New Year’s Eve calls for something seriously special; fireworks, Champagne, perhaps a cigar or a whole wheel of Brie. Suffice to say you can’t rustle up a mac n’ cheese and expect to get away with it (no offence to mac n cheese lovers, I count myself one of them, but sometimes you need something big).
After little to no debating (there was no debating) the Tall Hungry One and I decided to stay home this year, avoiding an inevitably mediocre night out in a local bar with two lukewarm glasses of fizzing grape juice – being passed off as either Prosecco or Champagne depending on who you ask – confusion over the exact moment midnight occurs, an overpriced taxi ride, and a, while somewhat enjoyable but later regretful, half-eaten takeaway snatched on the way home.
Which meant I would be cooking the aforementioned seriously special meal, nay, feast. And we would see out 2016 with a classic and (hopefully) showstopping Beef Wellington.
It is at this point I must admit that I am not a calm cook, my approach to cooking is akin to the hasty preparations of a poorly prepared village in the face of a fast approaching hurricane, in other words frantic, frenzied and frazzled.
The panic set in 24 hours before the big event when I watched a hefty slab of fillet steak undergo some expert butchering in our local Morrisons (by an incredibly skilled butcher who was also working a perfectly executed burgundy lip and streamlined cat-eye I could only stare at in wonder and awe while my own eyeliner slid away from my left eye, but I digress). “That’ll be £17.27, is that alright?” she asked, eyeliner sharper than the knife in her hand. The Tall Hungry One nodded and reached for the freshly wrapped beef while I silently panicked. What if its overcooked? What if the pastry gets a soggy bottom? What if I undercook it and somehow the mushroom duxelle seeps into the meat creating a greyish red glob surrounded by mushed pastry and the final nail in the travesty that was 2016 is slammed into the coffin?
Once home, and somewhat calm, I inspect the meat with complete adoration.
I carefully, and with much coaching and calming assistance, bound the glorious beef in layers of clingfilm forcing it into a cylindrical shape and left it in the fridge overnight to adopt its new form.
Next to meet their fate were the mushrooms. I recently discovered woodland mushrooms in Morrisons (on sale, not growing wild on some forgotten shelf) for £1.50 and instantly fell in love.
I used a box of these and one of chestnut mushrooms, which were chopped and chopped then mixed with fresh thyme leaves. Then thrown into a pan with a little light olive oil and cooked until they resembled something close to a mushroom paste (a duxelle). After Tall Hungry One had stolen a few spoonfuls and the duxelle had cooled a little it was time to spread a layer across a sheet of parma ham carefully laid across more clingfilm.
Once I was sure all the gaps were completely covered the fillet steak was released from its plastic prison and tightly wrapped within its new meaty-mushroom cocoon. Again, bound with clingfilm and left in the fridge for 45 minutes to set.
Confession. I did not make my own pastry, I know, I will never make a housewife but that’s not such a terrible thing. When the mushroom-meat parcel was ready it was unwrapped then encased in readymade (oh shush) puff pastry, brushed with the obligatory egg wash and popped, once again, into the fridge to set.
There are no photos of this stage as I went for a bath and got distracted by candles, bubbles and a skillfully crafted Negroni.
Here is a tip: don’t leave your pastry wrapped wellington on the pastry parchment, it will stick and you may panic and threaten to throw the whole thing off the balcony in to the canal because New Year’s Eve is ruined so you may as well go to bed. If you do manage to calm down, carefully peel the wellington from the parchment, and get it in the oven without another meltdown you will be rewarded with the greatest sight, a golden hued beauty.
And for good measure, here is the inside, rare and juicy.
Enjoy, and Happy New Year.
Recipe: Gordon Ramsay’s Beef Wellington
- 650g beef fillet
- Olive oil, for frying
- 300g mixture of wild mushrooms, cleaned
- 1 thyme sprig, leaves only
- 500g puff pastry
- 6 slices of Parma ham
- 2 egg yolks, beaten with 1 tbsp water and a pinch of salt
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the red wine sauce
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 100g beef trimmings (ask the butcher to reserve these when trimming the fillet)
- 2 large shallots, peeled and sliced
- 12 black peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 thyme sprig
- Splash of red wine vinegar
- 175ml bottle red wine
- 500ml beef stock
- Wrap each piece of beef tightly in a triple layer of cling film to set its shape, then chill overnight.
- Remove the cling film, then quickly sear the beef fillets in a hot pan with a little olive oil for 30-60 seconds until browned all over and rare in the middle. Remove from the pan and leave to cool.
- Finely chop the mushrooms and fry in a hot pan with a little olive oil, the thyme leaves and some seasoning. When the mushrooms begin to release their juices, continue to cook over a high heat for about 10 minutes until all the excess moisture has evaporated and you are left with a mushroom paste (known as a duxelle). Remove the duxelle from the pan and leave to cool.
- Cut the pastry in half, place on a lightly floured surface and roll each piece into a rectangle large enough to envelop one of the beef fillets. Chill in the refrigerator.
- Lay a large sheet of cling film on a work surface and place 4 slices of Parma ham in the middle, overlapping them slightly, to create a square. Spread half the duxelle evenly over the ham.
- Season the beef fillets, then place them on top of the mushroom-covered ham. Using the cling film, roll the Parma ham over the beef, then roll and tie the cling film to get a nice, evenly thick log.
- Repeat this step with the other beef fillet, then chill for at least 30 minutes.
- Brush the pastry with the egg wash. Remove the cling film from the beef, then wrap the pastry around each ham-wrapped fillet. Trim the pastry and brush all over with the egg wash. Cover with cling film and chill for at least 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make the red wine sauce. Heat the oil in a large pan, then fry the beef trimmings for a few minutes until browned on all sides. Stir in the shallots with the peppercorns, bay and thyme and continue to cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the shallots turn golden brown.
- Pour in the vinegar and let it bubble for a few minutes until almost dry. Now add the wine and boil until almost completely reduced. Add the stock and bring to the boil again. Lower the heat and simmer gently for 1 hour, removing any scum from the surface of the sauce, until you have the desired consistency. Strain the liquid through a fine sieve lined with muslin. Check for seasoning and set aside.
- When you are ready to cook the beef wellingtons, score the pastry lightly and brush with the egg wash again, then bake at 200°C/Gas 6 for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and cooked. Rest for 10 minutes before carving.
- Meanwhile, reheat the sauce. Serve the beef wellingtons sliced, with the sauce as an accompaniment