The First Mistake: Over Doing It
“I cannot believe what I am about to do,” I thought to myself while pouring 2lbs of flour on my counter. I was prepping and preparing to make the ultimate dish- Beef Wellington. And I thought why not start with making puff pastry FROM SCRATCH because it can’t be that bad, right?
I was even warned about how long this would take by Babish himself from the cookbook Binging with Babish that I could probably spend my time doing something better than making homemade puff pastry. But I ignored that great piece of advice and pressed on anyway.
While in the end the puff pastry came out the way it was supposed to, the time it took to complete was about 2 hours and then it sat wrapped in the fridge the night before the meal would take place. Definitely using pre-made puff pastry in the future.
The Center-cut Beef Tenderloin- “Only” 4lbs
I don’t think I quite grasped how much 4lbs of beef was until I picked it up from Oak Park, IL butcher shop- Carnivore. I paid quite the price for this meat which made the experience of cooking Beef Wellington all the more stressful- this would be an expensive screw up if I didn’t do this correctly.
The order came in 2 hunks, curbside pick-up, and the only prepping the night before was to wrap tightly in plastic wrap and place in fridge about 24 hours before cooking to help hold its shape. This tip was not from Binging with Babish, but rather from Gordon Ramsay.
The Next Day: Realization of the Importance of this Meal
Growing up, my Opa was the chef in my life. And still is to this day. He is one of the best cooks I’ve ever known, the most adventurous and the most creative. As evidenced in the photos below, you can always find him in the kitchen. Even when I call my Oma and Opa every week, my Oma says, “Opa is prepping for our next meal,” or “Opa is in the middle of BBQ’ing.” If you catch him in the grocery store, or he sees you mulling over which piece of steak to buy (this includes everyone including strangers)- you can be damn sure he’ll say something like, “You know what goes really great with that steak?” or “I have this wonderful recipe I’d be more than happy to share with you that’s very easy to make.” He loves to cook but even more so he loves to share that joy with others.
I definitely inherited this from him.
There are so many examples I could share of my inherited love for cooking… from making crepes (taught by my Oma) for my mom on Mother’s Day, to making my best friend in high school peanut butter chocolate shakes, to cooking steaks and chicken with white wine sauce for my boyfriend’s parents, to making peanut butter cup pies for my baby brother and sister every time I go back home to visit (we love peanut butter and chocolate), to just making a delicious omelet for one– for me. The joy it brings others, knowing I made it, is satisfying.
More than that though, is what I learned from my Opa’s past. He’s shared with me over the years his childhood history and traumas, and a common theme was hunger. He grew up as a young boy before and during World War II in Germany. He did not come from the most loving household and his father, who I happen to share a birthday with, died young. Forced into Hitler Youth and working farms, my Opa experienced the type of hunger I could never understand. I remember one memory in particular where he was an adolescent and was starving to the point where he found a tree, laid down, and started covering himself with leaves thinking his body was going to decompose right then and there. The fact that my Opa was able to overcome that, among so many other horrific events, and find himself able to leave Germany as a young adult, move to Canada, start a new life, marry my Oma, then move to California where they’d begin their family…is the pure definition of resilience.
After hearing these stories for the first time years ago, I began to understand why my Opa was so serious about food and never wasted a left over meal- not one scrap. He turned that life experience into something pleasant by cooking for others…for his family. And teaching us along the way.
I grew up eating the BEST food imaginable. And I thought to myself, if I inherited this joy of cooking from my Opa watching him make everything you can think of- including rouladen and escargot- then there is no reason I can’t go bold in my own cooking endeavors, and cook a dish that people say is one of the most difficult to make properly. The damn Beef Wellington.
Time to Cook
Preparation is and was key. I took about 30 minutes to set up all my ingredients, chop up the mushrooms, the thyme, mince the garlic, and get out the pans.
My first step was to make a pâté-like mixture as Babish described it in the Binging with Babish cookbook. This incorporated the mushroom, garlic, thyme, butter, Cognac, heavy cream, and salt and pepper.
Then I needed to season the tenderloin with salt and pepper and sear the meat in a large pan with vegetable oil.
While the meat was cooling down in the pan, I prepped the prosciutto on plastic wrap and spread the mushroom pâté-like mixture on top. Then I brushed on some horseradish mustard onto the meat (original recipe calls for English Mustard which I could not find at my local grocery store- horseradish or a spicier mustard is a good substitute), and wrapped the layered prosciutto around the tenderloins with the help of the plastic. Once fully wrapped, I placed them in the fridge for about 20 minutes.
The Second Mistake: Timing
The next step was to get out the cooled puff pastry and roll it out to wrap around the meat after it’s been in the fridge for 20 minutes but I ended up doing it too early. It took me no time at all to roll out the puff pastry I made from the night before, and I let it sit out on the counter the entire 20 minutes the meat was in the fridge. The problem with this is it was room temperature and became sticky when wrapping the dough around the meat. Plus, it made it more difficult for my “X” and “P” letter designs (because I couldn’t think of anything else to do at the time) to form the way I wanted them to. After the dough is wrapped around the meat and prosciutto, I brushed it with a beaten egg and sprinkled some sea salt on top. In to the oven it went for 20 minutes, then rest for 15 minutes.
The Third and Final Mistake: Worrying
The 20 minutes it needed to roast and 15 minutes it needed to rest was THE LONGEST 35 MINUTES OF MY FREAKING LIFE! My anxiety was at an all time high thinking, “I better not have screwed up this expensive piece of meat! What if it comes out under cooked, or overcooked, what if I missed a step? I should re-read the recipe 5 times over just in case. Why did I decide to do this in the first place?”
The first mistake of making the puff pastry from scratch is a no-brainer for next time…interesting and long experience. But probably never again. (Probably).
The second mistake of taking out the puff pastry too early…easy to remember for the future.
The third and final mistake of worrying? Waste of anxiety if you ask me because I freaking KILLED IT!
Holy shit did that first slice make me so happy I wanted to cry! “You could cut that meat with a spoon!” my significant other told me as he watched me slice.
And the taste was UNREAL! Tender, flavorful, the combination of the buttery puff pastry with the saltiness of the prosciutto, wrapped around one of the best pieces of meat on the market… perfection.
We set the mood for this wonderful meal and called it our Beef Wellington Thursday Night Date Night and opened a bottle of Chianti.
Will I make Beef Wellington again?
Not necessarily for a Thursday Night Date Night, but perhaps for a special anniversary or holiday. I am so proud of myself that I was bold enough to try something crazy in my small condo kitchen, and pulled it off.
My hope is that I will continue to explore cooking the way my Opa has taught me to, and carry on his coveted recipes into the future, while also creating my own.
Information about the Beef Wellington recipe used
Full recipe through Binging with Babish cookbook. This cookbook is so much fun! Recipes are inspired by movies and T.V shows. The Beef Wellington recipe was inspired by Mad Men. You can find his website here to learn more.
Prepping tips from Gordon Ramsay– You can find his website here to learn more.
Need to find a local butcher shop in the Illiana world? Check out Carnivore in Oak Park, IL! You can find their website here to learn more.
Beautiful story about Opa and great job! I am salivating at the pictures. You have inspired me to not doubt and step forward to try!!!
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