Pan-Seared Filet Mignon with Shallot-Wine Sauce
There it sits: a tray of beautiful two inch thick prime filet mignon steaks. Twelve bucks a pound at least, and everyone is looking forward to a perfectly cooked steak. Talk about pressure! There's nothing more disappointing than an overcooked steak, especially when it's a top cut, but with a little care and attention you can come through with the goods every time.
Its true, we eat a lot of vegetables and fish around here, especially in summer when the farm share is in full swing and the boats are putting in at the docks across the street with fresh fish every day. But every once in a while we like a nice steak. When it's just the two of us, firing up a grill seems to be a bit much, so I've studied and done trials and kept notes and I've finally got the art of a perfect pan-seared steak down pat. Actually, it's seared in the pan for a few minutes and then roasted, which produces a perfect crust on the surface without any charring or burning.
Sauce is, for me, as much a part of the perfect steak dinner as the meat, so I always make some sort or other. This one is based on Julia Child's classic Sauce Bercy, made from shallots, white wine and herbs (Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1, with Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck). I served this with a crusty French bread and a salad made of fresh greens.
Pan Seared Filet Mignon with Wine-Shallot Sauce
filet mignon steaks, about 2" thick, fresh from the refrigerator
For the sauce:
2 shallots, minced
1 T olive oil
1 1/2 C dry white wine
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp tomato paste
1 tsp sugar
3 T butter
2 tsp fresh savory, minced
1 scallion, minced
salt, sugar, hot sauce to taste
Turn on the oven to 450º and put a heavy pan in to heat for at least 15 minutes.
Sauté the shallots in olive oil for a few minutes until they start to turn translucent. Remove from heat and set aside.
Dry the steaks well with paper towels. (After I've carefully wiped them with paper towels, I like to wrap each steak tightly in a paper towel and let them sit for five or ten minutes while I do other preparations.) Rub the steaks with olive oil and coarse salt.
Put a heavy pan on high heat for about five minutes, until very hot. Place the steaks in the pan (there will be a considerable amount of smoke, so be sure your ventilation is good if you don't like that annoying smoke detector sound in your ear) and sear without disturbing for 3 minutes. Turn with tongs and sear for another 2 1/2 minutes without disturbing. Transfer the steaks to the hot pan from the oven. Place a thermometer probe in the center of the smallest steak and roast them (for about 6 minutes) until the temperature reads 115º. (You can start the sauce at this point -- see below.) When the steaks reach 115º remove them to a plate and tent with foil. Allow the steaks to rest for five minutes while you finish the sauce.
The sauce. Pour the wine into the pan you used to sear the steak. Stir with a wooden spoon to loosen any browned bits, etc. Add the sautéed shallots, the vinegar and the tomato paste. Stir and then boil rapidly to reduce by 2/3. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the butter and minced herbs. Correct seasoning with salt, hot sauce and, if the sauce is slighly too acidic, a pinch of sugar. (There should be some hint of the vinegar but vinegars vary and you don't want it to be too intrusive.) When you're ready to serve the steaks they should have given off some juice during their rest so be sure to add that to the sauce with a big stir or two.
These directions produce a rare to medium rare steak (as pictured above) when the meat is about 35 - 38º to start with and is about 2" thick. If your steak is warmer or colder when you start, or the thickness is greater or less than 2" you'll need to adjust the cooking time accordingly to get the same results. If you like your steak done more you're on your own: permission to overcook steak and fish is rarely given around here. Even if you're a little off with the timing or temperature, the probe thermomenter will keep you on track -- just be sure to place the tip in the CENTER of the steak.