Beef fillet casserole

Would you believe it? It seems that butchers keep the trimmings from the beef fillets separate from the actual fillets. Much cheaper than whole fillet, they allow you to prepare a luxurious yet affordable casserole.

Beef fillet casserole
Sprinkle finely chopped raw spring onion greens parsley before serving. Photo: Dylan Swart
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To make a beef fillet casserole for four, you will need:

  • 1kg fillet trimmings from the master blockman of your choice
  • 3 onions
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • Several sprigs of fresh thyme (or the dried industrial equivalent)
  • 1 litre red cooking wine
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 can of white beans
  • 1 spring onion
  • Small bunch of fresh parsley
  • 250g fresh white mushrooms

The whole point of a casserole, in my elitist view, is to make cheaper cuts of red meat edible. This is done by overwhelming the cheap meat with vegetables, stock and cooking it slowly and for a long period. But now, thanks to the insight I recently gained that butchers separate a fillet from its trimmings and are happy to sell the latter, there are little bits of tender fillet just waiting to make the transition from by-product to gourmet dining.

Given that fillet is so tender, the long cooking time of traditional stew and casserole cooking is eliminated. If there is any ‘big deal’ in this recipe, it is the process of browning the meat. Contrary to some opinions, this not just a question of appearance, but of marshalling and enjoying the ‘fifth flavour’. At one stage, flavour scientists identified four basic tastes: sweet, sour, salt and bitter. Then along came umami, first identified and capitalised upon by the Japanese. Browning meat creates one of the sources of umami, by caramelising the blood sugars latent in the beef.

Try: Prince Igor beef fillet

Heat some extra virgin olive oil in a large saucepan. When hot, add a third of the fillet and stir-fry for as long as it takes for the colour to change on all sides. Do the fillet in batches to maintain the oil temperature. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve under cover. Crush, peel and chop the garlic. Peel and thinly slice the onions. Lower the heat to medium and fry the onion and garlic until the onions are soft and golden.

Tie the fresh thyme sprigs together with cotton and add them to the pan. Now the big wine decision. You can of course cook with the same wine you usually drink, a point of view popular with poncey food writers circa 1970 AD. More rationally, choose a good plonk and use that instead.

Try: Steak tartare

Add the browned fillet trimmings, pour in sufficient red wine to just cover the solids. Fit the lid and let this simmer gently for about 20 minutes. Add the drained white beans and mushrooms, check the liquid level, adding a little extra wine if necessary, replace the lid and continue to simmer until the meat is tender and flavoursome (20 minutes maximum).

Season with freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste. Serve this with roasted sweet potato chunks, courgettes and sliced carrots. Immediately prior to serving, sprinkle with finely chopped raw spring onion greens and parsley.

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