Have you ever noticed how crowded restaurants are on Valentine’s Day? Every table is a two-top, the menus are often fixed, and the staff frantically busy. After several misfires over the last few years, I’ve given up with going out that night, and instead focus on lovely dishes we can make at home. Here is a classic date night meal—filet mignon in a red wine reduction.
Filet mignon is a steak cut from the tenderloin, a missile shaped muscle which lays beneath the ribs, right along the backbone. The tenderloin muscle is called “tenderloin” because it is just that, tender. It doesn’t get the exercise that would make it tough, like a shank or shoulder. It is also relatively lean.
To prepare filet mignon, either you are going to buy the steaks already prepped, or you have a large beef tenderloin, from which you cut the steaks. If you are cutting steaks from a whole tenderloin, first decide if you are going to keep the chain muscle or not. The chain muscle is a smaller muscle that runs along the tenderloin. To make a classic filet mignon medallion shape, most people trim way this piece, but it is still part of the tenderloin cut and tastes great, although not quite as tender as the rest of the tenderloin, so keep it if you want. The steak we have prepared here includes the chain. (Here’s an excellent tutorial from Fine Cooking about trimming the chain and silver skin.)
Here’s a whole beef tenderloin, and where the chain muscle is attached to it.
Trim away the ends of the tenderloin and any silver skin. The thicker end of the tenderloin is best for filet mignon medallions. As you get closer to the thin end, that part can be folded and tied for a roast.
Think about how well done you would like your steaks and how thick they are. If you have a thick steak and you like your steak rare, or medium rare, you’re in luck, this will be easy. If you have a thick steak (2 inches or more) and you want your steak medium or medium well, then you may want to butterfly it first. If the chain muscle is still attached, you can make a lovely heart shape with the steak.
Here’s an example of butterflying a thick filet mignon into a heart shape. Romantic!
Either cut will work with the following recipe—medallions with or without the chain, or heart-shaped butterflied.
As with any recipe that calls for a substantial amount of wine, use a wine that you enjoy drinking. The sauce in this recipe is just a concentrated version of the wine with some butter and pan juices. So, if you don't like the wine to start, it will not make a good sauce. Pick a wine you like.
- 2-4 filet mignon steaks, 1 to 2 inches thick*
- Canola or grape seed oil
- 3-4 Tbsp unsalted butter, divided
- 2 cups full bodied red wine (we used a favorite Zinfandel)
- Black pepper to taste
*If you have thicker steaks, you can butterfly them and cook on the stovetop as directed here, or you can sear them on the stovetop and finish them in a 350°F oven for 10 minutes or more, until the center of the steaks are done to your liking.
1 Your steaks should already be trimmed of the tough silverskin. If not, cut away any gristly bits. If your steak has the chain attached and you don't want to serve it, cut it away and save for another purpose.
2 Allow the steaks to come to room temperature for at least 30 minutes and up to 90 minutes, depending on the thickness of the steaks. Just before getting ready to cook, pat the meat dry with paper towels, then coat with the canola or grape seed oil. Salt well.
3 Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a cast iron pan on high heat for 1 minute. Swirl to coat the pan. Put the steaks in the hot pan and immediately turn the heat down to medium to medium high (depending on your stovetop, medium on a high BTU gas range is about medium high on most electric ranges). Sear untouched for at least 3 minutes, up to 6 minutes for a 2-inch thick steak.
4 Flip the steaks and cook for another 2-5 minutes, depending on how thick the steak is and how rare or well done you like your meat. You can use the finger test to test the doneness of your steak. Or you can use a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the steak (120°F to 125°F for rare, 130°F to 135°F for medium rare, 140°F to 145°F for medium). Remove from the pan, loosely tent with foil and allow to rest while you make the sauce.
5 Pour the wine into the pan and turn the heat to high. Boil this furiously until it is reduced by 3/4, about 10 minutes. Add any juices the steaks have released while resting. Turn off the heat and wait until the wine has stopped bubbling. When it has, add the tablespoons of butter, one tablespoon at a time. Swirl each tablespoon into the sauce until it is completely incorporated before adding the next tablespoon of butter. Add salt to taste and serve the sauce with the steak. Sprinkle freshly ground black pepper over the meat when you serve it.