For a Christmas feast, cooks need a main course that will please a crowd and allow for the display of some culinary prowess.
Beef tenderloin fits that bill. This most tender cut of beef is large enough to feed a roomful of relatives, can cater to guests who like their beef at varying degrees of doneness and is a blank slate for seasoning and cooking styles.
"It's a great entertaining piece of meat," says Paul Malcolm, a chef instructor at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte. Restaurateur Giorgios Bakatsias, who owns Georges Brasserie in Charlotte, Vin Rouge in Durham and seven other restaurants, agrees: "The beef tenderloin is versatile."
This time of year, whole tenderloins are on sale for a little as $8 to $10 a pound, but cooks will have to trim away the fat and silverskin. Trimmed tenderloins can cost up to $27 a pound (and the cook won't get those lovely scraps that can be turned into stews and stir fries) but are ready to cook. Figure a third to a half-pound per guest, depending upon appetites and the rest of the holiday spread.
Roasted tenderloin can be sliced to order so each guest gets the portion and doneness he or she wants. It can be plated in the kitchen or set on a buffet to let guests serve themselves. And it lends itself to different preparations:
We offer a recipe for the show-stopping beef Wellington from award-winning author James Peterson's new cookbook, "Meat: A Kitchen Education." In this recipe, the chateaubriand - the loin's most prized cut - is wrapped in puff pastry. A layer of sautéed mushrooms is tucked between the beef and the pastry, soaking up the meat's juices while keeping the pastry crisp.
For a simpler approach, we offer author Pam Anderson's "The Perfect Recipe" technique for searing and then roasting the tenderloin, which is key to creating great texture. The roasted tenderloin can be served with Anderson's recipe for red-wine thyme pan sauce, Bakatsias' caramelized onion butter or a more traditional creamy horseradish sauce.
With beef tenderloin as the star of the feast, dinner guests will surely be merry.
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