Friday, January 28, 2011

Crusted Beef Tenderloin Crisis with a Happy Ending

I talk about vegetables here fairly often, and I do love them, but when I'm in the mood for a treat, I like a good steak. Filet mignon is one of my top choices, but crusted filet medallions take perfection to a higher level. I first ordered crusted filet medallions at Wildfire (a Lettuce Entertain You restaurant... gosh I love them!) years ago. Since then, whenever I've been lucky enough to find them offered at a quality restaurant, I indulge.

Last week, my husband and I happened upon a lovely beef tenderloin at our local market. We were having a small dinner party over the weekend and as soon as we found it, we knew what we were serving!

I've made whole beef tenderloins in the past. They're good. Very good, in fact. But this time I decided to slice the tenderloin into filets. Even better, I decided to try -- my first attempt ever -- to crust them.

Success? Yes. Absolutely.
But I did a practice run first with some small pieces and I'm *so* glad I did.

I found a recipe online for a blue cheese crust. Mmm... sounded great, and I love blue cheese. So what went wrong? I'm not sure exactly. Maybe it was the brand of blue cheese I used, but when I finished broiling the medallions and brought the pieces up for my husband and eldest daughter to sample, I noticed a peculiar smell. Not blue-cheesy. Something else. A smell I recognized from a recent excursion. One that does not belong in a kitchen.

My husband (who will eat anything) claimed no issue and thought the samples were great. But my daughter and I exchanged glances. "You know what this smells like?" she asked me. I knew before she said it. "This smells like the zoo."

It did. Specifically, like the elephant house.


Why am I telling you this? Isn't this an absolutely horrific topic to include in a recipe blog? Sure, it is, but there's a happy ending, so bear with me.

My husband and I love horseradish, so I tried a new crust using that ingredient. Excellent, if I do say so myself. But we realized that there are a lot of folks who don't care much for horseradish, so I came up with an alternate idea. Mushroom crust.

Oh boy, these were excellent! And easy. What I loved about preparing this dinner was that I could make the side dishes ahead of time and cook the steaks right before I served. This means lots more mingle time, lots less hassle in the kitchen. And that's what dinner parties are all about, right?

What follows below is my mushroom crust (simple, simple, simple)
and directions for preparing crusted medallions (just as simple)
The only thing I'd change going forward is the size of the medallions. Next time I'll slice the whole tenderloin into thicker servings.

Mushroom Crusted Filet Medallions

Filet medallions allowed to come to room temperature (one thick filet per guest)
Olive oil
About 3 Tbsp butter
Panko crumbs
Fresh mushrooms (I used 1/2 pound for four guests) coarsely chopped

Saute mushrooms in butter until softened and brown and until they've given off their liquid. Combine with enough Panko crumbs to make a nice mealy mix that almost holds together. Not too wet, not dry. <-- See picture. Set aside.

Set oven to 500 degrees and place an oven-safe frying pan inside to heat. It's empty at this point. Don't add the steaks yet. Coat both sides of each filet with olive oil. (I added a little of our favorite rub too. But just a teeny bit.)

Once the oven has gotten to 500 degrees, and you're almost ready to serve, remove pan from oven and set it over high heat on your stovetop. Be super careful. I burned my wrist on this. Ouch!

Sear filets (don't let them touch each other) in the hot pan. My filets were thinner than they should have been (they felt thick when I was slicing, but not so much once they sat a while), so I only seared them for about 1 minute per side. Depending on the thickness, you may want to go up to 2 minutes per side.

As soon as both sides are seared, place pan back in the super hot oven until meat *almost* reaches desired doneness. We like ours medium rare and we left them in for two minutes. Yep, really. Only two.

Remove from oven and turn oven to broil. Arrange prepared crust atop each filet. If some spills, no problem. As soon as each filet is crusted, place pan back in oven, under the broiler, close enough for it to crisp those crusts.

Watch carefully. Ours broiled up nicely in about a minute and a half.

Remove from oven and let the meat sit, lightly covered with aluminum foil, for about ten minutes.


This is a really elegant meal. And the best part is how simple it is.

Hope you have fun. I can't wait to try this again. Soon! Maybe I'll even be brave and attempt it with a different brand of blue cheese. Just not when guests are expected. I wouldn't want our visit to be "trunk"-cated.


