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dinner for two… or three

Recipe: chateaubriand and béarnaise sauce

I think Spring is trying to barge in on our Colorado winter. In fact, it’s practically sitting on our faces. I’ve been wearing shorts in the afternoons and leaving the deck door wide open to cool the house down. We’ve noticed the couple of feet of snowfall from the last storm start to dwindle under the sun and warm temperatures these past several days in the Front Range. If there is a trough sitting over the East Coast (meaning stormy or unsettled weather), there is typically a ridge over Colorado (sunshine and blah blah blah). We aren’t slated to get any storms for at least another week, so it’s skate skiing and backcountry touring for us. Up until now, we’ve taken Neva skiing on wide closed forest service roads which allow her plenty of room to run in front or alongside Jeremy. But this week Neva went on her first ski tour on a narrow trail (in sketchy conditions) and she managed not to pull Jeremy to injury or death (but she did pull – a lot). I’d call that a success!

neva is getting better about sitting when we stop

here’s how our girl does après ski on a bluebird day

To be honest, I don’t mind that the crazy winds have calmed down and that I don’t have to bundle up to the hilt when I go outside for exercise. Spring is a lovely time of year to ski, but… we’re not done with winter yet and if spring continues at this pace, we won’t have any snow to ski when it really is spring. Still, I’ll not stress about it too much just yet. Neva is loving the comfortable temperatures on the deck while I work, and we have been treated to some lovely displays in the evenings.

giant wave cloud at sunset (gold stage)

turning orange

fading to a rosy pink

So Valentine’s Day is coming up. I know people either love it or hate it. I personally think it is a stupid thing with a lot of unnecessary social and commercial pressure, but that’s just me. However, if you were to ask me for a recipe to make for someone special, I’m your girl. I have lots of great recipes to recommend, but this is one I recently tried for the first time and Jeremy made googly eyes at me… or at the steak? Chateaubriand was one of my sister’s favorite dishes to order at fancy restaurants if someone would order it with her – because it is typically served for two people. I may have taken a bite or two in my lifetime from mom’s plate (the other person who went in on it), but it was never something I ordered for myself. I’ve described it to Jeremy ever since we’ve been together, but it wasn’t until this week that he finally tasted it for himself.

Chateaubriand is a pan-seared and roasted center-cut whole beef tenderloin served with a sauce of some sort. It could be a mushroom red wine sauce or what I consider a more traditional pairing – Béarnaise sauce. I happened to have the fat end of a whole tenderloin leftover from the bourbon glazed beef tenderloin (also a fantastic recipe) in my freezer, and decided it was time to learn how to make this classic dish. First, start with the Béarnaise sauce which is rich, buttery, slightly tart, with hints of anise (from the tarragon), pepper, and wine.

butter, eggs (yolks), white wine, black pepper, whole white peppercorns, salt, white vinegar, lemon (juice), shallot, fresh tarragon

Make the Béarnaise sauce first because you want it ready to serve as soon as the steak is carved. I recall trying to make this sauce once in graduate school to accompany beef wellingtons for a dinner party, and it tanked in the most unforgivable way. So now, 15 years later, I think I’ve got the chops to do it right – or perhaps a better recipe. It is in essence an emulsion of acids (vinegar, wine, lemon juice), egg yolks, and melted butter. That’s pretty much it. Don’t let it get too cold – it will solidify. If it’s too warm, it will break (separate) and become oily and sad. In general, I didn’t encounter any problems with the sauce.

chop the tarragon

all of the ingredients measured and prepped

combine the vinegar, white wine, shallots, half of the tarragon, and peppercorns in a small saucepan

simmer down until you have about 2 tablespoons of liquid

In the recipe below, I strain the liquid from the solids and add the liquid to the egg yolks. In the photos, I kept all of the solids in because I like shallots and tarragon, and I picked the peppercorns out after the fact. It’s completely up to you whether or not to strain the liquid. I think it’s supposed to be strained, but it’s quite good if you leave the solids in with the exception of the whole peppercorns, because a peppercorn can be disconcerting to bite into. Whisk the liquid and the yolks together in a stainless steel bowl (I used my Kitchen Aid mixing bowl because it has a nice handle) over a simmering water bath until it becomes frothy. I just fill a couple of inches of water in a pan that is slightly smaller than the bowl and set it on simmer. If you are whisking for a long time, it helps to stand on a stool over the stove so you can let your arm rest normally as you whisk (as opposed to elevating your elbow and whisking). Next, whisk in the lemon juice, and finally, whisk in the melted butter. Don’t pour the butter in all at once! Pour it in a steady thin stream while whisking constantly (similar to when you whisk olive oil into a dressing to make an emulsion).

