Beef Wellington Recipe History

Beef Wellington is considered one of the treasures of British cuisine, a dish gifted with the name of one of the country’s great generals and statemen – yet not everything most think they know of either factoid is true.

Starting from the present and working backward, Beef Wellington is indeed a staple of the five-star restaurant in all parts of the world as a British entrée but, strictly speaking, may not be 100% British. And while Beef Wellington could simply be the natural, upper-crusty evolution of the Cornish pasty, the dish could also simply represent the cultural appropriation and rebranding of the French filet de boeuf en croute. (For an equivalent example, consider how the frankfurter was rebranded as the “hot dog” in America in the 1940s.)

Along the same lines, the first surviving evidence of the dish’s existence at all date back to an international rail menu card, and the reproduction of a menu as part of an article in an October 1903 edition of the Los Angeles Times newspaper. The article tells of wowing financiers from the American Bankers Association on their visit to the West Coast: early mention in the US of Beef Wellingtonearly mention in the US of Beef Wellington Wed, Oct 28, 1903 – 13 · The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) · Newspapers.com

Six years later, an item named “Polędwica wołowa à la Wellington” (“beef fillet à la Wellington”) appeared in a Polish cookbook and, just to make things more interesting, this recipe was contributed by a chef in Vienna.

This history suggests that General/Prime Minister Wellington was probably never served the British meat dish – or at least never anything called “Beef Wellington” – and that it was formally developed and catalogued in British cookbooks beginning in the late 1880s at earliest.

After his troops defeated Napoleon’s at Waterloo, Wellington became an international hero and soon thereafter held Britain’s highest civilian post. And more than 200 years after that battle, Wellington remains an object of fascination in movies, theatre, television drama, books and even online slot games. Thus he was a natural for a renaming of a regal dinner – even if he never enjoyed Beef Wellington…

Beef Wellington: The recipe

Before we connect you with a recipe for Beef Weelington, two caveats: be ready to spend a good 1-2 hours in preparation time alone and six for heating; and as Gordon Ramsey and his ilk like to remind, Beef Wellington is one of those dishes of which one can’t determine the success until serving. A good standard Beef Wellington recipe is the following, a standard which appears in many cookbooks and on plentiful websites.

For the Duxelles
3 pints (1½ pounds) white button mushrooms
2 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Beef
1 (3-pound) center cut beef tenderloin (filet mignon), trimmed
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 thin slices prosciutto
6 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves only
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Flour, for rolling out puff pastry
1 pound puff pastry, thawed if using frozen
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ teaspoon coarse sea salt
Minced chives, for garnish

For the Green Peppercorn Sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
1 cup brandy
1 box beef stock
2 cups cream
2 tablespoons grainy mustard
½ cup green peppercorns in brine, drained, brine reserved

To make the Duxelles
Add mushrooms, shallots, garlic, and thyme to a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add butter and olive oil to a large saute pan and set over medium heat. Add the shallot and mushroom mixture and saute for 8 to 10 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated. Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool.

To prepare the beef
Tie the tenderloin in 4 places so it holds its cylindrical shape while cooking. Drizzle with olive oil, then season with salt and pepper and sear all over, including the ends, in a hot, heavy-based skillet lightly coated with olive oil - about 2 to 3 minutes. Meanwhile set out the prosciutto on a sheet of plastic wrap (plastic needs to be about a foot and a half in length so you can wrap and tie the roast up in it) on top of the cutting board. Shingle the prosciutto so it forms a rectangle that is big enough to encompass the entire filet of beef. Using a rubber spatula cover evenly with a thin layer of duxelles. Season the surface of the duxelles with salt and pepper and sprinkle with fresh thyme leaves. When the beef is seared, remove from heat, cut off twine and smear lightly all over with Dijon mustard. Allow to cool slightly, then roll up in the duxelles-covered prosciutto using the plastic wrap to tie it up nice and tight. Tuck in the ends of the prosciutto as you roll to completely encompass the beef. Roll it up tightly in plastic wrap and twist the ends to seal it completely and hold it in a nice log shape. Set in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to ensure it maintains its shape. Preheat oven to 425°F. On a lightly floured surface, roll the puff pastry out to about a 1/4-inch thickness. Depending on the size of your sheets you may have to overlap 2 sheets and press them together. Remove beef from refrigerator and cut off plastic. Set the beef in the center of the pastry and fold over the longer sides, brushing with egg wash to seal. Trim ends if necessary, then brush with egg wash and fold over to completely seal the beef, saving ends to use as a decoration on top if desired. Top with coarse sea salt. Place the beef seam side down on a baking sheet. Brush the top of the pastry with egg wash then make a couple of slits in the top of the pastry using the tip of a paring knife – this creates vents that will allow the steam to escape when cooking. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until pastry is golden brown and beef registers 125°F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from oven and rest before cutting into thick slices. Garnish with minced chives and serve with Green Peppercorn Sauce.

For the Green Peppercorn Sauce
Add olive oil to pan after removing beef. Add shallots, garlic, and thyme; saute for 1 to 2 minutes, then, off heat, add brandy and flambe using a long kitchen match. After flame dies down, return to the heat, add stock and reduce by about half. Strain out solids, then add 2 cups cream and mustard. Reduce by half again, then shut off heat and add green peppercorns.

For those who may prefer video instruction, see below.

Good luck with the cooking and enjoy!

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