Classic Filet Mignon With a Red Wine Sauce
One of the main questions I get asked as a chemist is, “What is it about food that interests you so much?” When I get asked that, I almost always freeze and think of all the passionate answers I could give them, but the only word that comes out is, Chemistry. Not, the delicious flavors and smells of the food, it’s chemistry.
Why? Well, lets think about water as an example. When scientists and astronomers are researching other planets, what are they are looking for? WATER! By definition, it is the fundamental ingredient of life, as we know it.
Water is the most essential ingredient in everything you eat. It can encompass anywhere from 60% in meat products to 95% in fresh produce. Even though it contributes no calories to the diet, it affects the texture of foods. It gives a crisp texture to fruits and vegetables and also affects the moisture of the tender meat.
Now, let’s focus our attention
a little a lot more on a filet mignon steak. So, how does the water affect the tenderness of the meat? Filet mignon is the tenderloin, a muscle that does very little work; therefore it’s tenderness. It is also quite lean, with very little fat, but has a high content of water (60%!), which means it is great health wise. However, because the water content in a filet is high, there’s little fat to melt and lubricate the meat while cooking. As it gets closer to well done, more of that scarce fat melts away, as well as the water evaporating out of the meat; thus the dryer the meat will get. Even though filets have high water content, the water evaporates just as fast as the fat melts away during the cooking process. So, how is it that some restaurants make a delicious and juicy filet? Well, it’s actually quite simple. I think making a filet mignon dish is probably the easiest and the most delicious meal you can make.
The trick is… not cooking it well-done. It’s that simple. The water in the filet preserves the savory flavor without the fat and when you cook it well-done, well, you just took all the essence of the filet away and hardening the protein fibers (hence the term “shoe leather”).
I have friends that swear off the filet, but it’s because they always ask for it to be well done. I always tell them that, when ordering a well-done filet, it converts into a dry piece of meat; all the moisture has been evaporated along with the flavor of the meat. I recommend that a medium-well filet is as far as I would go, because I still get that delectable flavor of the moist red meat with a sliver of a HOT semi-pink center. Even then, that’s pushing it. But they just call me crazy and move on. It’s okay; I’m just a mad scientist after all, right? 😛
The bottom line is, a juicier steak preserves all the good flavors of a typical filet. It’s not the skill of a chef or expertise of the meat, rather it’s just simple science. For example, due to the high fat content in a ribeye steak, it can be cooked well-done and still have a tremendous amount of flavor. Consistency and quality do play a factor in cooking the perfect filet, however the fact that you know the chemistry behind the meat and how crucial water is, then it is possible to cook a filet at home much better than it can be done at any steakhouse. True story.
Also, one more thing to note is, because water transfers heat very well, it is important to let the steak rest. The filet has more water than the average steak, therefore the steak can heat up and cook faster. So, even when the steak is off the pan or grill, it is still cooking due to the water conducting the heat. Water conducts heat around 25 times more efficiently than air; hence why resting the meat is important.
There are more science techniques behind the filet mignon; nonetheless, the simplest way I can describe cooking the perfect filet is by not dehydrating it.
I.e. do not cook it well-done. Please! For the sake of UMAMI!
To me, the perfect filet has a salty, crispy outside, and tender, juicy medium-rare to medium center. I love a savory sauce to accompany the filet, especially a red wine reduction from the same pan that the filet was cooked in.
I know I only covered a sliver of the science behind the filet mignon steak, so please E-mail me with any further questions you have.
Yields: 2 filet mignon steaks
2 -8 -10 oz. Filet Mignon steaks
1 small onion, sliced
½ cup mushrooms, sliced (Optional)
3 large cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 tablespoons demi-glace or beef flavoring
1 teaspoon truffle oil
½ cup dry red wine
¼ cup water
4 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Place the two filets on a cutting board and season both sides, liberally, with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a pan on high heat. Once the butter has melted, place the filets in the pan. The pan must be so hot that the meat sizzles in the pan. For a medium center, cook for 3-4 minutes on each side. For a medium-well center, cook for 4-5 minutes on each side. Place the filets on a plate, cover with foil and set aside to rest.
In the same pan, sauté the onions garlic and mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of butter on medium-high heat. Add the truffle oil and rosemary. Once the onions and mushrooms caramelize in color, add the dry red wine and let the alcohol boil off. Then add the demi-glace or beef flavoring and water and bring to a boil, about 1 minute.
Serve the filet with the red wine reduction sauce on top.
This recipe is great with garlic mashed potatoes and green beans.
*I used the beef flavoring from Swanson, which is essentially the same technique that is used to make a demi-glace.