Who'd have guessed that a memorable Christmas roast could be so easy?!
My wife's grandmother has always enjoyed a traditional prime rib roast for Christmas dinner. I don't fault her for that by any means; it's a good cut of meat, for sure. However, there have been times when I wondered if there were a more feasible way of getting a delicious roast on the table for a reasonable price.
Luckily, my opening came when she got a taste of some beef tenderloin I had whipped up for a recent catering client - one bite and she was convinced. This year, we're trying something new.
For those of you who are not aware, beef tenderloin is a long, slender muscle that runs along the back of the cow. The reason it is so tender is that the muscle doesn't see as much action as the legs and shoulders. Muscles that aren't used as much tend to be more tender.
Buying beef tenderloin can bring about some sticker shock; filets and small center-cut roasts can run upwards of $20/lb. That's a lot of money when you're buying for a crew that requires those extra leaves in the dinner table, but there is a way to save a few bucks. Look for a whole beef tenderloin - one that hasn't been cut down into steaks or smaller pieces. Better yet, find yourself what the butchers call a PSMO (pronounced PISS-mo) beef tenderloin, which stands for Peeled, Side Meat On. This fabrication gives you a whole tenderloin with the side muscle still attached and most of the outer fat cleaned (you will find, as a general rule, that the less work the butcher has to do to the meat, the less they'll charge at the counter). I was able to find this cut locally for under $10/lb, which is still a lot of money, but when you consider how little trimming is necessary and how little fat is running through the meat itself, you will be very pleased with the yield you will get in your finished product.
That brings us to the next challenge: once you have found it, how do you cook it?
One of the essential steps in cooking the beef tenderloin takes place a couple days before it ever reaches the oven. Take your tenderloin out of its packaging. If there is any extramuscular fat or silverskin remaining, peel it off being cautious to leave as much of the actual meat intact. Then, place it in a large baking dish and season it all around with kosher salt.
This is a critical step in the flavor-creation process, and one that many notable chefs are attempting to teach the home-cooking public. If you haven't done so already, you need to come to a clear understanding of the role of salt in your cooking: what it is, what it does, and how to use it to its fullest potential. I could write an entire blog post on the subject (come to think of it, I probably will), but suffice it to say salting the meat early allows the salt to penetrate and give better flavor results. Cover with plastic and return it to the refrigerator.
When the day arrives for cooking the roast, take it out of the refrigerator about one hour prior to cooking time to allow it to come to room temperature. While it is warming, rub it liberally with freshly chopped garlic, herbs, and fresh cracked pepper.
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. I know, that sounds hot, but it will help to give you get some rich color on the outside of your roast. Place your tenderloin in the hot oven, uncovered, for 20 minutes. After that, crank the heat down to a mere 275 degrees and continue to cook until the thickest part of the meat reaches an internal temperature of 125 degrees (if you like your meat a little more on the medium side, you can take it 135, but you do run the risk of losing tenderness).
Before slicing the meat, allow the tenderloin to rest in the pan or on a cutting board, tented with aluminum foil, for about 10-15 minutes. I know, you wanna eat it now, but it's totally worth the wait. In the meantime, you could be using the drippings in the pan to make some delicious gravy or au jus! A simple horseradish mayo is also a nice complement.
Don't feel like you have to wait for next Christmas to come around before trying this one at home. There is no time like the present (ha, present, Christmas, get it?), and beef tenderloin never goes out of season.
If you try this recipe, be sure to post a picture and tag me on social media.
Roast Beef Tenderloin
makes many people happy for several days
1 PSMO beef tenderloin, 7-8 lb, trimmed
1 T kosher salt
1 T fresh garlic, minced
1 T fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, parsley), chopped
1 t black pepper, fresh cracked
1. 2 days in advance: Season the tenderloin on all sides with kosher salt. Place in a baking dish, cover with plastic, and refrigerate.
2. 1 hour in advance of cooking: Remove from refrigerator to room temperature. Rub with garlic and pepper on all sides.
3. Place in oven preheated to 450 degrees and roast 20 minutes to begin browning.
4. Reduce heat to 275 degrees and continue to roast until the thickest part of the meat reaches a minimum internal temperature of 125 degrees for medium rare, 135 degrees for medium, approximately 40-60 minutes.
5. Remove from oven and cover with foil, allowing the tenderloin to rest at least 15 minutes before slicing. Slice thinly across and serve with au jus or horseradish mayonnaise.