Beef Wellington is a savoury dish, consisting of a fillet of beef tenderloin cooked wrapped in puff pastry. Inside, there will be the additional element of either a mushroom mixture, or a meat “paste.”
It can be made as one large one, providing a show-piece food on the table, or it can be made in individual serving-sized portions.
To make Beef Wellington, the beef tenderloin is seared in a frying pan with melted butter, about 2 minutes per side. Some recipes call for not just searing the beef, but flambéeing it in cognac, no less. The purpose of the searing is to develop surface flavour and colour, not to seal in juices — searing does no such thing. The beef is then cooked in a hot oven anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes depending on how well done you want it to turn out at the very end (bearing in mind that more cooking time is coming.) The beef is set aside to cool. [Note: some recipes call for the searing, but omit the roasting at this stage.]
If the meat is to be accompanied with a minced-mushroom mixture (aka Duxelles), then it is now made. Alternatively, if a meat paste is being used, (traditionally it was Foie Gras but that got re-interpreted as liver pâté because the pâté was easier to procure) no preparation is required to this meat paste, aside from any usual trimming done to Foie Gras.
Some call for both mushrooms and a meat paste. Some call for also spreading the meat with a thin spread of Marmite (sic.)
You make (or procure) puff pastry dough, and roll the dough out on a floured work surface. In the centre of the dough you put either the cooled mushroom mixture, or the meat paste. It is important to have the pastry cold, and the beef and the mushroom mixture room temperature (don’t put them on the pastry hot.) Then put the cooled beef on top and the rest of the mushroom mixture or meat paste on top of the beef.
Gather up the sides of the puff pastry, pinch it together at the top, and trim away excess puff pastry. Turn the bundle over, place on a lightly buttered baking sheet, brush it with egg wash, and cut a small hole in the top of dough to allow steam to escape during baking.
Bake the bundle in a hot oven anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes depending on how well done you want it. Note: recipes that omitted the initial roasting stage for the meat will likely extend this time to about 45 minutes, and call for a more moderate oven.
Some of the problems people encounter in making Beef Wellington are soggy crust, and meat turning out either under-done or overdone (depending on tastes.) Some suggest that egg washing the inside of the pastry crust (in addition to the outside), will help prevent soggy crust. Most of the “state of doneness” complaints come from the camp that prefers their beef rare. This can be addressed by shortening or omitting the initial roasting time of the beef.
Traditionally, Beef Wellington is served with a sauce, which can be Bearnaise, Chateaubriand, Colbert, Madeira or Perigourdine sauce.
What to serve with Beef Wellington
What to serve with Beef Wellington is an often-asked question. In planning, you have to bear in mind that your oven is already in use, and its temperature will be governed by your centre-piece, the Beef Wellington. So, unless you have two ovens, you need to plan on side dishes that can be prepared on the stove top and don’t require the oven. A classic accompaniment is boiled new potatoes tossed in butter and minced fresh parsley, with some other vegetable.
Brush inside of pastry with egg wash before applying it to the meat. This will help the pastry stick to the meat, so that it doesn’t rise off it and leave gaps.
Smooth pastry down as you apply it, don’t leave air pockets.
Don’t trim pastry too close to the meat.
It is best to seal the edges of the pastry with the rounded tip of the bowl of a spoon, rather than a fork. Fork prongs will just pierce the pastry, making the seal weaker.
Meats have long been cooked both in the British Isles and in Europe in pastry crusts.
A few wags even suggest this dish is of Irish origin.
Beef Wellington had its heyday in the 1960s in North America.
It first appeared in a North American cookbook in 1966 (The New York Times Cookbook by Craig Claiborne.) It was in the 1960s that liver pâté started getting swapped in for the Foie Gras.
Beef Wellington fell out of fashion by the 1980s.
Literature & Lore
“A few years ago it was considered chic to serve Beef Wellington; fortunately, like Napoleon, it met its Waterloo.”
— René Veaux, chef, Lasserre restaurant, Paris.
Named in honour of Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, (1769-1852) who became a British national hero for defeating Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Ignore reports that he loved this dish, so it was named after him. He was actually quite indifferent to food, as he was constantly wrapped up in his work.
In French, Beef Wellington is called “Filet de Boeuf en Croûte.”
Some people attempt to differentiate “Filet de Boeuf en Croûte” from Beef Wellington by saying that the version with the French name is made in individual portions.
Some people attempt to blend the French and English names by calling the dish “Boeuf Wellington.”
In Ireland, the individual portion ones are referred to as “Steak Wellington”, or “Steig Wellington”, as Theodora FitzGibbon named it in her book “A Taste of Ireland” (Dent, 1968.)