Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Pan Seared Beef Tenderloin

The polls are closed. The votes are in. The winner has been notified. And the latest Storm of the Century is due to pummel the Twin Cities later this week.* So I thought before the world as we know it ends (again), it would be a good time to pound out the deets of Food Night Nation’s recipe request…

* I honestly have no idea where we are going to put any more snow here. I really don't. Can someone please hit the "no vacancy" sign or something? We are full. No more room at The Inn for aaaaaaany more snow this winter. Mkay?! Great.

Food Night nation loves it some beef, apparently. Can’t say I blame you, as this preparation is a tasty as it is easy to prepare. You can go all minimalist on this bit, or you can dress it up with garnishes, fresh herbs, blue cheese, etc. But all you really need as far as equipment is; a cast iron skillet, a sauce pan, and some heat. And look at you, you’ve got ALL of those things!

And in all honesty, what you do BEFORE you begin cooking is about as important (if not MORE important) than what happens once you put pan to flame.* What are these important pre-cooking things? I count three…

*Or pan to electric coil, or pan to ceramic stove top…

Pre-Cooking Must Do #1). Buy good beef. Goes without saying, right? But more specifically, we are looking for perfect little cubes of beef tenderloin here. And if you are planning on cooking more than one, you want them to be EXACTLY the same size. Otherwise they won’t cook at the same rate, will they. So have your butcher cut you nice, even, chunks from the center of a tenderloin. Yep, the center, not the ends where the tenderloin tapers down to something too thin to cook properly. We are looking for a perfect cube-o-meat here. And how about buying your meat from a reputable source, too. Humanely raised, happy cows make the best steaks.

Pre-Cooking Must Do #2). Only room temperature meat goes in the pan. Or, perhaps I should say, meat that is right out of the fridge definitely does NOT go in the pan. Why? Think about what would happen if you took a frozen cube of meat, and tried to cook it. You’d get done/burned outsides before you had properly cooked insides. So give your steaks that you lovingly procured the proper treatment. Take them out of the fridge, sprinkle each with a little salt, and let them take a 15 or 20 minute nap on the counter prior to cooking. Your patience and planning will be rewarded.

Pre-Cooking Must Do #3). Use cast iron to cook your beef. A properly seasoned cast iron pan will give you a fabulous sear on the outside, and can go in the oven if you need to cook your steaks a little longer after you have seared both sides.

One more bit of knowledge for you before we get to the recipe… do not try to sear 17 steaks at once. When searing, the steaks enjoy a bit of elbow room. They don’t want to be all touchy-feely with the neighbor steaks, as they are a bit anti-social. Don’t try to change them, that’s just how they are. So just make sure there is plenty of unclaimed real estate in the pan during the searing process. Food Night usually only sears 4 (maaaaaaaaaybe 5 if Food Night is feeling really daring) tenderloin steaks at a time in its 12’’ cast iron skillet, if you must have a number.

Pan Seared Beef Tenderloin
Serves 2

- Two 6oz beef tenderloin steaks, of equal thickness/size/proportion, seasoned with kosher salt, rested at room temp for 20 minutes
- Oil (peanut if possible, canola/veggie otherwise, not olive oil)
- Butter
- Fresh Thyme (optional)

Heat your seasoned cast iron skillet to med-high heat. On my stove, this means turning the heat to medium, and letting the pan sit there for roughly 10 minutes. The objective isn’t to get the pan SCREAMING hot, but hot enough to make the steaks really sizzle (but not burn) when they enter the pan. Flick some drops of water into the pan, and when it sizzles vigorously, you are ready to proceed.

Toss a tablespoon or two of oil in the pan. If your oil immediately burns (you'll know if it burns...) your pan is too hot. Cool down the pan a bit, wipe out the burnt oil, and begin again. Add steaks to the pan, and sear on first side undisturbed for approx 4 minutes...

Turn steaks to opposite side (look at the killer krust you just kreated!!!!), toss in a few tablespoons of butter (more the merrier)…

… plus the optional sprigs of thyme, and sear 4 minutes.* While steak is on this second side, tilt pan and baste with butter/thyme.

