How to Make the Best Beef Wellington
This Beef Wellington recipe has become a tradition in our house. We prepare it every couple of years for Christmas and made it again this year. If I’m lucky, we will have it next year and the year after that.
My wife originally found a recipe in Fine Cooking, one of my favorite cooking magazines, that we adapted over the years but not by much. In my opinion, it can be considered a perfect meal. My hats off to Ris Lacoste, the author of the original recipe we worked with.
I was fortunate to eat at many great restaurants in New York City way back when I was working on Wall Street, but when my wife serves this dish at Christmas, it stands up to anything I've eaten in any restaurant. It is that good.
The combination of flavors from the mushrooms, onions, spinach and blue cheese is mouth-watering. The puff pastry absorbs any of the juices that are released while cooking but they don't get soggy. My daughters aren't big fans of blue cheese but they still enjoy these steaks.
And what makes this recipe even better is you can make it as far ahead as you want because you freeze the individual Beef Wellingtons before you cook them. - What a concept!
And if you prepare 6 individual Wellingtons as this recipe calls for and you are only serving 4, you will have in your freezer the best TV dinners of your life.
There are a lot of steps involved in preparing this recipe, and my wife suggests doing the prepping the day before so there is plenty of time to freeze the individual packets sufficiently before cooking. You are not making a simple roast beef but nothing is too complicated for the average home cook.
Make sure you have all the ingredients and have them prepped and ready to go (mis en place) before you get started with the assembly line technique of putting them together.
As far as freezing, I was a little skeptical when my wife showed me the article. I thought why would you take a fresh cut of meat and freeze it. But this step is essential to keeping the packets from getting soggy, so don't skip it!
A Couple of Changes
We made a couple of really minor changes from the original recipe. For example, we didn't have any sherry on hand and didn't want to buy a bottle just for this recipe, so my wife substituted Marsala. None of us knew the difference. Also, the recipe calls for rolling out the pastry dough, cutting into rounds, and then refreezing it before assembling the wellingtons.
My wife finds that too cumbersome in terms of handling the dough and having to defrost it twice, so we rolled out the dough and assembled without freezing midway. The only trick to this is, you have to work quickly so the dough doesn't dry out.
The recipe calls for portobella mushrooms, but this year we substituted baby bella's because we had a couple of pounds on hand. And in the past, we have substituted dried herbs; however this year we did have fresh thyme and rosemary on hand from our garden so we used that.
But it's hard to justify spending big $$s on fresh herbs when you only need ½ teaspoon of each, so substituting ⅓ dried thyme or rosemary for the fresh amount called for in the recipe won't alter the taste that much. Of course, if you already have the fresh herbs at home or you are using them in another recipe, by all means use fresh over dried.
Buying the Steak for Beef Wellington
Wherever I live, I always try to get to know a local butcher and fishmonger especially in the local supermarket where we shop. I highly recommend you start up a conversation with the person behind the counter and let them know you are interested in what you are purchasing. Not only is it a great way to learn about these ingredients, you will get great individual attention when you need special cuts.
When shopping for this dish, I purchased a whole beef tenderloin and asked the butcher to trim and cut individual steaks. Not only is it cheaper than buying individual steaks, you can request the exact size of the cut and where the cut is from.
You can also buy whole beef tenderloins stripped (most of the fat and sinew trimmed off) at you local box store like Costco. I'm now seeing them sold in supermarkets at great prices.
For this dish, I wanted 6 portions of beef tenderloin approximately 6 oz. each and all from the center of the tenderloin. This way they are all be about the same size and will cook evenly.
Make sense? The two ends were cut into more steaks that I freeze to grill another day.
The hardest part of this recipe for most home cooks will be working with the puff pastry and that’s because most of us are not accustomed to working with it. Don’t let it intimidate you. Just take your time and follow the instructions on how to handle.
A Little Beef Wellington History
How did this dish get its name, you might be wondering?
From a quick research on the Internet, there are many contradicting stories but suffice it to say it was named after Arthur Wellesley who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815 and was made the first Duke of Wellington. You will find it served in a larger single pastry that is sliced and served or in individual servings as provided for in this recipe.
