I’ve often fancied making a beef wellington but the cut of beef required is so expensive, and the risk of overcooking it so immediate, that I’ve never tried. Confessing this fear to a friend I was told that if I were willing to cook it for him, he’d buy me the meat. So I spent a tense afternoon cooking a fillet of beef that cost the price of a small car. Even the butcher seemed worried.
I used the proportions from Felicity Cloake’s perfect beef wellington and the parma ham from Gordon Ramsey’s recipe. Although the parma ham can be a dominant taste, it seals the meat well, keeping the juices in and the pastry crisp as it cooks. The meat came from our new, very smart, butcher.
Begin by searing 500g of beef fillet in a smoking hot pan. About thirty seconds on each side should be enough to seal it.
Leave it to cool on a plate while you make the duxelles, a mushroom paste. Prepare and finely chop 300g of mushrooms. The pulse setting on a food processor will make short work of this. Fry the mushrooms in a tablespoon of oil and a large knob of butter for ten minutes, then add 100ml of white wine and a sprig of thyme. Cook until all the liquid bubbles away. Spread this mixture onto a plate to cool.
Overlap two pieces of cling film and then overlap five pieces of parma ham on the cling film. Spread half the duxelles on the ham, a little bit wider than the size of the meat.
Plonk the meat on top and then spread the rest of the mushrooms over the top of the meat. Use the clingfilm to wrap the ham around the meat, rearranging the slices over the top if necessary. Secure the cling film round the edges and chill the meat parcel while you roll out the pastry.You need 250g of puff pastry, rolled out as thinly as you can. If you have the ready rolled stuff then roll it out a little thinner than it comes. Undo the parcel from its clingfilm and place it on the pastry.
Leave a border of about two inches around the meat and paint this with beaten egg. Drape the rest of pastry over the meat, smoothing it down to get rid of any air bubbles. Seal the edges by squashing them together with the blunt edge of a knife.
Score diagonal lines across the top and brush the whole thing with beaten egg. Chill the beef wellington for half an hour (or longer if you want to prepare it ahead of time) and heat the oven, and a baking tray, to 200C. The chilling stops the pastry melting and slithering off the meat when it first goes in the oven. Place a baking tray with the wellington onto the preheated baking tray and cook for half an hour, leaving it to rest for ten minutes once it’s out of the oven. Ours came out rare (though not raw, there should be warmth in the centre). If you prefer your beef more well done, spend a bit longer searing in the pan at the start.
I’m not sure I’ve ever been prouder of, or more relieved by, something I’ve cooked. The meat was meltingly soft, the pastry crisp all the way round until carving, when the juices ran out of the meat, to be soaked up by the bottom layer with not a drop wasted.