For a touch of simple luxury, a fillet of beef is one of my favourite things. There are those who say, with some justification, that there are cuts of beef with more flavour, but I am a sucker for its tender succulence and leanness, and I love to sear it so that it gets a well-flavoured crust on the outside while leaving the interior pink and juicy. I know it's an expensive treat, and no more so than as a big piece like this, but the crust also works brilliantly with other cuts of beef, pork tenderloin, chicken breasts, lamb if you use rosemary, and even a thick piece of salmon.
The crust adds extra flavour to the fillet and is very simple to do using whatever summer herbs I have in the garden. We've used marjoram chervil and oregano too before. What you use is largely up to you, though I would find mint a little funky. Tarragon is a classic with beef, thyme is also perfect for the job, while rosemary brings a hint of piney aromatic to the dining table. Parsley is a stalwart, fresh and vividly green and underpinning the others.
Carve it at the table into thick steaks or thick slices, and I like this with a simple red wine sauce (recipe below) to allow the herbs to have their say, but there are plenty of other sauces you could use, or just serve it with rip-snortingly hot mustard (English or French) or good old horseradish. I don't often look beyond crunchy matchstick fries or sauté potatoes, and love the bite of watercress or peppery rocket in a salad on the side, dressed with vinaigrette (usually with a dash more Dijon in the mix) or with a simple dressing of oil and lemon juice. A treat to enjoy with a very good bottle.
Serves 4 generously
For the herb crusted fillet:
- 600g piece of fillet steak, cut from the centre of the fillet and trimmed of the chain and any sinew (keep these trimmings for the sauce)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp fresh rosemary or tarragon leaves, finely chopped
- 3 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
- 4 tbsp breadcrumbs, best from stale bread or dried
- 2 tsp cracked black pepper
- 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
For the sauce:
- The trimmings from the fillet
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 100g small onion or shallots, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, whole but lightly bashed
- 3 fresh thyme sprigs
- 6 black peppercorns
- ½ tsp sea salt
- 375ml red wine
- 100ml Port
- 400ml beef stock
- A knob of cold unsalted butter
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/Gas mark 6.
- Heat a large saucepan or deep sauté pan until very hot.
- Brush the fillet with the little olive oil and season all over with some salt.
- Brown the fillet in the pan for a few minutes, turning to get an even browning, not forgetting the ends.
- Once deep brown all over, remove the fillet from the pan and allow to cool a little on a board or plate.
- Mix all the herbs, breadcrumbs and the cracked black pepper thoroughly and put into a shallow tray big enough to fit the fillet.
- Once the fillet is cool enough to handle, brush it with the Dijon mustard, but not on the cut ends. I use a pastry brush.
- Roll the mustard coated fillet in the tray of herbs, crumbs and pepper until evenly coated, sprinkling any remaining mixture over the fillet and patting it down.
- Place the coated fillet carefully onto a roasting tray and put into the pre-heated oven for 20 minutes for rare, 25-28 minutes for medium or 35 minutes for well done.
- Remove from the oven and leave to rest for 15 minutes or so.
- To make the sauce, take the pan in which you seared the trimmed beef fillet and place it over a medium to high heat. Once the pan is hot, add the olive oil and then the trimmings from the fillet and brown them thoroughly.
- Once the trimmings have caramelised and are a deep brown, lower the pan heat to moderate and add the chopped onion/shallots, whole bashed garlic clove, herbs and peppercorns. Cook for a few minutes, stirring throughout so that neither the onions nor garlic burn.
- Add the wine and Port to the pan and turn up the heat again to medium-high and bring the wine and Port to a rolling boil and reduce by two-thirds.
- Once the wine has reduced add the beef stock and bring back to a rolling boil and reduce again by at least half, thickening the sauce in the process. It should coat the back of a spoon but how you like your sauce is, of course, up to you. Cook it longer for thicker sauce.
- Once the sauce has reached the desired consistency, remove it from the heat and strain it through a sieve into a jug to remove the onions, herbs, garlic and peppercorns.
- Return the strained sauce to the pan and over a moderate heat whisk in the knob of cold butter until it has completely melted into the sauce. This will give it a touch more gloss.
- The sauce is now ready to serve but can be kept and reheated for precisely when you need it if you leave it to cool before adding the butter. Drop in the knob of butter and whisk once the sauce has been reheated.