Fillet of beef is undoubtedly one of the most impressive and luxurious meat dishes you could hope to be served. Mouthwateringly tender, you will be thinking of this dish for days after sampling it. If you are planning to host a dinner party for a special occasion and are eager to impress your guests with something truly lavish, try your hand at this fantastic dish from 7th Edition of the Manual of Modern Cookery, published in 1943.
The richness of the beef is naturally reflected in the price of the cut and having been published in middle of the Second World War while rationing was in effect in Britain, we question who would have been able to sample this recipe at the time of publication?
Original recipe: 'Braised Fillet of Beef' (Book 6, 1943)
Speed: 3 hours | Serves: 6
1kg (2 ½ lb) fillet of beef
Bacon lardons (long), OR the top fat from the beef cut into lengths around half a cm thick
1 large onion
400ml Beef stock
1 tbsp. sherry
½ tbsp. cornflour
12 chestnut mushrooms
12 salad tomatoes
1. Heat the oven to 180 °C (350 °F / Gas Mark 4).
2. Wipe the meat all over to remove any excess liquid residue.
3. Cut the lardons / beef fat and thread into the meat crossways using a larding needle, snipping off the ends with a pair of kitchen scissors. The purpose of this is step is to add moisture to the beef as this is a cut very much prone to drying out in the oven without the addition of extra fat.
Note: The lardons that we acquired were quite short and consistently fell apart when we tried to thread these into the meat. Luckily, the butcher had provided us with the top fat of the cut of beef which served as a perfect substitution. We sliced this into thin lines and were able to thread these through the meat with ease. The result achieved would be very similar to that if we were able to thread in the bacon lardons; the chief purpose of this step is to insert fat through the meat to prevent this from drying out in the oven.
4. Make holes in the sides of the meat using the larding needle, or better still, the end of a closed pair of scissors or a narrow knife sharpener. Cut 2 of the carrots and 2 of the turnips into strips about the thickness of a french fry and insert the strips into these holes. The vegetables will cook inside of the meat and produce an interesting, colourful pattern when the meat is sliced.
5. Chop the remaining carrots, turnips and the onion into large pieces and add these to a large stewpan with the bacon rind, ham and dripping. Fry in butter or vegetable oil for about 10 minutes on medium heat.
6. Place the beef on top of the vegetables and continue to fry all ingredients for a further 5 minutes.
7. Pour the stock over the vegetables and beef so that this nearly covers the vegetables, then cover all ingredients with greaseproof paper and replace the lid of the stew-pan.
8. Place in the oven and cook for about 2 hours or until the meat is tender (ours took 1 hour and 45 minutes).
9. Once the meat is cooked, place in a heated tin with a small amount of butter or cooking oil, brush it with the glaze and grill for a few minutes on each side to crisp the lardons. At the same time, grill the mushrooms and tomatoes.
10. Dish the meat onto a hot plate. Keep the mushrooms and tomatoes in the hot pan until ready to serve.
11. Place the stew-pan, emptied of its meat, onto the hob and heat over low/medium heat. Add the sherry and cornflour to the braise and stir together until boiling. Then remove from the heat and strain the mixture through a sieve, collecting the braise.
12. Pour the braise on top of and around the beef and serve with the grilled mushrooms and tomatoes either separately or arranged around the meat on the same plate as we have done.
Some More Notes
Our fillet of beef was purchased from our local butcher. The original recipe calls for a 2 ½ lb fillet which is equal to 1.13kg. Mindful of the expense and wishing to keep things as simple as possible, we rounded this down to 1kg which worked just as well. Bear in mind that if you are ordering from a butcher you may need to reserve the meat in advance as we had to do. This is a fairly large cut and you might be disappointed to find that there is none or not enough left to buy by the time you visit should you arrive at the butchers the day before you hope to cook.
The original recipe specifies the use of bacon lardons to thread through the meat. Our butcher provided us with about 25g of bacon lardons and we attempted to thread these, as instructed, through the meat for around half an hour with hardly any luck at all as the lardons would fall apart or stick to the larding needle. Instead, we cut the top fat from the beef, which was given to us by our butcher at no extra charge, into lengths and threaded this through the beef with a fair amount of ease. While we haven't had the benefit of trying the recipe with bacon lardons the end result was quite delicious and we expect that there is little if any difference between them.
The recipe does not specify the number or size required of each of the vegetable ignredients. The numbers given are based on the amounts we found to be suitable while testing the recipe. You can, of course, experiment with these numbers.
Original Recipe for 'Braised Fillet of Beef'
Manual of Modern Cookery, 7th Edition (1943)
Author: Jessie Lindsay & V.H. Mottram
Publisher: University of London Press Ltd. (War-Time Address: St. Hugh's School, Bickley, Kent, England, U.K.)