If you’re a steak lover, then you are undoubtedly aware that the filet mignon is the Cadillac of cuts. Hell, it may be the Lamborghini of cuts, to be honest. Yes, you are going to pay a premium price for this magnificent piece of meat, but whether you are at a fine-dining establishment celebrating a special night out or preparing this steak at home, you are absolutely going to realize where the extra money went. With Valentine’s Day upon us, you may be considering shelling out some serious dough to take that special someone to a nice dinner to celebrate, but with a few simple tips, you can prepare a delicious (and more economical) meal at home that is just as solid.
The filet is a cut taken from the tenderloin, which can also be prepared whole. The tenderloin runs along both sides of the spine of the animal and can be taken in two long strips from the carcass. There is a limited, small portion of filet on each cow, so they are the most expensive cut you can select.
As we discussed in last month’s article on the New York Strip, there are many ways you can prepare a filet. Last month, I chose to sous vide the strip and then sear it over charcoal. I then topped it with a disc of savory cowboy butter. The butter and this preparation method is perfect for a steak that features a bit more marbling than a filet, which, while tender, doesn’t have the fat content of a cut like a strip or a ribeye.
For the filet, I chose to go with a simpler preparation method and then turned the entrée to 11 with a sauce to finish the plate. For starters, I feel that over seasoning a cut like a filet is a rookie mistake. Now, if you have a favorite seasoning you like to use, by all means don’t let me talk you out of it but, in my opinion, a filet is such a delicate, tender cut it can be overwhelmed by a seasoning that is too aggressive. So, for me, I choose some kosher salt, a good bit of fresh cracked black pepper and a very light dusting of garlic powder. The S-P-G combination adds the necessary components without overwhelming the steak, especially if you are planning to sauce the cut as I did.
After seasoning, I let the steaks come up to room temperature to ensure even cooking throughout the process, as putting a cold steak on the hot grill will often lead to uneven cooking as the center will be cold and the crust overdone. This is a critical step often overlooked and it can lead to inconsistent results.
For this cook, I used my Weber kettle grill and charcoal. A gas grill would be fine as well, but I find the flavor of cooking over charcoal to add a component you just simply don’t achieve with gas. Getting the charcoal to a high temperature is key here, as you don’t want to put the steaks on a grill that isn’t hot enough. A good rule of thumb to know when your charcoal is ready is to keep an eye on the color of the briquettes. You will want to wait until your charcoal has burned to an even temperature before placing any meat on the grill grates. When the charcoal first turns white, it is hot on the outside, but can still be cool internally. You want to wait until most of the coals have turned white and they have ceased smoking. You can then use a grilling tool to spread the charcoal out evenly across the bottom of the basin to ensure there are no hot spots. This will promote even cooking and give you the best results.
As mentioned last month, a good meat thermometer can be the difference between a perfectly cooked piece of meat and one that may not be at the proper temperature. There is truly nothing worse than shelling out some premium coin to bring home a great steak and then overcooking it. Veteran chefs and home cooks can tell by the texture of the meat whether it is done to their liking. But this can take some experience, so a good thermometer is a great plan if you are unsure when to remove the meat from the grill.
As far as cooking time, it all depends on how you like your steak. I prefer a nice rare to mid-rare for filets as the lack of marbling means they don’t need to be over the heat to render any fat, as with say, a ribeye. In fact, I will sometimes order filets blue rare, which features a still cold center. I encourage you to try it this way if you never have. The steaks I prepared were a solid two inches thick, which means they took about five minutes per side. I gave them a quarter turn about halfway through on each side to show those nice grill marks that add to the visual delight at plating. You can easily find a temperature chart online to assist you in knowing when to pull your steaks based on your preference. But for a nice medium rare, you should be somewhere in the 120–130-degree range.
Per usual, you are going to want to rest your steaks for at least five minutes (10 is even better) before serving. Allowing the muscle to relax and the juices to redistribute is key to making your filets taste like butter.
To finish my steaks, I went with a couple different presentations. First, I prepared a bourbon peppercorn sauce. This savory sauce is a combination of butter, shallots, peppercorns, Worcestershire sauce, beef stock, bourbon and heavy cream. The silky sauce has a punch of the fresh peppercorns with a subtle note of the bourbon in the background. Most recipes for this sauce call for brandy, but I had some TX Whiskey on hand and used that as a substitute. If you don’t want to use brandy or whiskey, you can add just a bit more Worcestershire. To enhance the flavor of this sauce even more, I recommend taking the juices from the rested steaks and adding them to the sauce, as well. This will add depth of flavor like you wouldn’t believe. It’s a simple touch that will take your sauce to the next level.
For the other steak, I chose to top it simply with some great Maytag Blue cheese that I received as a Christmas present. A few crumbles add some richness as they melt across the top. Of course, if you are a no-nonsense steak consumer, there is nothing wrong with just eating it sans topping or sauces, but those are a couple suggestions to help add to the delicate flavor of the meat.
If charcoal isn’t your thing, there are a multitude of other preparation techniques for your filet. A nice reverse sear on your smoker or pellet grill is an option, although too much smoke flavor can really take away from the delicate flavor of this cut, so I would be wary of this option. Sous vide is another way to cook a filet, and it can give very consistent results. Sous vide at around 120-125 degrees for about 90 minutes and then sear in a cast-iron pan or over charcoal or gas. I would recommend this method for consistent results every time. A nice sear followed by a finish in the oven to desired temp is also a consideration, but you won’t end up with the great flavor you will if you finish it over charcoal.
Should you decide to purchase the entire tenderloin, you can always try a nice Beef Wellington, which is a go-to for many around the holidays. This is a method where the tenderloin is seared, then wrapped in a mushroom-based paste and wrapped in puff pastry. This recipe can be found online and is a stunning dish to serve to family and friends on special occasions.
The filet mignon is one of the most versatile and amazing cuts of meat you can prepare and, as always, these aren’t the only methods to prepare this stunning cut. Never forget that cooking has a creative element that can showcase your personality and the way you like to eat. Whether you prepare over charcoal, through sous vide or on the smoker, the filet is a crowd-pleasing piece of beef you and your fellow diners won’t soon forget.