Succulent beef fillet

The ingredient list is short and the procedure is straightforward. It’s a simple fact of good cooking: the better the ingredients the less you have to do to them.

To make a beef fillet with brandied mushroom sauce for four, you will need:

  • 1,5kg beef fillet
  • 400g small white mushrooms
  • Extra-virgin olive oil 
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 75ml brandy
  • Freshly-ground 
  • black pepper 
  • Salt
  • 25g butter

Fillet steak is a true marvel: lean and tender. The small downside is a relative absence of flavour when compared to beef with a higher fat content. Rib eye steak, with its delicate marbling, owes nearly all its stature to the flavour that comes from the fat.

That relative absence of fat is a deficit the cook has to overcome when roasting a beef fillet. The big deal in this method is to provide a dark crust to the beef while retaining a pink and juicy interior. The dark crust is largely the outcome of caramelised blood sugars and here’s the best way to achieve it.

We begin with the big black cast-iron pot. Pour 25ml extra-virgin olive oil and 25g butter into the pot and bring up to medium heat. The purpose of the oil and butter mixture is to raise the functional temperature of the butter, which can now add its singular flavour without contamination by burning.

Introducing the goods
When the butter and oil mixture is hot, add the whole fillet, which you’ve already lightly dusted with freshly-ground black pepper. With a spatula (not a fork) rotate the fillet in the hot oil and butter until it’s browned all over. Meanwhile, your oven has been preheated to 200°C. Transfer the cast-iron pot – without the lid – plus fillet from hob to oven and let it roast for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the degree of “doneness” you desire.

While this is roasting, heat 30ml extra-virgin olive oil in a frying pan and stir-fry the peeled and finely minced garlic cloves. When brown, remove them from the pan and discard. Add the sliced mushrooms into the garlic-flavoured oil and fry until they’re brown. Slowly pour in the cream, stirring all the time and season with coarsely-ground black pepper. At the last moment, stir in 50ml to 75ml of brandy, let the alcohol volatilise then remove from the hob.

Serving is a matter of taste. Thin slices of rare beef may be slathered in the brandied mushroom sauce, or you can dish it up with a few varieties of freshly steamed vegetables. For this beer-drinking hack, chilled lager does the trick. More sophisticated palates will definitely prefer a sonorous Cape red, maybe even two or three bottles of Johan and Diana’s Dragonridge Sangiovese.