Tenderloin of beef, commonly referred to as filet mignon, is very popular during the holiday season. It is an elegant, very tender and expensive cut of meat that enjoys huge popularity. And I have noticed that many stores, from discount clubs to supermarkets, are selling the whole untrimmed tenderloin neatly wrapped in cryovac packaging.
You do save a lot of money by buying it in this wholesale form, but it takes a little care and knowledge to properly fabricate it.
If you just unwrap the tenderloin and cut it into thick steaks, it will contain a lot of gristle, silverskin and fat. On the other hand, if you separate it into three pieces and remove all the above, you will have steaks, roasts and tenderloin tips that resemble those in the priciest restaurants. Here is a step-by-step procedure and all you need is a sharp boning knife and a little patience.
Step 1: Remove the cryovac and pat the tenderloin dry with a paper towel.
Step 2: Using a sharp knife, remove some of the outer fat and silverskin. Slide your knife under a strip of silverskin and cut away from you. You will now be able to see the natural separation between the three pieces — the tenderloin, the head and the backstrap. Pull these muscles partially apart using your hands and then cut through the gristle to separate them.
You will need to cut through a little meat at the thick end of the tenderloin.
Step 3: Trim all of the silverskin and fat from the long tenderloin piece. Do the same with the head. You may have to cut the head piece in half to remove it. Trim the backstrap, realizing that you will not be able to trim off all of the connective tissue holding it together.
Step 4: Cut small steaks from both ends of the long tenderloin piece. You will get 4 small steaks, 2 from each end, (about 4 ounces each), leaving the center cut, often called the chateaubriand.
This piece should weigh about 2 1/2 pounds. Use it for a roastto serve 6 people or cut it into thick tenderloin steaks.
Step 5: Cut the head into 6 small, equal pieces and shape them into steaks (often called “tournedos”) with your hands. The steaks will weigh about 3 ounces each.
Step 6: Cut the trimmed backstrap into 12 small pieces. Flatten them with a meat mallet (or your hands) into small medallions of beef. (These make a delicious beef stroganoff.)
Wrap the pieces that you are not using in plastic fi lm and then foil to protect them from freezer burn. You will end up with from 12 to 16 portions, depending on how hungry your family is for meat. The price for this tenderloin was $12.99 per pound and it weighed 6.42 pounds, for a total cost of $83.40. If you get 12 portions from it, the cost would be $6.95 per portion.
The Dec. 18 issue will feature recipes on how to cook the various cuts from the beef tenderloin.
John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years.