Perhaps due to its expense, beef tenderloin can be intimidating to prepare. Choosing the right accompaniments, cooking the meat perfectly, and timing it all for guests—it’s enough to make even the most seasoned cook anxious, especially around the holidays. Since restaurant chefs deal with these sorts of worries daily, if not hourly, we put the challenge to them. We asked Nancy Oakes from San Francisco’s Boulevard and Barbara Lynch from Boston’s No. 9 Park to create a dish with beef tenderloin as its centerpiece and potatoes, shallots, and spinach as sides. We got back two very different but equally stunning preparations—Oakes roasted a center cut of tenderloin in a salt crust, while Lynch favored a low-heat, slow-cooked approach—and both offered lots of practical tips for bringing together the whole dinner without a hitch.
Rules of the game
In creating their menus, the chefs had to follow a few rules for this challenge:
• Beef tenderloin was a required element, but they could drop one of the three vegetables: spinach, shallots, or potatoes.
• They could use basic pantry ingredients in any amount: butter, vegetable oil, olive oil, milk, cream, eggs, flour, garlic, onions, mustard, pepper, salt, stock or broth (beef, chicken, or vegetable), sugar, vinegar, water, and wine.
• They could use up to three wildcard ingredients, including any condiment, flavoring, fruit, herb, spice, starch, or vegetable.
Barbara Lynch slow-roasts a whole tenderloin
Beef tenderloin is one of my favorite cuts of beef—I love its buttery texture. For this menu, I’ve chosen to roast it at a very low temperature—a simple approach that cooks the meat slowly and evenly. This leaves me plenty of time to work on the accompanying sides: a rich red wine sauce, creamed spinach amandine, and potatoes mousseline. The mousseline is just a fancy name for mashed potatoes with whipped cream folded in to lighten them. I spread the potatoes in a baking dish and flash them under the broiler just before serving to brown the top. To fill out the meal, Isauté the spinach and add some cream and a garnish of toasted almond slices and almond oil, my final wildcards. —Barbara Lynch
Up to two days ahead:
Make the red wine sauce.
In the morning:
Clean and stem the spinach.
Toast the almonds.
Make the potatoes mousseline, spread inabaking dish, and refrigerate.
Two and a half hours before serving:
Put the beef tenderloin inthe oven.
An hour ahead:
Take the potatoes mousseline out of the fridge. When the beef comes out of the oven, put in the potatoes.
Just before serving: Cook the spinach.
Reheat the red wine sauce.
Broil the potatoes.
Slice the beef.
Nancy Oakes roasts a center cut in a salt crust
When you serve beef tenderloin as the centerpiece of a dinner party, you’re definitely making the statement, “This is special.” Roasting the tenderloin in a salt crust builds on this feeling.
For this menu, I chose the center cut (sometimes called the châteaubriand), whose incredible tenderness and delicate flavor make it the prized part of the tenderloin. The diameter of this cut is also consistent from end to end, ensuring even cooking. Be sure that the tenderloin is at least 3 inches in diameter; if it’s any smaller it will cook too quickly in the salt crust.
I used the potatoes, shallots, and spinach to make a warm potato salad, adding three wildcard ingredients as well: fresh thyme, Gorgonzola, and toasted walnuts. A shallot and mustard vinaigrette coats the salad and serves as a sauce for the beef.
My recipes are for four; for a larger crowd, just double them, but be sure to cook two 2-lb. pieces of beef instead of one large tenderloin. —Nancy Oakes
Up to a day ahead:
Make the salt crust.
Up to four hours ahead:
Roast the potatoes.
Make the vinaigrette.
Toast the walnuts.
Crumble the Gorgonzola.
Wash the spinach.
One and a half hours before serving:
Sear the beef, wrap it in the salt crust, and roast.
Fifteen minutes before serving:
Warm the potatoes and walnuts.
Just before serving:
Assemble, toss, and plate the potato salad.
Remove the beef from thesalt crust; slice and plateit.