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

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

Beef tenderloin is worshipped because it is the most tender muscle on the steer, and as such it is usually the most expensive. But it needs to be trimmed and carved. 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 cubed meat that can be used forspiedies/kebabs, stews, stir fry, or burgers. All you need is a really sharp fileting knife.

whole beef tenderloin unpeeled


1) 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 10 to 12 people depending on how it is trimmed.

Silverskin and fat

2) 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

3) 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

4) 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

5) 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).I grill it whle and 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

6) On the left is the chateaubriand. I give it a nice coat of Mrs. O'Leary's Cow Crust and reverse sear it. The cooking method is virtually the same as the method I describe in my article on cooking a prime rib roast. 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.

Tenderloin tip filet mignon

7) Above is a clasic filet mignon in a cream and cognac sauce crowned with smoked cauliflower puree.

chain cut into chunks for stew

8) The chain gets cut into bite size chunks for stew, stroganoff, boeuf bourguignon, stir fry, or larger chunks for Spiedies Recipe: They're Better Than Kebabs./kebabs (below). It can also be ground for burgers (but you need to add back some of the fat you trimmed off, it is too lean for a good burger).

species from tenderloin chain

beef chateaubriand on the grill

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