Preparing A Whole Beef Tenderloin And Making Filet Mignon, Chateaubriand, Steaks, And Spiedies

Beef tenderloin is worshipped because it is the most tender muscle on the steer, and as such it is usually the most expensive.

The beef tenderloin is the muscle group that gives us filet mignon, tenderloin tips, and Chateaubriand. After it is trimmed and carved there can be 2 pounds or more of great spiedies/kebabs, stroganoff, boeuf bourguignon, stir fry, stew, or grinding for burgers.

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beef chateaubriand on the grill

Breaking down a whole tenderloin is a great way to save a lot of money. Here's how I take a whole beef tenderloin and make chateaubriand, filet mignon steaks, and more. All you need is a really sharp fileting knife.

Course. Dinner. Beef.

Cuisine. American.

Makes. 1 Chateaubriand, about 3 pounds, enough for 8 servings, plus trimming, enough for another 6 servings, for a total of about 14 servings

Prep. Takes 30 minutes to break down and trim if purchased unpeeled,

Takes. About an hour to cook reverse sear (described below)

Ingredients

1 beef tenderloin, unpeeled

1 teaspoon Morton's kosher salt

4 tablespoons Mrs. Oleary's Cow Crust

Method

whole beef tenderloin unpeeled

1) Shopping. Above is the whole beef tenderloin, code #1189 in the NAMP Meat Buyer's Guide. It is varies in size, but an average is about 2 1/2 feet long, 4" in diameter in the center, weighs 6 to 7 pounds, and can feed 12 to 16 people depending on how it is trimmed. This is the most economical way to buy this expensive cut of meat.

Silverskin and fat

It is bulbous on one end, called the "head" or the "nose", and tapered on the other, the "tail". In between is a nearly perfect cylinder 3 to 4" in diameter. It is typically sold in a plastic vacuum bag "unpeeled," meaning it still has silverskin, fat, and a long skinny secondary muscle called the "chain". The silverskin is tough connective tissue and needs to be removed. The fat should also be removed. It does not moisturize the meat when cooked.

removing silverskin form beef tenderloin

2) Trim. The fat is really easy to remove. To remove the sliverskin, slip a sharp pointy knife between the silverskin and the muscle and slide it along with the blade angled upward slightly along the underside of the silverskin. Don't try to peel it with your hands or a paper towel like you would pork ribs. The meat is so tender you will damage it. When you are done, you have what is called a "Tenderloin PSMO" (Peeled, Side Muscle On), pronounced "pismo". 

carved beef tenderloin

3) Break it down. The large central muscle is the Psoas major. The long thin side muscle, the chain, is the Psoas minor. The football shaped muscle attached to nose end making it bulbous is the Iliacus.

Many chefs fold the ends in and then tie them in place so you have a long tube of fairly even thickness for roasting, but I am not fond of this procedure because the exterior of the meat can be contaminated in the slaughterhouse. That is not a problem if it is browned during cooking, but if it is folded in on itself, it will not get hot enough to be pasteurized. The risk is low, but it is a risk, and I love my family so I reduce risk whenever possible. So I prefer to lop off the tapered tip. When a restaurant does this, you will often see "tenderloin tips" on the menu. I set the tapered tip and the chain aside for chopping or grinding.

The whole center section is called the chateaubriand and is a great 3 to 4 pound roast that will feed 6 to 8. More often, the chateaubriand is cut into filet mignon steaks about 1 1/2 to 2" thick, making 6 to 8 ounce steaks. If you leave the nose on you might be able to get 2 or 3 steaks, each 10 ounces.

tenderloin tip flattened for grilling

4) Pound the nose. Many chefs grill the nose and sell it as tenderloin tip or just plain tenderloin, but it is a funny shape and can cook unevenly. I like to lop off the nose end and pound it into a flat steak about 1 inch thick weighing about 20 ounces. A flat filet mignon is a bit unusual, but the large surface area for browning makes it a tender treat (see cooked picture below, right). In the picture below on the right, is the steak I made by pounding the fat end, simply salted and peppered, and grilled like a flank steak, hot and fast. I cut it into 1/4" thick strips across the grain, like a flank steak. I am the only one I know who does this, but if you try it you will be a convert.

grilled chateaubriand and tenderloin tip

5) Making chateaubriand. On the left is the chateaubriand. Dry brine it overnight by sprinkling it with salt and let it sit uncovered on a rack in the fridge. The salt will work its way in and help the meat hold moisture and amplify the flavors. Then give it a nice coat of Mrs. O'Leary's Cow Crust before cooking. The cooking method is virtually the same as the method I describe in my article on cooking a prime rib roast, reverse sear. Warm it gently over indirect convection heat at about 225F for about 20 minutes until it hits about 120F. Then lift the lid and roll it over direct infrared radiant heat and sear the surface for about 5 minutes, roll it a bit, sear, roll, sear, roll, sear, and when all sides have formed a nice dark crust, and the interior is 125 to 130F, perfect medium rare, pull it off, slice, and serve. Here is how to cook a chateaubriand once you have it trimmed.

Video: Preparing Beef Tenderloin

In this video Jabin Postal demonstrate how to prepare a beef tenderloin and cook it using the reverse sear method..

Tenderloin tip filet mignon

6) Making filets mignon. If you prefer, you can cut the chateaubriand into individual steaks about 1 to 1 1/2" thick called filet mignon. Above is a classic filet mignon in a cream and cognac sauce crowned with smoked cauliflower puree. Because filet mignon is thick it really should be reverse seared, not seared first. I describe the method in my article on Steakhouse Steaks.

chain cut into chunks for stew

7) The chain gets cut into bite size chunks for stew, stroganoff, boeuf bourguignon, stir fry, or larger chunks for spiedies/kebabs (below). It can also be ground for burgers (but you need to add some of the fat you trimmed off, it is too lean for a good burger).

species from tenderloin chain

"Medium rare beef is not just food, it is a religion."Meathead

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