Although some people may think that Beef Wellington is hopelessly passé in today's sleek, modern culinary environment, I seriously doubt they would turn up their snarky noses at a plate of this great holiday tradition. And as fancy as Beef Wellington is, it isn't terribly difficult to make.
However, this is one dish where the written recipe can sound complicated and confusing, but a good YouTube video can make it seem simple. I recommend the one produced by Chef Gordon Ramsey. It's classic, it's clear, and it will probably produce good results. But when he says set the oven at 200° he means 425° American temperature.
What is Beef Wellington?
We're talking about a 2-2 1/2 pound center cut of beef tenderloin, wrapped in something savory and baked inside a puff pastry crust.
All recipes start with the searing of the beef, usually in a heavy pan with olive oil. Brown and sear all sides, including the ends, then slather on a coat of Dijon mustard, and set it aside to cool.
Next you will make up some duxelles, a sort of stuffing made of finely diced mushrooms, shallots, garlic, herbs and perhaps a bit of sherry or bourbon. It all gets carefully sautéed until the mixture is quite dry.
Unroll a long length of clear plastic wrap on a flat surface. Lay out a layer of prosciutto ham, that is big enough to wrap the tenderloin. Next, you will spoon out a layer of the duxelles and spread it evenly over the ham. Place the cooled down "log" of beef in the middle of the stuffing, and carefully roll up the beef in the plastic wrap, gently tucking everything together until the beef is entirely rolled up with the ham and duxelles. Twist the ends of the plastic wrap tightly, as you squeeze the log into a nice compact regular cylindrical shape. Refrigerate for 15 minutes to set.
Three brands of store-bought are generally available, Dufour's and Trader Joe's which are pricey but butter based, and Pepperidge Farm (less expensive, and shortening based). Allow the pastry to thaw completely, then roll it out on a flat floured surface, and give it more time to come fully to room temperature and relax. Half a day is not too long for a complete thawing process. As you roll the dough out, into about a 12"x14" rectangle, use a very light hand. Puff pastry is delicate, and you want to take it easy. Hint: be very sparing with flour as you roll it out, since excess flour can depress the puff pastry. Also, do not roll the dough too thin. You probably want a rectangle about 12"x 14."
Unroll the "log" from the plastic wrap and carefully place the beef in the middle of the pastry. Roll up the sides to cover it, sealing the overlapping seam with a bit of egg white. The seam side will be the bottom of the "log". Put the seam side down, and neatly tuck in the ends, and trim with a sharp knife. Wrap the entire log in plastic wrap, and once again tightly twist the ends to create a very evenly shaped compact cylinder. Refrigerate for an hour (or overnight) to let the molding set.
Pre-heat your oven to 425. Take out the pastry covered beef and let it come to room temperature. At this point you can cut a decorative design into the top of the crust, and perhaps pierce it a time or two. Brush beaten egg yolk over the entire upper surface for a golden sheen. Finish with a sprinkle of coarse grained salt.
Bake the beef-in-pastry for about 25 minutes at 375°. A meat thermometer is essential to get the beef to the desired doneness. 130° (for medium rare) internal temperature is perfect. Be sure to let the Beef Wellington rest at least 10 minutes before serving.
You can whip up a simple sauce using a bit of left over duxelles, red wine, beef broth and corn starch to serve with the dish. Serve with the best red wine in your cellar.