*NOTE; These 4 minute times are not set in stone. Use your eyes, ears, and nose… if the steaks are burning… turn them (and turn the heat down). If they aren’t properly caramelized at 4 minutes, up the heat a bit and leave them in a bit longer. Simple.

How do you know when your steak is done? Use your finger (NOT your knife). Pressing down on the top of your steak while it’s in the pan should resemble pressing your finger against your cheek* for medium-rare. You do want your steak medium-rare… right?!

*The cheek on your FACE, please. Come on now.

If your steaks are too thick to cook solely on the stove top, you can slide the pan into a 450 degree oven. Once you’ve reached the nirvana that is a lovely medium-rare, take your steaks out of the pan and place them on a plate covered loosely with aluminum foil for 4 minutes or so. Once done, cut steaks in half, serve with red wine sauce (see below), blue cheese, and a sprinkle of Maldon sea salt. Don’t forget the Maldon.

Red Wine Sauce
1 cup good quality red wine*
1 cup stock (chicken, lamb, beef, pork, turkey, squab, rabbit… whatever)

*When we say “good quality” red wine, we mean use something here that you would enjoy drinking. If you use crappy wine, reducing it is going to concentrate and magnify its crappyness. So choose wisely, and drink the rest of the bottle with your lucky dining companion.

Combine stock and wine in small sauce pan. Reduce until it thickens slightly, you’ll be left with ½ cup or so, give or take. Remove from heat, whisk in a few pats of butter one at a time. Taste, and season with salt and/or lemon juice as needed. Bang. Done.

Time to revel in your greatness with said dining companion.

If you try this, let Food Night know how it goes! Toss out any questions in the comments too, and the Food Night staff will answer them to the best of our ability.


  1. Thanks for the recipe. I gave this a try tonight with the boneless beef ribs I had in the fridge. I cut them down so they were about the same size and, seeing as we are not really steak connoisseur, we thought they came out pretty good.
    Thanks for helping make my dinner simple and yummy!

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  2. Omg! did the steaks without the sauce and for the first time my steaks turned out perfectly and tasted almost like my favorite resturants but missing a little flavor of some kind. just had veg. oil but was wondering if I bought peanut oil if that would give the flavor I'm missing? never had peanut oil so not sure if that would be it. Thank you for recipe!

    1. The purpose of using an oil like peanut isn't so much about the flavor, as it is about the smoke point. When cooking a steak you want to sear the outside quickly using high temps. using oils/fats with high smoke points allows us to to do this without any smokey side effects and off flavors.

  3. Delicious! The one thing to note was the reduction/sauce takes awhile so plan ahead and start that first. But the steaks were cooked to perfection. Thanks for the recipe!

  4. I've got a tenderloin sitting on the counter waiting to reach room temp and decided to look for a quick recipe for isome inspiration in the meantime. All I can say is this post has been phenomenal for my needs. You've addressed all of the key sticking points I feared I might run into. I love the idea of a properly heated skillet after some time over medium heat rather than the guesswork of when to turn it down from medium high. The recipe looks simple and the tips are killer. Can't wait to dive in!

  5. thank you it as the best I have ever had

  6. This was GREAT!!! I did everything you said to do . The meat turned out perfectly..... Thank you!!!

  7. We are farmers/ ranchers and have tried many a tenderloin recipe...these were delicious! They will become part of our recipie repertoire!

  8. Going to try tonight, however peanut oil is out of the question , I know so many people with peanut allergies this could be a nightmare using peanut oil. Looking foreward to trying the recipie other wise.

  9. I've used this recipe three times with grass fed organic beef tenderloins and expeller pressed canola oil. It is the most tender, delicious beef I've ever tasted. I eat red meat once a week or less and so it's a special treat. The thyme adds a subtle flavor. I've used the red wine reduction sauce twice and found it's very good with or without the sauce (mushrooms sauteed in butter are a rich accompaniment.

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