When K. and I received carte blanche to plan our family’s Christmas menu, it was with the explicit caveat that the end result be sufficiently stately. (Serious Turtle, the source of this directive, was no doubt envisioning a lacquered show goose carved tableside.)
My preferences don’t often tend toward the red meat and potatoes family, but in this case, beef tenderloin came to mind as an appealing alternative to Christmas goose—one that would simultaneously honor holiday convention and Serious Turtle’s desire for a culinary tour de force.
The problem with tenderloin, of course, is that you pay a price for the smooth-as-butter texture—beyond the obvious price, that is. Lacking the fat content of other (less refined) animal parts, the meat is notoriously bland. The trick is to find a recipe that extracts maximum flavor while locking in moisture.
In the past two years, I have come to trust Molly Stevens in all things (her book, All About Braising, is a winter essential), so when I discovered her tenderloin recipe, which called for both a dry brine (read: generous salting in advance—perfect for intensifying flavor) and a ruby port sauce, all the stars seemed to align. And, as is invariably the case, she delivered brilliantly.
Our Christmas tenderloin—served classically, with buttery fingerlings and roasted brussels sprouts—was perfectly cooked, delicious and handsome in equal measure.
Roast Beef Tenderloin with Port Sauce
Adapted from Bon Appétit
We opted to brown the meat before roasting, which yielded a tasty crust, but perhaps counteracted the dry-brining process? (I don’t know the science of these things.) Next time, for the sake of experiment, I would probably adhere to the original recipe. Heeding the numerous Epicurious complaints of a “thin sauce,” we reduced the sauce for an extra 10 minutes and stirred in a bit of Wondra flour—and still, it remained more a jus than a gravy. But the flavor is all there.
For the beef:
One 4- to 5-pound trimmed whole beef tenderloin, tail end tucked under, tied every 3 inches
Coarse kosher salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons black peppercorns, coarsely cracked in mortar with pestle
For the sauce:
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) chilled unsalted butter, divided
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
3 tablespoons Cognac or brandy
1 fresh rosemary sprig
1 teaspoon coarsely cracked black pepper
1 cup ruby or tawny Port
Beef stock, preferably homemade
Sprinkle entire surface of beef tenderloin with 2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt. Place beef on rack set over large rimmed baking sheet. Refrigerate uncovered at least 24 hours and up to 36 hours.
Make the sauce: Melt 2 tablespoons butter in large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add shallots; sauté until soft, 3 minutes. Add Cognac, rosemary, and 1 teaspoon cracked pepper and cook until liquid evaporates, 1 minute. Add Port; bring to simmer. Add all of beef stock. Boil until reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 20 minutes, or more if desired. Strain into medium saucepan, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard solids in strainer. [Can be made 24 to 36 hours ahead. Cool slightly, then cover and chill.]
Let beef stand at room temperature 1 hour before roasting. Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 425 degrees.
Rub beef all over with two tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil; sprinkle with 2 tablespoons cracked peppercorns, pressing to adhere. Return beef to rack on baking sheet and roast until instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of meat registers 125 degrees for medium-rare (135 to 140 degrees in thinnest part), about 30 minutes. Remove roast from oven and let rest 15 minutes.
Bring sauce to boil; whisk in remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Cut off string from roast. Cut roast crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices; arrange on platter. Serve with sauce.