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Roasting a Beef Tenderloin

Four steps—seasoning, searing, coating with mustard, and roasting—produce a juicy beef tenderloin perfect for Christmas dinner or any holiday meal.

Fine Cooking Issue 30
Photos: Mark Ferri
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I love to cook a beef tenderloin for Christmas dinner and other holiday meals. This big boneless cut is easy to portion, straightforward to prepare, and a breeze to carve. It’s tender, delicious, and—tenderloin being the cut from which filet mignon comes—a holiday, special-occasion, or ultimate Sunday dinner indulgence.

This quick-cooking cut is so tender that you can cut it with a butter knife. With that tenderness, however, comes a slight tradeoff in flavor, so I use a few techniques to bring out and enhance the meat’s mild flavor. After generously salting the meat, sear it to give it a deeper flavor and dark crust. Then coat it with a mustard and herb rub before roasting. That’s it. Beef tenderloin is so inherently moist, you don’t have to bother making a sauce.

Recipe: Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Whole-Grain Mustard & Herb Crust

Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Whole-Grain Mustard & Herb Crust

If you have a heavy-duty roasting pan, sear the filets right in the pan on the stove. Otherwise, use a large, heavy-based skillet.

Serves 10

1/4 cup whole-grain mustard
3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbs. dried savory, finely crumbled
1 Tbs. dried thyme, finely crumbled
1 whole filet of beef (7 to 8 lb. untrimmed or 5 to 6 lb. trimmed)
Vegetable oil for sautéing
Coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper

In a small bowl, mix together the mustard, olive oil, savory, and thyme.

Trim the meat of all excess fat and silverskin. Cut the filet in half to make two equal pieces about 7 inches long. You’ll have one piece with the broad double-pieced butt portion and a thinner piece that tapers to a small tip. Tuck the tapered tip under and tie with twine to fashion two equally thick roasts. Tie each roast at 2-inch intervals.

Heat the oven to 450°F. Heat a heavy-duty roasting pan or large Dutch oven or skillet over medium-high heat. Pour in enough vegetable oil to just cover the bottom of the pan. Pat the filets dry, salt them generously, and lay them in the pan; cook without disturbing them until the bottoms are a rich brown. Turn the beef and sear the other sides. It will take about 4 min. per side (there are three or four sides per roast) to get a good sear.

When the filets are seared, transfer them to a cutting board, brush them with the mustard and herb mix, and then generously grind fresh pepper over them. Put a rack in the roasting pan, lay the meat on the rack, and roast until the internal temperature reaches 120°F for medium rare, about 20 min. (Check after 15 min.; roasting time will vary depending on searing time.) Remove the filets from the oven and let the tenderloins rest in a warm spot for at least 15 min. before slicing. Serve warm or at room temperature.

For complete holiday menus featuring beef tenderloin (or to make a menu yourself) visit our Guide to Christmas Dinner, and watch videos on how to roast a tenderloin and how to butterfly and stuff a tenderloin with a rich mushroom stuffing.

Customize your roast and save money by trimming the filet yourself

For the best beef, seek out cuts labeled “prime” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Prime meat is well marbled, meaning there’s fat streaked within the muscle tissue. Marbling makes the meat tender, juicy, and flavorful. Because only about 2 percent of all beef receives this stamp, prime isn’t available everywhere. Specialty butcher shops are your best bet, although some grocery chains do carry it. You can also buy prime meat by mail. But don’t despair if you can’t find USDA prime. Meat labeled USDA “choice,” which is more widely available, will still have the wonderful tenderness that you expect from a beef tenderloin, and my herb rub will add flavor.

Beef tenderloin, also called beef filet, is an expensive cut. A large, whole, trimmed filet (about 6 pounds) will cost you from $70 to as much as $125, depending on its grade, quality, and where you buy it, but it will feed at least ten people with no bones or waste. Buying an untrimmed tenderloin and trimming it yourself can save you $5 to $10. But what I like best is that I can use any meat from the trimming—the very thin tail pieces or the meat from the fat-covered “chain” that runs along the cut—for stir-fries and stews. And knowing how to trim my own filet means I don’t have to wait in line at the butcher with everyone else waiting for their trimmed roasts. As long as you use a good, sharp knife, trimming a tenderloin yourself doesn’t take long and it isn’t difficult to do.

