It all started with me.
I had this very strong feeling that I just couldn’t face a Turkish organic turkey this year. We’ve had one before and tastewise it was fine if rather scrawny. But recently we had an organic chicken and it was a huge disappointment: so small, scraggy and as tough as old boots.
I didn’t want to repeat this on a larger scale on top of all the expectations of Christmas and I certainly wasn’t about to get a regular turkey.
And then my Christmas GH bumper magazine arrived in the post.This is the mag I have been receiving for years, literally years and years so I’m very attached to it. It proved to be quite an inspirational issue with all sorts of helpful recipes, pictures and ideas. One of them was the alternative Christmas dinner!
Ahaha I thought! And read on
The picture was already drawing me in: it was an inviting looking fillet of beef covered with wonderful pastry, and in the picture, stamped with NOEL. It looked fab.
This is a dish I have always wondered about but never tried. Beef in this country is not to be recommended if you are thinking Sunday roast type thing but the fillet or bonfile is always good, read tender. Also frozen puff pastry is now available – not something I normally buy but at least it’s there.
So this is how I came to make Beef en Croute for Christmas Day!
The piece of fillet beef that I bought weighed 2½ kilos so it was quite a serious proposition.
When I got it home, I thought this is too big, even for 10 people, so promptly cut off half a kilo, sliced it, grilled it and son Cem and I polished it off for lunch! (this was the day before). It was also something of a test: the butcher had assured me that it was ‘pamuk gibi’/ like cotton, tender as anything. And it was indeed just that! Phew.
Apart from anything else, the meat had to fit onto my oven tray. As it was, I had to cook it on the diagonal.
One word re the pastry: superfresh is terrific, I recommend it wholeheartedly. The only thing is this dish where the entire fillet is wrapped in it, and therein lies a potential problem. The underneath of the meat is moist and this means that the pastry can’t get crisp.
The recipe suggests pre-cooking a rectangle of the stuff separately, squashing it down as it rises during the cooking, and then cooling before topping with the beef and wrapping with the rest of the uncooked pastry and tucking it underneath. Well, I did this but I was not satisfied with the result: it was still somewhat soggy.
Next time I think I will totally omit having a layer of pastry under the beef as come what may, it’ll get soggy. I will simply place the beef on the tray and wrap from the top. That’s the idea anyway! But it was great: it looked festive and tasted wonderful. The butcher was right: pamuk gibi!
As I am not used to roasting meat in the oven (because the beef here isn’t tender, I don’t do that), I was slightly nervous of timing. The thing is that Turks don’t like their meat rare or even the slightest of pinks!
I cooked this one for an hour (double what the recipe stated, since it was double the size) but it was a tad too long. Next time I think 40-45 mins should be enough.
Anyway, here’s how to do it:
- Dry beef well with kitchen paper, then season. Heat oil in a large frying pan over high heat and brown beef well all over – about 5 min. Lift beef out on to a board and leave it to cool completely.
- Return pan to a medium heat. Cook shallots and mushrooms for 5 min or until any liquid has evaporated. THIS IS IMPORTANT: IF IT’S TOO WET, THE PASTRY WILL NOT BE GOOD. Stir through the garlic and thyme, then take off the heat and leave to cool.
- When the mushroom mixture has cooled down, stir through the mustard, mascarpone and plenty of seasoning.
- Lay a large sheet of baking parchment on a board. Then lay the Parma ham slices on the parchment, overlapping them slightly to make a rectangle that will wrap around the beef. Spread the musroom mixture over the ham. Dry the browned beef again and lay it along the middle of the mushroom mixture. Using the baking parchment to hold it all together. lift the Parma ham up and over the top of the beef, pressing it down to stick.
- Unroll a sheet of pastry and cut into a rectangle about 5cm/2in wider on all sides than the wrapped beef. Keep trimmings. Transfer rectangle to a baking sheet. Carefully put Parma-wrapped beef on top, flipping it over so join is underneath. Remove parchment and brush the visible pastry and Parma ham with some beaten egg.
- Unroll the remaining pastry sheet and use it to cover the meat and the border of the base layer of pastry (you may need to roll out the pastry sheet a little first). Press the pastry down on to the beef, removing any air bubbles. Press the edges to seal, then trim them to neaten. Crimp the edges, if you like, or use the tines of a fork. Brush all over with more beaten egg. If you like, thinly reroll any trimmings and cut out festive words or shapes – I DID STARS -, stick to the brushed pastry and glaze with egg. Chill for at least 1hr.
- Preheat oven to 200C/180Cfan/mark 6. Cook for 35min until deep golden. (cook for longer if you prefer your meat more well done). Leave to rest for 5min before serving in slices.
- NB GET AHEAD: Prepare the beef up to 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Complete recipe to serve.