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A grand holiday like Christmas requires a fitting centerpiece on the table, and the enormity and richness of a large slab of beef seems an apt player for that role. For a special occasion such as this, I'd probably shell out for an incredibly flavorful rib roast, give it a lot of salt and pepper, roast it on the grill until medium-rare, serve, and then take my seat behind Santa in delivering some joy to the day.
Partly because that seemed too easy, and partly because a straightforward rib roast is covered territory, I wanted to take on a more involved beef project for my Christmas main, which is how I came to make this spinach and mushroom stuffed beef tenderloin.
Oh So Tender
I'll start by saying I'm not a tenderloin guy—while it goes for top dollar for good reason, delivering on maixmum tenderness, it's also one of the least flavorful pieces of beef. Because it sits just inside the rib cage along the spinal column, the tenderloin see very little action and never develops the intramuscular fat and myoglobin that gives beef its, well, beefy flavor. So when I do happen to take on tenderloin, I tend to use the cut as a canvas for seasonings, whether a sauce like chimichurri, a cheese and salami stuffing, or the spinach and mushrooms combo I've opted for here.
To get this roll started out, I picked up a whole beef tenderloin that landed on the small side—just over five pounds total—and trimmed it of silver skin and excess fat on the outside. From there, I butterflied it open to create an even, flat surface (about 3/4-inch thick), and seasoned it heavily with salt and pepper before piling on the filling.
Since Christmas is an in-laws affair, I used my wife's favorite—a spinach and mushroom lasagna—as the inspiration for my stuffing. I started it off with sautéed shallots in butter, followed by sliced button mushrooms. As the mushrooms cooked, they first released their moisture, which evaporated fairly quickly, and then reduced in size before beginning to brown. Once they reached a golden color, I added garlic, crushed red pepper, and spinach. By this time, the aroma of mushrooms browned in butter had drawn my wife to the kitchen, where she predictably picked at the delicious combo. Let's just say I was confident that the final dish would at least satisfy her, and probably the entire family.
On a Roll
Part of what makes this an alluring Christmas dish is the final presentation. Something about stuffed and rolled meat elicits a recognition from diners that a lot of effort has gone into its creation—whether or not that's actually the case. Really, making these rolls isn't all that hard. It only took a few times of practice in my early cooking days for me to learn some basics to getting it right.
When laying on the stuffing I always try to keep it even and avoid laying it on too heavily, leaving a half-inch edge completely clear of stuffing. So long as you follow those basic tips, you'll be able to roll that meat into an even cylinder with that nice swirled stuffing look, with little-to-no filling bursting out of the beef in the process.
Once the tenderloin's tightly rolled, you can secure it with butcher's twine at one-inch intervals and then give the outside a heavy seasoning of salt and pepper. I let the roast rest for about 45 minutes while I readied the grill.
You could cook this in a roasting pan in the oven, but I tend to find these large cuts of beef to be easier to manage on the grill, plus the smokiness that charcoal imparts is a nice bonus. So outside I went with my rolled and tied tenderloin to give it the reverse-sear method. I started by roasting it over indirect medium heat until it hit a rare 120°F in the center. Then, I moved it over to the hot side of the grill to sear it on all sides. In those eight to ten minutes, the beef reached my desired 130°F medium-rare stage—any higher than that and the tenderloin will begin to dry out, losing its soft texture and what little flavor it holds. After a fifteen minutes rest, this baby was ready for slicing.
The first cut revealed a beautifully rosy red meat with an attractively distributed filling. The juiciness of the meat certainly had my mouth watering, but all too often I've had that reaction with beef tenderloin, only to be disappointed by its too-delicate flavor. Luckily that wasn't the case here. The meat proved well seasoned and wonderfully tender, while the mushroom and spinach filling gave it a great earthy flavor with some light garlicky heat, as well. I'm not going to go so far as to say I'd personally prefer this over a rib roast, but it certainly was impressive, delicious, and well-suited to take a starring role in one of the biggest holidays of the year.
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