This morning, in the early hours, I was woken up by the sound of barked commands and clattering hooves coming directly from the street outside my hovel. It was a detachment of the King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery, in full dress uniform. This is one of the many secrets of London. The army often exercises its horses in the empty streets- long before most people are awake; and an otherwise dull street can be transformed by the glitter and dash of uniforms more suited to the playing fields of Waterloo.
This made me think of Beef Wellington. Have you ever made it? It's beef with shallots and mushrooms wrapped up in pastry and cooked in the oven. More often or not, it tastes like an old Wellington boot. I've decided, after experimentation, that it's hard to get right. You don't want to overcook the beef, yet at the same time you want the pastry to be cooked properly. The right timing is essential. I've taken the recipe from Simon Hopkinson and Lindsay Bareham's The Prawn Cocktail Years, which I recommended in yesterday's post.
Place a 200g block of butter in the freezer until it gets hard. Sift 250g of flour into a mixing bowl with a pinch of salt. Grate the frozen butter into the flour, and mix it in so that you end up with something looking like breadcrumbs. Next, add small amounts of water bit by bit, until you get a dough, and then roll it into a ball. Put the dough into a plastic bag and chill it in the 'fridge for thirty minutes.
Now for the mushroom and shallotts. Sauté 150g of diced shallotts in butter. Add 250g of chopped flat black mushrooms, and fry until they are soft. Pour in 250g of dry white wine, with salt and pepper, and bubble like mad, (ie reduce) until there is hardly any wine left. Transfer to your food processor with a handful of chopped parsley. Whizz it up until you have a coarse purée.
In another pan, fry a 700g beef fillet in oil, so that it is browned, and going slightly crusty on the outside. Preheat your oven to 375 F (190 C), and put in a flat baking sheet, which you have brushed with oil- to stop the Beef Wellington sticking to it. Roll out the dough to form a rectangle and brush with a beaten egg.
Next spread the mushroom purée over the dough to within a few centimetres to the edge. Place the beef fillet over the mushrooms, at the end of the pastry, and slowly roll up- to form a parcel. Push in the edges, and decorate these edges with a fork: this will help to seal the whole thing up. Trim of any excess. Scour the outside with a knife; again for decoration, and brush some more egg mixture all over the pastry. Sprinkle some Maldon Salt over it.
Cook it for about 35 minutes. The beef should be rare, and the pastry crisp. That's your goal. Be very careful not to overcook it, otherwise you could have some very disappointed guests. And you don't want that.