from the liquid as it went into the pan. I used one of my metal measuring cups which has a 4” (10 cm) long handle. I also used a butane lighter to ignite the flambe which kept my hands about 6” (15 cm) away from the pan.

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The brandy has been added to the pan (left). The flambe is midway through (right). You can see the pan is off heat.

I pulled the pan off heat, poured the brandy in using the metal measuring cup and lit the brandy using the butane lighter. The brandy lit immediately with a slight whooshing sound. Initially the flame was about 18” (50 cm) high. It was a pale blue flame that was actually impossible to see except with all of the room lights turned off. After about a minute the flames had burned down to about a foot (30 cm) high and at the two minute mark the height was 3” (7.5 cm). I tried taking some pictures, but even with my camera on a monopod I didn’t get a great picture. The exposure was so long you would get blurry somewhat indistinct flame. Even though my attempts at pictures weren’t totally successful, the flambe was. By the 3 minute mark the flames were gone and I’d restored the pan back to the heat.

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After the flambe a box of beef stock was added to the pan (left) & the mixture was reduced to half it’s original volume (right). The reduction took an hour, not the 20 minutes the recipe suggested. This is one of the reasons making this a day ahead was such a good idea.

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The solids were strained out of the sauce & the liquid got returned to the pan.

The sour cream is added into the saute pan and gets reduced for about an hour.

At this point it was time to add a 28 oz. (0.75 L) box of beef broth into the pan and do the first of 2 reductions. While this first reduction was going on lets discuss my pet peeves about reductions. They always seem to take far longer than what the recipe says it will take. I sometimes think part of the problem is the recipe doesn’t tell you what type of heat your should be using. Is is a brisk simmer, a roiling boil or something in between? This can make a huge difference in the amount of time something takes and for whatever reason the recipes rarely seem to call this out. One of the reasons I was glad to do this sauce a day early was it took any time pressure off me. I didn’t need for the sauce to finish at any particular time. The recipe said the reduction would take 20 minutes or so and many of the commenters said it would take 40 minutes. My reality was it took an hour for the sauce to reduce 50 percent. After the first reduction, the next step was to strain out the solids and then return the liquid to the pan. Then 2 cups (0.5 L) of cream were added to the pan along with some Dijon mustard and it was time for another reduction. Where this was cream involved I dialed the heat down a bit to avoid curdling the cream with too much heat. As it turned out this reduction also took around an hour, which was far longer than the recipe said too. The advantage of doing this sauce a day ahead of time was it could simply take what it takes.

The ingredients for the duxelle are gathered & ready to go into the food processor. The mushrooms, crushed garlic & sliced shallots & thyme leaves are headed for the food processor. The olive oil & butter will be heated in a saute pan.

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The duxelle ingredients are processed down to a moist paste-like consistency.

When the second reduction for the Green Peppercorn Sauce got started I began prep work on the duxelle, which also need a simmer to burn off the liquids. But I am getting ahead of myself, let me describe prepping the duxelle. The duxelle is a fairly dry paste made from mushrooms, garlic and herbs. For the record I am NOT a big mushroom fan. I will eat them if I have to, but many times if I see them in sauces I will eat around them. But the duxelle was such an integral part of all of the Beef Wellington recipes I’d looked at, I couldn’t very well skip it. I did however reduce the quantity of mushrooms by 1/3. Several of the comments on the Food Network website had mentioned that the recipe made too much of the duxelle. To help keep the prep simple I bought the more expensive pre-washed, pre-sliced white button mushrooms. I really didn’t want to add the prep for that many mushrooms to the to-do list. The sliced mushrooms were added to the bowl of my food processor, along with sliced shallots, sliced garlic & thyme, plus some Kosher salt and black pepper. These ingredients were processed until they were down to a fine paste-like consistency. While this was going on I’d started heating some butter and olive oil in a second saute pan. When I was done processing the duxelle ingredients they were placed in the saute pan and were cooked down to remove all of the moisture. Between the melted butter & EVOO, plus the mushroom’s moisture it took about an hour to remove the moisture from the pan. I’d learned in researching this cook that mushrooms are actually 70 percent moisture. You don’t want there to be much moisture in the duxelle or it will prevent the puff pastry shell from rising. That is one of the reasons the prosciutto is used between the duxelle and the puff pastry. Besides giving flavor, the prosciutto acts like a vapor barrier. I stirred the duxelle mixture about every 5 minutes at first and when it got down towards the end, I stirred it even more often to prevent it from burning.

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The duxelle is on the stove reducing down while the Green Peppercorn Sauce finishes reducing (left). The Green Peppercorn sauce is finished (right) and will be stored in the fridge overnight after it has chance to cool.

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The duxelle is shown right after going on the stove (left) & then one hour later after most of the liquids have been cooked off (right).

