Tips on mastering a classic
PREP TIME: 30 mins
COOKING TIME: 40 mins
DIFFICULTY: easy but hard (it’s all in the tips on ‘how to master’)
IDEAL FOR: special occasion
Named after the Duke of Wellington
Not that I can uncover.
Beef Wellington, is assumed to be a homage the Duke of Wellington (1769-1852), the hero of the Battle of Waterloo, who defeated Napoléon at the Battle of Waterloo.
However, looking at food history sites, there is little to support this.
In fact, there is no evidence that this recipe was even around back then and only appeared in English cookbooks in the 1970’s.
So, it seems it’s not an old recipe but a more modern dish.
Then there is Julia Child (the American TV cook and her famous book ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking‘).
She did the French filet de boeuf en croûte (‘fillet of beef in crust’), but called it ‘Filet of Beef Wellington’
And because of that, it became hugely popular in North American social circles.
So, the Beef Wellington may not have been inspired by the Duke of Wellington.
But it looks like it’s had many influences from France to America to England along the way.
It makes no difference, it’s a wonderful dish that will ‘wow’ people when done well.
It’s easy… but hard
I have tried making Beef Wellington, twice.
Both times, I have failed a little.
Once, the meat was overcooked.
But I’ve remedied that problem with the purchase of a meat thermometer (highly recommend ChefAlam)
And the second time, I messed up the pastry.
It’s not a hard dish, but you have to get key things right.
So, I thought I’d share some research and tips I uncovered to help make the next one perfect.
3 things to know
- Duxelles = finely chopped mixture of mushrooms, shallots (or onions) and herbs, sautéed in butter and reduced to a thick paste.
- Meat thermometer. It’s a good idea to invest in one especially for this recipe so that you can tell how the beef is going to be cooked when you cut through the Wellington.
- Cut into generous slices to avoid the Wellington falling apart.
Tips for perfect beef wellington
Pack in the flavour
Boost the flavour of your duxelle with wild mushrooms or a drizzle of truffle oil if you have any.
Dan Teage’s pancake tip
Dan Teage and Charlie Ramsdale, The Cellar Door, kindly offered me some tips… here’s a game-changing tip.
Make a thin pancake to wrap your beef and mushroom duxelles in before the pastry is wrapped.
This will act as a barrier to stop any juices making the pastry soggy and increases your structural integrity of the Beef Wellington.
Dan flavours his pancakes with horseradish and chives.
Keep it air-free
Drape over the top layer of pastry or roll the beef in the pastry (as I did) very carefully, smoothing it down with your hands as you go.
You don’t want any air trapped between the pastry and the meat.
Roll and chill
Lay out a large piece of cling film and lay the pancake (or parma ham if you use a Gordon’s recipe or other) on top and spread your duxelles.
Now, using the cling film roll the beef and pancake up nice and tight and pop it in the fridge for 20 mins.
Take it out, unwrap the cling film and wrap your Wellington in the pastry (with no air pockets).
*you can, pop back in the fridge for another 5 – 10 mins… but I didn’t.
Gordon Ramsay’s egg wash tip
Brush all the pastry with egg wash.
This will make the top layer of pastry stick to the pancake (or parma ham if you use Gordon’s recipe) and stop it from rising and leaving a gap.
Sealing the pastry
Use the rounded end of a fork or spoon handle to seal the edges rather than the prongs of a fork – using the prongs could pierce the pastry rather than joining it.
Lower the chances of the edges separating by giving yourself lots of room – and don’t trim the pastry too close to the meat.
Avoid a ‘soggy bottom’
To avoid a ‘soggy bottom’ place the Wellington seal-side down on a pre-heated roasting tray.
This means the pastry starts cooking right away.
OR, you can put the roasting tray onto the hob for a couple of minutes before putting into the over to cook.
Optimum cooking time
40 mins cooking time is optimum.
But again, by using a thermometer you’ll be able to get the wellie cooked to your taste.
- Rare 50-55˚C,
- Medium-rare 55-60˚C
- Medium 60-65˚C
- Well done 65-70˚C
When you remove your Wellington from the oven, rest it on a cooking wire so the heat escapes equally.
This will also help to avoid a ‘soggy bottom‘.
Do you have any great tips to make the perfect Beef Wellington? Leave a comment…
- 20 g dried porcini or shiitake mushrooms (not to worry if you can't find any)
- 250 g mixed mushrooms
- 2 sprigs of rosemary, chopped
- 1 onion, chopped
- 230 g centre fillet of beef, trimmed
- olive oil
- truffle oil (optional)
- 1 tsp English mustard *if you don't like English mustard, you can switch it out for a chopped rosemary, salt and pepper rub. See below under 'Beef' for when to apply this)
- 1 x 320 g all-butter puff pastry
- 1 large egg
- 1 large free-range egg
- 1 mug semi-skimmed milk
- 1 mug plain flour (or self-raising)
Duxelles (mushroom paste)
- Take your dried mushrooms and soak in a bowl of hot water for 10 mins until they soften, then drain, chop up and set to the side.
- In a frying pan, add some oil, chopped onion and your chopped fresh mushrooms and cook until softened.
- Now, in a processor add the onion, fresh mushrooms and 'dried' mushrooms and whizz until a smooth paste. You can add the truffle oil (to your taste) at this stage, if you want to.(You can do all this by hand, don't worry too much about it being a fine paste, it works just as well if a little rougher)
- (**note: if you don't like English mustard this is where you can substitute for a rough rub of finely chopped rosemary, salt and pepper to season your beef)
- In the same pan as the mushrooms were cooked, add some oil and fry the beef on all sides to seal and give it a nice brown colouring.Remove, brush with English mustard all over and set aside on a plate to cool.
- Crack the egg into a bowl and add milk and flour and a pinch of salt and pepper. Whisk until smooth.
- Place a large non-stick frying pan on medium heat, add a little oil and pour in a thin layer of batter. Make sure you get it to cover the whole pan, it needs to wrap your entire beef.Cook for a couple of minutes or until you see little bubbles on top and then flip over for 20 seconds or until golden underneath.Place to the side to cool.
Constructing the Beef Wellington
- Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/gas 7.Leave your baking try inside so it's nice and hot when you place the Beef Wellington on it later.
- Place a large sheet of clingfilm on a flat surface and lay your cooled pancake on top.Spread the mushroom duxelles (paste) over the pancake.Place the cooled beef in the middle of the pancake and using the clingfilm, roll it up and twist into a tight parcel.
- On a flour-dusted surface, roll out your pastry large enough to roll the beef up in (approx the size of a tea towel) and still have a 1 -2 cm border.
- Now, remove the clingfilm from the pancake-wrapped beef and place to one end of the pastry (leaving that 1 -2 cm border).Brush the beaten egg over the pastry border and the pancake, roll it up nice and tight. Trim the excess pastry and transfer to your (hot) large greased baking tray.Using a spoon or the other side of a knife gently score the pastry on top (not too hard or it will split open during cooking).Lastly, egg wash the pastry all over.
- Place in the oven on the lower level, turn the temperature down to 200°C and cook for 40 mins.(*if you have a meat thermometer, then take it out of the oven at an internal temperature of 45°C as it will continue to cook while resting)
- Rest for 10 mins and serve (large portions – it cuts far better)