A beef fillet is one of the easiest things to cook. But, because it’s expensive to buy people are nervous about ‘wasting’ their money and over cooking the meat. In my opinion it’s best cooked to medium, or medium-rare – then when it’s left to stand it matures into the most delectable cut of eating meat ever.
Here’s how to do it.
Buy a fillet of beef from your local butcher. If you tell your butcher how many people you are having for dinner then they’ll be able to recommend the amount of meat to buy. The last fillet I bought I was feeding 6 adults and I bought a 750g fillet.
The other thing to try and do is get a fillet that is the same width or girth along the length. Sometimes if you buy the end of the fillet it will taper off and so that end of the fillet will cook a lot quicker. That’s OK if you have some guests that enjoy their meat well-done. If everyone enjoys their meat medium rare that is a problem – so try and get a fillet of even thickness.
There are many ways to prepare the fillet. A popular method is to roll in herbs and black pepper.
My favourite combination is ground cumin and ground pepper with sea salt. I wrote about this recipe here. Another example is to use a combination of dried thyme (1/2 teaspoon), dried rosemary (1-1/2 tablespoons), 2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns and 1 teaspoon salt.
There is really no need to be so exact with the measurements and remember fresh is often best so try and use herbs out of the garden or from your produce store or delicatessen. Do some research and find other combinations.
I always sear the fillet in a pan – very quickly on all sides – to keep the natural juices inside the fillet. Then simply transfer the meat into a roasting dish and place in a hot oven preheated to around 200ºC. It’s also best to use a dish that has shallow sides, or the heat will not penetrate down into the dish.
How long should you cook the fillet?
The time that it takes to cook a fillet is not long and it’s probably this one thing that terrifies most novice cooks. Under or overcook your fillet and you’ve wasted a lot of money.
A rule of thumb is to cook it for 15-20 minutes per 500g. That will result in a medium fillet. Don’t forget to ‘stand’ the meat for 10-15 minutes when it comes out of the oven. Loosely wrap or cover with tin-foil and leave in a warm place while you wait for the 10 minutes to pass. Then, and only then, carve the meat.
A friend once told me a cunning trick to judge the cooking time of your fillet, or indeed any meat. You can judge cooking time by touching the meat and judging how far the meat ‘springs back’ after being pressed.
Make a very tight fist with your hand. Press your finger on the skin at the base and to the right of your thumb (if you are using your right hand to make the fist). Note how tight the skin is there when you push down with your fore-finger. If your meat has that level of elasticity then it is ‘well-done’.
Do the same thing but just make a normal fist, with normal level of pressure. See how you can still push down but your skin jumps back into place? That’s medium.
Now do it again but just make a fist with no pressure. The skin on your fist is floppy – it still pops back into shape but it feels like there’s nothing to keep it in shape. That sort of pressure on your meat will indicate a rare fillet.
It’s a good test but it takes a little trial and error – if you test the density of the fillet as you cook it then you’ll soon learn how to judge the cooking time and soon become an expert.
Enjoy, and if you have any problems pop a question on the Meateaters Forum or leave a comment here and I’ll try and answer it for you.