Beef Wellington Recipe
- 10 inch pie round
- Rolling Pin
- wax paper
- sharp knife
- roasting pan
- parchment paper
- pastry brush
For the Puff Pastry
- 6 sheets frozen puff pastry each 1 pound package typically 2 sheets
- Flour for rolling
Mushrooms & Onions
- 10 ounces baby Bella mushrooms cleaned and stems trimmed
- 4 tablespoons olive oil plus more for cooking
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- ½ tablespoon fresh thyme leaves lightly chopped or 1½ teaspoon dried
- ½ tablespoon fresh rosemary chopped or ½teaspoon dried
- salt and freshly ground black pepper coarse
- 4 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 3 medium onions thinly sliced
- ½ cup medium-dry sherry or Marsala or other cooking wine
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
Spinach & Blue Cheese
- 14 ounces spinach tightly packed
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 6 ounces blue cheese Maytag, Roquefort - better to get a block of cheese than crumbled since you will want slices
For Egg Wash
- 3 - 4 eggs
Prep All the Ingredients
- Carefully remove the frozen puff pastry sheets from their wrappers. Be careful not to tear them. Roll each sheet to a thickness of about ¼ inch using a rolling pin. Using a 10-inch plate or pie pan, cut out a 10-inch round from each sheet using a sharp knife.
- (Use the extra puff pastry scraps to make the decorative leaves as shown in the photos. You don't really need this but it covers up the seams and makes them look fancier.)
- Stack the puff pastry rounds by layering them between sheets of waxed paper. Carefully wrap the puff pastry in plastic wrap and stick back into the freezer.(This is the step my wife combines with the assembly process described below. If you decide to do that, then don't defrost the sheets at all until you are ready for the assembly step.)
Mushrooms & Onions
- In a medium sized bowl, add the mushrooms and toss with 4 tablespoons of olive oil, garlic, thyme and the rosemary. Cover with plastic and stick in the refrigerator to marinate for a couple of hours.
- After 2 hours, remove the mushrooms from the refrigerator. The mushrooms most likely absorbed most of the oil. If not, remove them from the excess oil and season with salt and pepper.
- Heat a frying pan or saute pan over medium heat and when hot, add a little olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. When the oil is hot, add the mushrooms and cook until they start to brown and soften up. This should take no more than 8 to 10 minutes.
- When the mushroom are done, transfer them to some stacked paper towels to absorb any extra oil. When cool enough to handle, cut them into small pieces and reserve.
- In the same pan, add the butter and melt it over medium heat.
- Add the thinly sliced onions and caramelize them by turning down the heat to medium-low and cook slowly until they are golden brown, soft and smell heavenly. This can take 20 to 30 minutes so have some good music to play while you are cooking.
- Add Marsala wine and cook down until most of the wine has cooked off.
- When the onions are soft and sweet tasting, season with a little salt and pepper, taste, and adjust seasoning. Transfer the onions to a colander that's sitting in a bowl so the onions can drain.
- When the onions are cooled down, transfer to a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap and put into the refrigerator.
Spinach & Blue Cheese
- If you didn't buy pre-washed spinach, it's time for a bath. Wash the spinach and remove the stems. Get a pot of ice water ready to give the spinach another bath after sauteing to stop the cooking process and maintain the spinach's color.
- Heat a large saute (fry) pan over medium heat. Most likely your pan won't be big enough to cook all the spinach at once so cook half of it in 1 ounce of the butter and a little salt & pepper.
- Then saute the rest of the spinach with another 1 ounce of butter and a little more salt & pepper. If you are using pre-washed spinach, sprinkle a little water on top after adding it to the pan.
- As soon as each batch wilts, transfer to the cold water bath. After a few seconds, remove from the bath and transfer to a colander. Squeeze a handful of the cooked spinach to remove as much water as you can. Repeat with the rest of the spinach.
- Transfer to plates or a cutting board, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until it's time to assemble the Wellingtons. My wife actually wraps the spinach in paper towels inside of the plastic wrap to get out as much moisture as possible.
- Cut the blue cheese into six 1-ounce portions. Transfer to a plate or the cutting board with the spinach, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Prep the Steaks
- Season the steaks with salt & pepper.
- Heat a saute pan over medium-high heat and when hot, add a little olive oil to the pan. Coat the bottom of the pan with the oil and when hot, add the steaks and sear until browned, about 2 minutes per side.If your pan is not large enough to accommodate all the steaks without crowding, sear the steaks in batches. You want to avoid steaming the meat which can happen if they cook too close together.
