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Roasted Fillet of Beef with Black Pepper



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A Beef Gem in the Rough

The New York Times August 7, 2002

By Florence Fabricant

"Judy Rodgers has a penchant for forthright simplicity. So a whole fillet of beef,
a costly cut that is usually garnished and sauced in grand style, seems an odd
choice for her.
‘I don't think of fillet of beef as a glamour dish,’ she explained. ‘It's suave all
right, a luxury meat, but it's great in rustic, casual settings. The way I like fillet
is when it's not all gussied up on a pedestal. I like the flavor. It becomes a nice
little roast.’
She hauled a five-pound length of beef onto a work surface. She trimmed off the silver skin and some excess fat and cut a few inches from the narrow end because
it would cook too fast, saving it for another use. She placed the meat on a sheet
of parchment, then reached for sea salt.
‘Presalting is one of the most important steps when you prepare meats and
poultry,’ she said. ‘I calculate about three-fourths of a teaspoon per pound of protein. I use fine sea salt. I started salting about 20 years ago and found it
always made the meat taste better and have superior texture. The salt breaks
into the cells and enhances internal juiciness. Surface salting can dry things
out, but when you allow enough time for the salt to penetrate, it makes a real
difference. Fillet can sometimes have a slightly funky, gamy flavor, and salting
gets rid of it.’
After the salting, she rubbed the meat all over with black peppercorns that she crushed in a big mortar — this was the rustic part. Then she trussed up the
meat. ‘Even though the meat has a pretty consistent shape, tying allows it to
roast evenly and to rest evenly,’ she said. ‘Tying it is like wrapping a gift from
Macy's. Some butchers use a running length of string, but I tie each section
separately. I think it makes carving easier.’ She wrapped the meat loosely in
parchment and put it in the refrigerator. She would keep it there for at least
24 hours to let the salt do its work. The next day she set the meat out for about
an hour before she cooked it. The cooking was quick and easy.
‘You must start it at room temperature,’ she said. ‘The ultimate thing you're shooting for is uniform temperature, so you don't have a problem of your
meat being cold in the middle. You have to brown the fillet before you roast
it because you can't leave it in the oven long enough for it to brown on its
own. You can sear it in a big pan on top of the stove, on a grill or under the
broiler. ‘First I rub the fillet with oil. After it's seared, it goes into a pretty
hot oven for about 20 minutes. It's not completely done when I pull it out
of the oven. You get about another degree a minute as it rests.’
She let the meat sit for about 15 minutes, tested it with a small thermo-
meter, then snipped the trussing and began to carve with a fat chef's knife.
‘It came up to 131 degrees,’ she said. ‘Beautiful. I find a chef's knife is more
efficient than a long, narrow one to get an easy slice without those silly
little ridges.’
‘If you want a sauce, some fresh, chunky salsa will do,’ she said.
‘Sometimes I make a horseradish sauce with fresh grated horseradish,
mascarpone, cream and black pepper. But mostly I like to let the meat
stand on its own. And I think it's more delicious tepid than hot.’ She
cut a small slice and nibbled it. ‘It's great for summer, with a big tomato
salad. And any leftovers are fabulous for sandwiches.’ [It is also great
for a Valentine’s Day dinner!]
Judy Rodgers is the chef and an owner of Zuni Cafe in San Francisco."


Roasted Fillet of Beef with Black Pepper
Time: 2 hours, plus overnight seasoning
Yield: 10 to 12 servings.

1 whole fillet of beef, about 5 1/2 pounds
1 tablespoon fine sea salt, approximately
1 tablespoon crushed black peppercorns
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil.

1. Trim meat, removing excess fat and silver skin. Cut off about 4 inches
of narrow end, about 1 pound, and reserve for another use [such as
beef sauté].
2. Place fillet on large sheet of parchment paper. Dust all over with salt,
using 3/8 teaspoon salt to a pound of meat. Roll in peppercorns. Tie with butcher's string at 2-inch intervals. Wrap meat in parchment loosely, and refrigerate at least 24 hours and up to 48 hours.
3. Remove fillet from refrigerator an hour before cooking. Rub all over
with oil. Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Sear fillet on all sides in a heavy
roasting pan over two burners, under broiler or on grill. Or cut in half
and sear in two pieces in large, heavy skillet.
4. Place in oven in roasting pan. Roast 15 minutes. Test with instant-read meat thermometer: if thickest part registers about 105 degrees, meat will
be very rare when finished. For medium rare, roast 20 to 25 minutes,
until thermometer registers 115 degrees. For medium, roast longer, to
125 degrees. At these temperatures, meat will be slightly undercooked,
but will continue to cook after it is removed from oven. Place meat on
cutting board. Allow it to rest 10 to 15 minutes.
5. Remove string, cut meat in 1/2-inch thick slices, arrange on a platter,
and serve.

 Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company, used with permission

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