Saturday, May 12, 2012

Sheer Elegance in a Crust

Gazing at Goldmoor Inn & Dining's new spring menu, I notice one thing that hasn't changed. Beef Wellington. Why is this? I ask Innkeeper Patricia. "It is our SIGNATURE dish!" she replies, with a large and sweeping flourish of her hand and a mini bow. A signature dish, I think. Sounds like a foodie blog topic. (See? I'm always thinking.)

Signature dish. I nod knowingly, whist thinking, what the heck is Beef Wellington? In the photograph of it I stumbled across in my "top secret signature dish" files, it kind of resembles, dare I say, pot pie? Good ole reliable Wikipedia informs me that Beef Wellington is an English dish named after Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. Some theories go a step further and suggest this was due to his love of a dish of beef, truffles, mushrooms, Madeira wine, and pâté cooked in pastry, but there is a noted lack of evidence supporting this. In fact, the earliest evidence of a recipe to bear this name appeared in a 1966 cookbook. So much for historical England. Hmm.

I walk into the fabulous Goldmoor kitchen, one of my favorite places in the inn, to hover while Chef Ryan readies the ingredients for his famously famous Beef Wellington. However, Beef Wellington, cute Chef Ryan with the Elvis Costello glasses informs me, is prepared in stages. Many, many, many, meticulous stages. This works well in a gourmet kitchen because some of it can be made in advance and then prepared to order during dinner service. I watch as Chef Ryan double boils the demi glaze in a steam jacket kettle, a joyfully painstaking process, he assures me. Watching him slice and chop mushrooms for the wild mushroom duxelles pate is mesmerizing. He gingerly stirs them in shallots, onion and butter until all moisture has evaporated, then tosses in a bit of parsley.

Anyone who has seen Chef Ramsey on "Hell’s Kitchen" spear apart a Beef Wellington and angrily throw it “in the trash,” plate and all, knows that temperature is key in this dish. Chef Ryan is thankfully much calmer than Gordon Ramsey. The beef fillet, he tells me, must always be served slightly pink in the center. Thus constant use of a meat thermometer. And the pastry, well, who doesn't find pastry tough? The dough is sheerer than tissue paper, and he lays it out as if it will shatter. Using a pastry brush, he delicately sweeps an egg/butter wash over the dough, folds, seals with a bit of very cold water, and repeats. I blink, and he has the Wellingtons all bundled and lined up like little soldiers, ready to march into the oven and get toasty. I realize at this point, there is no way I will be whipping this up at home.

Don't think you can whip this up at home either? Luckily, cute Chef Ryan offers fabulous cooking classes during which he will teach you all the ins, outs and crusts of Beef Wellington. Classes are each Monday at 2 p.m. and, judging from the amount of giggling coming from the kitchen, they are a fun time.

After much prodding, I get Sir Chef to give me an "easy" make-at-home recipe for the Impressive All Extravagant Beef Wellington. Have at it. The scariest part is the puff pastry. Chef Cute assures me it's a snap.

Easy Beef Wellington NOT ala Goldmoor
• 2 filets mignon, 1-inch thick
• 2 sheets puff pastry
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
• 1 egg

1. Thaw puff pastry according to package directions.

2. Filets are often irregular in shape, if yours are use a piece of kitchen twine to tie them into a round.

3. Season filets generously with salt and pepper.

4. Pre-heat a medium (10-inch) non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add butter and swirl in pan to melt.

5. Cook filets on both sides for about 3 minutes until well-browned, then brown the edges. Note: Regularly check the internal temperature of the filets, they should not be cooked past 120F at the center. Allow filets to cool, then wrap in plastic and chill for at least a couple of hours.

6. Heat oven to 400F. Whisk together egg and 1 tablespoon water (egg wash)

7. Wrap the filets in puff pastry. Brush with egg wash, and bake in center of oven until golden brown; about 30 minutes.

Voila! You will need a lovely sauce to accompany your masterful dish, and trust me, if watching Chef Ryan is any indication, you cannot make the Goldmoor Demi Glaze in your home kitchen, unless you are into steam jacket kettles. As an alternative, our resourceful and lovely friend Kimberly, owner and proprietor of "The Grateful Gourmet" and "GG2" in downtown Galena, suggests the delicious Maker’s Mark Bourbon Sauce. “This particular sauce has won tasting awards and pairs perfectly with Beef Wellington. This sauce has a real fan following – some of my customers even pick up four or five jars at a time.” So there you have it – add sauce and serve your concoction with steamed spring vegetables, and trust me, your date, friend, family, or dog will be impressed.

If all of this is too much, feel free to dress in a pretty outfit, drive to the lovely Goldmoor Inn & Dining, sit at one of our elegant candle-lit tables overlooking the bluffs of the Mississippi River, sip a glass of Innkeeper Patricia's Private Reserve Trisaetum Trisae Pinot Noir, order the signature Beef Wellington from our spring menu, and wait while Chef Ryan does all the work. Bon appetit! Or, as they say in England, Eat already!

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