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
Barbara Lynch's Slow-Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Thyme. This luxurious meal has afew last-minute steps, says Barbara Lynch, but if you follow the timeline, you’ll still be able to mingle with your guests.
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