Mini Boeufs en Croute
If you want luxury, think fillet steak, and if you want to turn a 6 oz (175 g) fillet into a man-sized portion, encase it with a wild-mushroom stuffing in the very thinnest possible layer of puff pastry. What you'll then have is a delectable combination of juicy steak, concentrated mushrooms and a very crisp crust. Good news, too, if you're entertaining: these can be prepared several hours ahead and just popped in the oven when you're ready for them.
|4 fillet steaks, weighing 6 oz (175 g) each, cut from the middle of the fillet so they're nice and thick|
|9 oz (250 g) bought puff pastry|
|1 level teaspoon beef dripping|
|a little brandy|
|1 large egg, beaten|
|6 fl oz (175 ml) red wine|
|salt and freshly milled black pepper|
|For the filling:|
|½ oz (10 g) dried porcini mushrooms|
|1 large onion, peeled|
|8 oz (225 g) dark-gilled open-cap mushrooms|
|1 oz (25 g) butter|
|freshly grated nutmeg|
|salt and freshly milled black pepper|
|Need help with conversions?|
|You will also need a solid baking sheet, well buttered, and a solid frying pan.|
This recipe is taken from How to Cook Book Two and has also appeared in Sainsbury's Magazine (Guide to Meat Cookery).
Begin by making the filling well ahead, as it needs to be chilled before you use it. Start off by soaking the porcini in boiling water for 20 minutes and while that's happening the onion and open-cap mushrooms will need to be chopped as finely as possible.
If you have a food processor you can do this in moments; if not, use a very sharp knife and chop them minutely small.
When the porcini have had 20 minutes, squeeze out all the excess liquid, then chop them small as well. Now, in a medium saucepan, melt the butter and stir in the onions and mushrooms to get a good buttery coating, then season well with salt, pepper and a few gratings of fresh nutmeg.
What you need to do now is turn the heat to its lowest setting and cook, uncovered, allowing the juices from the mushrooms to evaporate slowly. This will take about 35 minutes altogether – stir it from time to time and what you should end up with is a lovely concentrated mixture with no liquid left.
Spoon the mixture into a bowl, cool and chill in the fridge.
A few hours before you want to serve the steaks, heat the beef dripping in the frying pan until it's smoking hot, or, as the chef who taught me to cook said, 'Hot as you dare!' Now place the steaks 2 at a time in the pan and give them 30 seconds on each side – what you're trying to achieve here is a dark, seared surface without cooking the steaks – then remove them to a plate.
Turn the heat off under the pan, but don't wash it, because you're going to need it again later.
While the steaks are cooling, cut the pastry into 4 pieces and roll each one out thinly to about a 7½ inch (19 cm) square; trim the edges to get a neat square and reserve the trimmings. As soon as the steaks are cold, brush them with a little brandy, season with salt and pepper, then lightly brush the surface of each pastry square with the beaten egg.
Reserve 1 tablespoon of the mushroom mixture for the sauce, place about an eighth of the remaining mixture in the middle of each square of pastry, then top with a steak.
Now place the same amount of mushroom mixture on top of each steak, then bring 2 opposite corners of pastry up to overlap in the centre, tucking in the sides as if you were wrapping a parcel, brush the pastry all over with more beaten egg and bring the 2 remaining corners up to overlap each other.
Be careful to seal the pastry only gently because, if you wrap it too tightly, it tends to burst open in the oven. If you like, you can use the reserved trimmings to make leaves for decoration.
Then, using a fish slice, gently lift the parcels on to the baking sheet, cover with a clean tea cloth and chill for at least 30 minutes, or until you're ready to cook them.
When you are, pre-heat the oven to gas mark 7, 425°F (220°C), pop them in the oven on a high shelf and cook for 25 minutes, which will give you medium-rare steaks. If you want them well done, give them 5 minutes more; if you want them rare, give them 5 minutes less.
While they're cooking, pour the wine and reserved mushroom mixture into the frying pan. Let it all bubble and reduce by about a third – this will deglaze the pan and you can then spoon a little of the reduction around each portion before it goes to the table.
One word of warning: you must have your guests seated and ready before this is served, because if the steaks wait around, they go on cooking inside the pastry.
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Cooking meat in wine adds flavour and prevents it from drying out, which is why this recipe is such a failsafe when entertaining. The Parmesan mashed potatoes are a wonderful accompaniment and keep the Italian vibe going.
A classic boeuf bourguignon, but made with cider instead of red wine. Although this is a frugal recipe, it's so good you could easily serve it when entertaining.
While the French classic steak au poivre, or peppered steak, is a wonderful idea, steak is expensive and in the winter the original recipe can be adapted to braising – which is far easier for entertaining and tastes every bit as good. I like to serve
This is an adaptation of the famous French classic, but more economical because it's made with braising steak. It does take longer to cook but it will simmer happily unattended, and there's very little work involved. The flavour is superb!
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