Author of:
Grace Interrupted (second in the Manor House Mystery series, coming in June, 2011)
Buffalo West Wing (fourth in the White House Chef Mystery series), out now!


  1. "Trunk"cated - too funny! I'm sure it was the blue cheese, Julie. There's just nothing that should go wrong with a good blue cheese and steak. The cheese was probably old. Ugh. Nothing worse! Young is better than old. (Don't make me explain - does not always pertain to love).

    But I love the mushrooms and how easy it is!

    Thanks for sharing and the laughs!


  2. I knew you'd have an idea of why the blue cheese version came out so... icky. Thanks, Avery! This is super easy, and it looks like I fussed all day. Love those kinds of recipes.

  3. SO elegant! I can't wait to try this - Thank You, Julie.

    p.s. - you made me laugh out loud

  4. Congrats on your retirement, Kaye! Enjoy your Virtual Retirement party! Big hugs!

  5. My mouth is watering even though I just finished breakfast. Will definitely give it a try. Thanks, Julie!

  6. I am going to guess that you had a high quality blue cheese. the better quality, the stinkier it can be. And that is in a good sense if you are doing a cheese board with sophisticated palettes. But if your guest only occasionally eat blue cheese, the milder versions are better. Especially when you are going to cook with it and serve to people who may or may not be used to the stronger tastes (and smells that go with it).

    If it were me, I would make a sauce to be added if people wished. Blue cheese is one of those cheeses that many folks love, but it also is not a favorite for others.

    But then, if it were me, I would NEVER cut a tenderloin into fillets. Such a better presentation when the center is pink and the edges are crispy.

    It's odd how I cook for others, vs for just my wife and myself. I guess I "dumb" down my food... just in case.

    And your cooking times are spot on... Steaks are done in just a few minutes. I would love this meal

    But please tell me those are not Brussels Sprouts in the background

  7. I love happy endings~! And, especially since I've had a mushroom fixation lately, this sounds wonderful. Too funny about the zoo! Ha! Glad you were able to find a solution to your crisis (and such a tasty one!)

  8. Nice save, Julie! Fun post and a true reality check on kitchen life. Sometimes the best laid plans leave you with...well, an elephant house smell (lol!)...and ultimately a better recipe anyway. Mushroom, filets, + panko = excellent!

    TGIF and have a great weekend,
    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  9. Erika - totally worth trying. You'll love it.

    Dave - Dumbing Down Dinner. That almost sounds like a title! I'll put your mind at ease - no Brussels Sprouts. That was broccoli in the background. My husband requested we avoid the dreaded sprouts (although I do believe I've finally converted him, he didn't want to mess up an otherwise great meal for our guests LOL). I actually did make a side sauce, but the post would have gotten clunky with its addition. Next time I focus on a steak-based entree, I'll include it. More mushrooms! Yum! PS - thanks for the advice on the cheese!

    Elizabeth - I've been leaning heavily toward mushrooms, which is why your casserole struck such a chord. I'm looking forward to making that.

    Cleo - sometimes you just get a feeling, you know? My gut told me to run a practice drill this go-round. thank goodness!

  10. Julie, thanks for the fabulous idea of using mushrooms, and for the laughs! I've been on a 'shroom kick lately too, is it something in the air?!

    PS- I was offline yesterday but just posted to Avery's New Orleans topic and left you a li'l coinky-dink note there!

  11. Lynn - hope you enjoy. I think there is a 'shroom bug we've all caught. I'm not complaining. I just checked Avery's post from yesterday. How fun to have your niece at Tulane. From all accounts it's a fabulous school. Both girls I know there are loving it. You're right - small world!

  12. Julie, I'm literally laughing out loud! Sounds like something that would happen to me. That was an excellent save. I'd have liked the horseradish, but you're right about not everyone feeling that way. I'm sure the dinner was a huge success.

    ~ Krista

  13. I love the blue cheese story, Julie! And the mushroom crust is now on my must try list.

  14. Krista - the horseradish version is excellent, but it's a tough sell to some folks. I laughed out loud, too. But not until after I got it right!

    MJ - it's *so* good. You'll love it.

  15. I can't wait to try this! I love mushrooms in just about anything. I would also enjoy the horseradish.

    I always try something new on the hubby before anyone else. It's saved me some embarrassment in the past.