If you do buy a trimmed tenderloin (and some stores charge you the same price whether it’s trimmed or not), give it a close look before roasting it. Make sure any excess fat has been trimmed away and that the silverskin—the thin, tough, silvery membrane that runs along the surface of the meat—has been removed completely; if it’s still there, remove it; otherwise, it will cause the meat to curl as it cooks, and it’s tough to chew.

Read How to Trim a Beef Tenderloin if you’ve never trimmed beef tenderloin yourself before. 

Cut the tenderloin in two for easier handling and tie it for even cooking. A whole tenderloin is a thin piece of meat, but it’s quite long, which is why I cut it in half for easier handling. Cooking two smaller roasts also means that I can cook one to 120°F for people like me who like their meat rare and the other to 125°F for people who like it more pink than red.

Trim excess fat and slice the filet in half to make two roasts. You can cook one longer for those who like their meat medium.

I tie each roast at two-inch intervals with kitchen twine or, even better, butcher string, which is thicker. Tying the roast is important because once the silverskin has been removed, the meat tends to flatten and lose its shape. Also, as meat cooks, it tends to twist and curl. Tying results in a more uniformly shaped roast, which will cook more evenly. Tuck a few inches of the thinnest end of one roast under before tying to even out the thickness of the roast.

Tie the string so that it presses firmly but not tightly against the meat. If it’s too loose, the twine will lose its grip as the meat shrinks during cooking, but if it’s too tight, it will bite into the tenderloin, creating uneven bulges and possibly tearing the meat.

Tie the roast to keep its shape. If you know how to tie a roast using a continuous piece of string, use that method, but tying snug knots with individual pieces works just as well.

Sear first for a flavorful, well-browned crust

I always sear my tenderloin roasts on top of the stove before finishing in a hot oven. Some chefs claim they can get the same dark, caramelized crust on the meat by “oven searing”—starting the roast at a higher heat. But I’ve never been able to get the same rich flavor in the meat and definition in the crust as when I sear tenderloin on the stove. As with any roast, it’s best to have the meat near room temperature before you start to cook, which allows for more accurate cooking time. Take the roast out of the refrigerator about half an hour before you plan to cook it.

Be sure to pat the meat dry before searing it, or the surface moisture will interfere with good browning. I sear my roasts right in the roasting pan, but if your pan has a flimsy bottom, you’ll want to do this in a heavy-based skillet and then transfer the roasts to the rack in the roasting pan.

When searing, give each side of the roast —since it’s round, there are three to four “sides”—a few minutes of undisturbed cooking. Resist the temptation to constantly turn the beef from side to side and you’ll be rewarded with a beautifully browned crust.

I rub the meat with the mustard-herb mix after searing it (rather than before) for two reasons: the mustard would introduce moisture to the pan, again interfering with browning, and it would burn. The simple rub adds flavor to the tenderloin without overwhelming the cut’s mild beef taste.

Remove the meat when it reaches 120°F, and let it rest. Cooking a beef tenderloin is almost foolproof. There are two places where people commonly err: one is overcooking it; the other is not giving it an ample rest. Many cookbooks suggest removing the meat when it reaches 125°F, but I prefer 120°F for a roast that’s a perfect medium rare. Keep in mind that carryover heat will continue to cook the meat as it rests, raising the temperature by 10 to 15 degrees.

Let the meat rest in a warm place for at least 15 minutes (longer is fine) before slicing it. The rest equalizes the temperature and gives the meat fibers time to reabsorb the internal juices. Without an ample rest, the juices will rush out when you slice, and your meat will be dry. I don’t bother tenting the meat with foil. It stays warm without it, and the wrapping would soften the roast’s crust.

After searing, brush the mustard-herb mixture generously over the tenderloin. The coating adds flavor that complements the mild taste of the beef.

Beef Tenderloin Quicklinks

New! Watch the video: How to Roast a Beef Tenderloin

Roasted Filet of Beef with Whole-Grain Mustard & Herb Crust
Fennel & Rosemary Beef Tenderloin with Creamy Mustard Sauce 

Beef Tenderloin Roasted in a Salt Crust

Slow-Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Double-Mushroom Ragoût

Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Caramelized Shallots & Red Wine

Slow-Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Thyme

Special Occasion Beef Roasts


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