This is an absolute winner of a dish and it will really show off your skills as a cook. Getting the "doneness" of the meat correct while ensuring crispy puff pastry is the real trick to success. Don’t let this put you off though; use a digital thermometer to make sure you can carve in front of your guests with absolute confidence that you’ve nailed it.
Ask your butcher for a readyto-go trimmed piece of beef fillet. Tell him what you are doing with it, so he can give you a piece that is a similar width along its length.
Christmas tip: You can prep this up to a day ahead and cook it on the day. Just remember to remove the beef from the fridge at least 1 hour before cooking – the beef needs to be at room temperature so it cooks evenly.
Chef’s note: Make your own or use a store-bought puff pastry block and roll to your own shape and thickness. Otherwise, use pastry sheets; I like to use Careme puff pastry, which comes in 375 g (13 oz) sheets. You can lay two sheets on top of each other and roll them out to the size you need; this is better than rolling them separately and then trying to seal them together.... Read more.
Put half the mushrooms in a food processor, season with salt and pepper, and pulse to a course paste. Scrape into a bowl. Repeat with the remaining mushrooms and add to the bowl. Add the thyme and grate in the garlic clove using a microplane, then stir to combine.
Place a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat and add half the mushroom paste. Cook, stirring constantly, until all of the moisture has evaporated and the paste looks dry. Transfer to a container and repeat with the remaining mushrooms. Chill the mushroom paste in the fridge and, once cold, stir in the tarragon.
Heat a large heavy-based frying pan over medium heat. Rub the beef fillet with the oil and then rub a generous amount of salt flakes into the surface of the meat. Once the pan is hot, add the fillet and sear the flesh for 30 seconds on each side, and then sear both ends, using tongs to move and turn the beef in the pan. This will seal the meat ready for wrapping. Place the beef on a tray and brush or rub the mustard all over it before putting it in the fridge to cool for 30 minutes.
Lay two sheets of plastic wrap on the work surface, overlapping them if necessary to make a rectangle large enough to wrap the beef. Lay the pancetta slices on the plastic wrap, slightly overlapping each other (three slices wide and five slices long) to form a rectangle large enough to cover the beef.
Spoon the chilled mushroom paste onto the pancetta and spread it evenly to cover. Place the beef fillet into the middle and then use the plastic wrap to help wrap the fillet with the mushroom and pancetta. Form a tight tube and tie a knot in one of the ends of the plastic. Roll the beef, using one hand to hold the untied end of plastic wrap. Roll tight and tie a knot in the other end to secure. Place in the fridge for a minimum of 1 hour to set and firm up.
Meanwhile, lightly dust the work surface with flour. Use a rolling pin to roll the block or sheets of pastry to a 5 mm (. in) thickness, in a rectangle large enough to wrap the meat. If using two pastry sheets, place one on top of the other and roll them together to stick before rolling out to the larger size.
Make an egg wash by mixing the egg yolks with the cream and a pinch of salt. Mix well with a fork.
Unwrap the beef and lay it in the centre of the pastry rectangle. Use a sharp knife to cut out squares of excess pastry from the four corners of the rectangle. Reserve one pastry square to use later for decoration, and use the remaining trimmings for something else. Brush the reserved piece of pastry with the egg wash and put it in the fridge to chill.
Wrap the beef by first pulling the longer end pieces of pastry over the ends of the beef towards the centre and then pulling over the larger side pieces towards each other, to completely enclose the beef. Brush the pastry with egg wash and seal the pastry pieces together.
Turn the wellington over so the pastry seal is underneath and place it on a baking tray. Brush the pastry completely with egg wash, then place the beef in the fridge to set for 15 minutes. Brush the top with egg wash again and leave to set in the fridge for a further 15 minutes. Repeat this step a third time for a super egg-washed welly.
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Use a toothpick, skewer or knife to score the wellington in evenly spaced lines, first one way across and then the other, to form a diamond pattern. Use a 2 cm (¾ in) round pastry cutter to cut a small circular hole in the top of the wellington, to let out steam during cooking. Cut a 4 cm (1½ in) diameter circle from the reserved pastry piece and then cut out a 2 cm (¾ in) circle from the centre of this disc. Place the pastry ring on the top of the wellington, to collar the hole at the top.
Place the beef in the oven and cook for 30 minutes. Turn the tray around, reduce the temperature to 180°C (350°C) and cook for up to a further 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the beef reaches 55°C–60°C (131°F–140°F) for medium-rare to medium. Use a digital or meat thermometer to test this.
Remove from the oven and allow the beef to rest for 10 minutes before transferring to a board for carving either at the table or in the kitchen.
This is an edited extract from Chefs Host Christmas Too by Darren Purchese published by Hardie Grant Books $29.99 and is available where all good books are sold.
Photographer: © Ari Hatzis
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