The consistency should be thick and creamy, but still flowing. When you are done, turn off the heat and whisk in the rest of the tarragon and salt and pepper to taste. If your kitchen is cold (colder than 65°F), place a kitchen towel over the water bath (not touching the water), and set the bowl atop the towel. The residual heat should keep it slightly warm. If your kitchen is pretty warm, you can probably set the bowl on the counter as is. Give the Béarnaise sauce a few strokes with the whisk every 5-10 minutes as you prepare the tenderloin to make sure it doesn’t solidify or break. It should be ready to go the moment the steak is done.

whisk the liquid and the yolks together

whisk a thin and steady stream of melted butter into the yolks

it should be creamy, but saucy

stir in the remaining tablespoon of tarragon

Now that your sauce is all yummy and done, you can address the star of the show – the tenderloin. Because the fat end of the whole tenderloin wasn’t nicely cylindrical like a center-cut piece, I decided to tie it with string to maintain a compact shape. I know this isn’t “technically” the part of the tenderloin you use for chateaubriand, but it’s still a really good piece of steak. This one weighed in at about 24 ounces (1.5 pounds), which is probably the absolute smallest you want to go. The upper bound is probably 5 pounds. Obviously, you can serve more than two people with a large tenderloin.

salt, pepper, butter, tenderloin

season the entire tenderloin with salt and pepper

pan sear on all sides

Like all good steaks, you will want to season this on the outside with a generous amount of salt and pepper. If you haven’t done this before, don’t be shy about using salt and pepper. A lot of people are afraid to season a steak well, but really, as long as it isn’t caked on I think you’re good. Just remember that the salt will melt when it hits the meat, so keep track and don’t go crazy. You’ll want to sear the beef on all sides in a skillet or some other ovenproof pan (with an ovenproof handle – don’t want to melt that off, you know). Then it goes straight into an oven to roast for 15-25 minutes depending on how big the steak is and how done you like the meat. Use a meat thermometer to probe different points in the center of the steak. The temperatures will vary throughout, but generally the center of gravity is my indicator temperature. Rare was 120°F for us. I think it is often frowned upon to serve this cooked more than medium rare, but if it’s your kitchen in your house, it’s your steak (and your money). Let the meat rest for 5 minutes on the counter before slicing. Personally, I like the steaks sliced thick.

when the searing is done, place the whole pan in the oven

let the roasted tenderloin rest

slice to desired thickness

By the time we were ready to eat, the sauce had gotten a little hard (the water bath went cold) with all of the extra time spent shooting and plating. So I just set the pan of water over the stove until it began to simmer, and I put the bowl back on the water bath for about ten seconds while I whisked the sauce vigorously. It came back to its silky, beautiful consistency. You can spoon sauce over the steak or serve it on the side. It’s a delightful match because the buttery sauce lends fat and flavor to a rather lean cut of beef that is best touted for tenderness, but not flavor (the ribeye is my favorite as flavor goes because it has all that great marbling). Jeremy and Neva were both hovering about while I prepared the steak and for the same reason. Jeremy made moony eyes at me throughout the meal because he absolutely loved it while simultaneously cursing the years he had never known it. I thought it was a damn fine meal to share with someone you love. Or someones. But I didn’t cook Neva’s steak. She got the three-bite flap of beef that had to be trimmed from the tenderloin. Her verdict: delicious!

serve with vegetables and a nice glass of wine

ridiculously good

just plain ridiculous

Chateaubriand and Béarnaise Sauce
[print recipe]
based on this recipe and some of this recipe

béarnaise sauce
3 tbsps white vinegar
3 tbsps white wine
1 tsp white or black whole peppercorns
2 tbsps shallots, finely chopped
2 tbsps fresh tarragon, chopped (divided in half)
3 egg yolks
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
salt and pepper to taste

2-5 lbs. whole beef tenderloin (center-cut), trimmed
2 tbsps unsalted butter

Make the Béarnaise sauce: Combine the vinegar, wine, peppercorns, shallots, and 1 tablespoon of the fresh tarragon in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce until the liquid measures about 2 tablespoons. Strain the liquid into a stainless steel bowl. Set the bowl over a simmering water bath making sure no water gets into the bowl. Whisk in the egg yolks until frothy. Whisk in the lemon juice. While constantly whisking, pour a thin, steady stream of melted butter into the egg yolk mixture until it thickens. Turn off the heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the remaining tablespoon of tarragon. Set a kitchen towel over the waterbath, but under the bowl if your kitchen is cold like 65°F or lower. This keeps the sauce from solidifying. Otherwise, if you have a warm kitchen, keep the bowl on the counter. In both cased you’ll need to whisk the sauce from time to time to keep it smooth and loose while you prepare the chateaubriand.