I was getting towards the end of the work for day 1. The Green Peppercorn sauce came off the stove about 10 minutes before the duxelle finished & I poured it into a large 8 cup (2 L) measuring cup to cool. Once the sauce was cooled I poured it into glass jars and put it in the fridge. Once the Peppercorn Sauce was cooling, I went out back to light my grill. I wanted to sear the tenderloin using high heat so I cranked the middle 4 (of 6) burners to high. I went back inside and removed the duxelle from the heat and put it into a Pyrex bowl to cool. The beef tenderloin got coated with olive oil and seasoned with Kosher salt & black pepper on all sides. I tried something I saw Tyler Florence do. He unwrapped the meat and saved the butcher paper wrapping to lay under the meat. He poured the EVOO on the meat, added the salt & pepper to the top of the meat and then used tongs to roll the meat around the butcher paper. This served, at least when he did it, to evenly distribute the EVOO, salt & pepper all over the meat. In my case the oil got evenly distributed, but not the salt & pepper which was distributed in clumps. Perhaps this was because I used a rimmed plastic tray instead of butchers paper. The salt & pepper may not have adhered to the plastic as well as it did the butcher paper. I’ll give it another shot when my meat is wrapped in paper and not shrink wrap plastic. My meat was sealed with shrink wrap placed over a bottom tray. This was a case where getting friendly with the butchers at the market where I bought this meat paid off. They saw me looking at the tenderloins and asked what I was making. When I said a Beef Wellington on the grill, they were full of questions. The head butcher offered to cut me up a fresh one, exactly the size I wanted and said he would trim & tie it for me too. He also made me promise to bring back pictures.

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The meat is seasoned with olive oil, salt & pepper. Rolling the meat around as shown on the recipe video did not produce evenly distributed seasonings. It was rather clumpy. But this may be the difference between rolling on butcher paper & rolling in my plastic pan..The meat got seared over direct high heat.

I gave the grill extra time to warm up on this cold 30 degree (-1 C) day and when I used my infra red thermometer to shoot the grate temperatures, I found I was getting about 650 degrees (340 C) at the grate level. I seared the meat for 3 minutes a side, times 4 sides and I also kept the lid open and held the meat with tongs to sear the two ends. This is something I might not have done if I hadn’t learned earlier this winter that I could hold decent temperatures at grate level even with the lid open. Prior to that I wouldn’t have attempted it. With the two ends nicely seared I headed back into the Kitchen. I brushed the meat with some whole grain mustard and set it aside to cool. The one last thing I needed to remember would be to cut the strings before wrapping the meat.

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The first step was to lay out some plastic wrap & then tiled slices of prosciuotto (left). Next the cooled duxelle mixture is spread over the prosciuotto.

While the meat was cooling I laid out two overlapping sheets of plastic wrap on my cutting board. I’d taken a piece of butcher’s string and wrapped it around the tenderloin and then cut it to the exact circumference of the meat. This way I would know how deep I’d need to lay out the tiled slices of prosciutto. The circumference of the roast was just over 12” (30 cm) so I also needed to tile 2 sheets of 12” (30 cm) plastic wrap. Once the plastic wrap was laid out, I started tiling the slices of prosciutto on top. I ended up needing 2 rows of 7 slices each to completely encompass the meat. As it turned out this was actually one of my least favorite parts of the cook. This pre-sliced prosciutto was the same brand as I always buy, but they had gone from thin cardboard separator sheets to thin plastic. The prosciutto was sticking to the plastic separator sheets and was trying to tear. I had to be very patient trying to remove the slices of prosciutto and it proved to be a very tedious task indeed. Once the prosciutto was laid out I used a spatula to cover it with the duxelle, which by now had cooled. I was shooting for a 1/8” (0.3 cm) thick layer of the duxelle. At first I was concerned because it looked like I might fall just short of covering all of the prosciutto, but it turned out I had just enough. Lastly I cut the strings on the meat and placed the edge of the meat it on one of the long edges of the prosciutto and duxelle. I rolled up the roast, using the plastic wrap to guide and support the prosciutto and duxelle. I made sure to keep the edges of the plastic from getting between the duxelle and the roast. I’ve rolled up quite a few pinwheel roasts and this technique is somewhat second nature to me, so it went quickly and easily. I then gathered together the plastic at each end of the roast and then rolled the roast on the cutting board which served to twist together the ends of the plastic nice and tight. I secured the twisted plastic wrap at each end with bag ties and put the roast in the fridge.

The beef tenderloin is wrapped & goes into the fridge overnight. The prep work for Day 1 is done.

So other than cleanup and starting a load of dishes in the dishwasher, Day 1 was done. Total elapsed time 6 hours. But whether it was 5, 6 or 7 hours made no difference on this day. I wasn’t looking to have this come out together with the other side dishes. It made for a very relaxing cook. I was able to stay ahead of the cleanup while I was doing the various reductions and take pictures in a calm and leisurely fashion. Dividing this meal into two days had solved the majority of the problem and hadn’t created any new ones in their place. Part 2 of this blog entry will talk about Day 2 when I cooked up the Beef Wellington on the grill and two veggie dishes on the smoker.







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