- When nicely browned, transfer the meat to a plate, let cool down, cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until you read to assemble all the ingredients.
Assembling the Wellingtons
- Here's where you get to really practice mise en place (everything in its place). Take the onions, mushrooms, spinach, blue cheese and steaks out of the refrigerator. Do not assemble until all the ingredients are cold.
- You are going to divide all the ingredients into 6 portions, one portion for each Wellington. See my photo below. Try to squeeze any extra liquid that may still be left in the onions and spinach. Paper towels work well for this.
- Cover a large baking pan, one that can fit into your freezer, with parchment paper. We have a chest freezer in the garage so I know I can make enough room to place a large baking sheet into it.
Prepare the Puff Pastry
- You'll be measuring and cutting the pastry rounds to shapes that accommodate all the ingredients. You'll need a paring knife, pastry brush, a ruler to measure your cuts and egg wash made by whisking 2 of the eggs with a tiny amount of water.We have a small notebook that is exactly 4 inches by 3 inches, the exact size you'll need for scoring the pastry round. You can either measure using a ruler or make a template with a piece of paper or cardboard.Remove one of the round pastry rounds from the freezer. Spread some flour on your work counter so the pastry doesn't stick and place the round on top.
- Using a template or a ruler, score a 4x3 inch rectangle in the center of the pastry round. You don't want to cut through the dough, only score it.
- Extend the lines of the rectangle and remove all 4 corners so all you are left with is a pastry cross.
- Save any pieces you cut out for making leaf decorations that will attached to the Wellington if you didn't do it earlier.
Let's Start Assembling
- From one of the 6 piles of spinach, grab half of it and place it over the center of the pastry cross.
- Add 1 of the piles of chopped mushrooms.
- Next, grab a full portion of blue cheese and place it on top of the spinach.
- Now add 1 portion of onions, then one of the tenderloin steaks and then the rest of the spinach portion. The goal is to spread out all of these ingredients as evenly as possible to make sealing a little bit easier.
- By now, the pastry dough should be pliable enough to work with, but if not, give it a few minutes to thaw enough to fold easily. Using your pastry brush, coat a little of the egg wash onto each of the 4 corners of the pastry cross.
- Carefully fold the left and right side of pastry dough on to the top of the spinach. You want the dough to slightly overlap each other. A little stretch here and there might be necessary.
- Do the same folding with the top and bottom panels but seal all them together by pushing down on the top panel so it seals with the bottom panel. Then work the sides by pinching all four corners together until they create a nicely sealed unit.It's very important to get these seals right or there is a chance some of the cooking liquids will lead out while they are cooking.
- Pick up the assembled Wellington and use your fingers to make sure all the joints are sealed and the pastry is a nicely shaped unit.
- Place the Wellington seam side down onto the counter and shape it with your hand to get them as even as possible. This will help insure even cooking. Brush all the sides with the egg wash.
- Using the extra dough from making the pastry crosses, cut out little dough leaf decorations that you can place on top of the Wellington and seal with some more egg wash.
- Transfer the Wellington to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and place in a freezer.
Five More To Go
- Now that you have the technique down, continue preparing the remaining 5 Wellingtons exactly the same way you prepared this one. Believe me, it gets easier each time you make one.Remember to add each one to the baking sheet in the freezer after completion.
- When all the Wellingtons are prepared, let them chill for a good hour and then remove from the freezer, wrap them individually in plastic wrap and place them back into the freezer until ready to use.
How to Cook the Beef Wellingtons
- Before you are ready to start cooking, preheat the oven to 400°F. There is no need to thaw the Wellingtons before cooking. They go right from the freezer to the oven.
- Using the remaining eggs and a little water, make an egg wash and give each Wellington another coat.
- Lightly grease a roasting pan or heavy duty rimmed baking sheet with olive oil, spray olive oil or a little butter. Transfer the Wellingtons to the pan and bake for 20 minutes.
- Lower the heat to 350°F and continue baking until the internal temperature reaches 110°F. This should take about 35 more minutes depending on your oven's accuracy and the thickness of the steaks.
- Remove the Wellingtons and let them rest for 8 minutes and serve immediately. Remember, the tenderloin will continue to cook while in the pastry so you don't want to let them rest too long or the meat will overcook.