Prepare the chateaubriand: Preheat the oven to 400°F. Pat the beef dry and tie it if desired to maintain a nice cylindrical shape if your tenderloin is a little unwieldy. Season the entire tenderloin with salt and pepper. Melt the butter in an ovenproof (that means no melty handles!) sauté pan or skillet over high heat. Sear the beef, 2 minutes each side (6 sides total, 5 if you have a taper at one end). Place the pan with the tenderloin in the oven and roast for 15-25 minutes until desired doneness – typically medium rare. It helps to use a meat thermometer to measure the temperature in the center and toward the edges. The larger the piece of beef, the longer it will take to roast. [I targeted 120°F in the center for rare.] Remove from oven and let the beef rest for 5 minutes. Slice and serve with Béarnaise sauce. Serves 2-10.

more goodness from the use real butter archives

bourbon-glazed beef tenderloin braised beef short ribs crusted roast beef individual beef wellingtons

11 nibbles at “dinner for two… or three”

  1. monsoonmiss says:

    This looks gorgeous, and I love the last picture. I also think Valentine’s Day is hella stupid and I work in a restaurant and am absolutely dreading this weekend. Do 2 hour wait-times just scream ‘romance’ to some people?? Anyway, thanks for the recipe and a belated Happy New Year!

  2. Kristin says:

    Scrumptious! I would eat the ends, and serve the rare piece to my family, and we would all be in heaven. I waitressed in a steakhouse when I was in college, and this was on the menu. I’m pretty sure none of my customers ever ordered it!

  3. Monika says:

    I, too, like leaving the “cruddies” in my béarnaise – have found that if I use one of my small Le Creuset saucepans, don’t have to bother with double-boiler technique – keep the heat low enough, keep whisking and, as you said, add the butter slowly. And if it does start to break, remove liquid from pot except for a tbsp. or so, add a couple tsp of water and re-whisk the curdled stuff back in. Usually works for me.

    And that is one GORGEOUS pooch you have – always look forward to seeing her on the blog!

  4. Joyce says:

    And here in Western NY, we are having tempts down to minus 29 degrees tomorrow with wind chill. There should be law…..:-) Need to make some of that steak just to keep us warm! And tons of hot chocolate. And here we have real fur just to survive. Till we moved here I did not like it…, it is survival. Thinking of going to Alaska to warm up!

  5. Irmi says:

    Great sky shots! And I love Neva relaxing on the deck – ladylike… So elegant. Made me smile…
    I hate it too how commerce catches all remarkable days for their purposes… They devaluate and desecrate or void these days… No need to follow them…
    Love the googly eyes of Jeremy and his moon eyes of course – and your “at me … or at the steak?” Laughter…

  6. farmerpam says:

    Love the wave clouds. I’m not much of a meat eater, but damn, that is cooked to perfection, looks so good! New England is not only snowless but in the deep freeze, enjoy your sunny days. 35 below for us.

  7. Mikki B. says:

    Question: Do you allow the beef to sit at room temperature for any length of time before cooking? If yes, how long do you recommend? I am always a little uncertain on this point. Thanks!

  8. jenyu says:

    monsoonmiss – oh wow, today must not be a happy day for you all in the restaurant industry. We are happy to stay put at home :)

    Kristin – ah! I should have realized that this would be a big one to serve in a steakhouse. It does require that both parties want to eat it, and of course, the beauty of dining out is that each person gets to order what they want :)

    Monika – Thanks for the tips! And thanks for the compliment – she is completely oblivious to how she looks because all she cares about is doggy things :)

    Joyce – You know, it gets down below -30°F in Crested Butte several times each winter – and that is WITHOUT windchill. Layers work wonders. No need for fur! :)

    Irmi – ladylike is purely coincidental! ha ha!

    farmerpam – I hope you all get some good snow soon!

    Mikki – Actually, I do. I let mine sit for an hour, but I’ve also let it sit for as little as 10 minutes. I think there is a lot of flexibility, but I’m no expert. So far it has all worked for me. However, if the center is frozen, then yes – that will be problematic. My father-in-law did that with a standing rib roast… disastrous.

  9. Kim says:

    Is that cabbage you’ve served this with? How colorful! How did you prepare it and maintain the shape?.?

  10. jenyu says:

    Kim – oh, that’s a butter lettuce salad! It’s fresh, so that’s why it maintains the shape :)

  11. Alexandra says:

    Thanks so much. It’s the first time I’ve made bearnaise successfully although attempting it a number of times. I added more lemon juice to taste. Delish!!!

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