Editor's note: Each Saturday afternoon we bring you a Sunday Supper recipe. Why on Saturday? So you have time to shop and prepare for tomorrow.
The first time I made this dish was for Christmas dinner, and it was an instant hit. Who can resist buttery-tender beef tenderloin with a red wine marinade and not one, but two sauces: a pan sauce made with the drippings and extra marinade, and a parsley, dill, and mint-flecked horseradish cream?
Tenderloin is a showy dish; it's a luxury item with a price tag to match. The last thing you want to do is ruin an expensive piece of beef. At its best, it has a juicy, fine grain with a spoon-tender texture, but overcook it just a little bit and it turns dry and mealy. That's because its marbling—the intramuscular fat that gives gives heavier cuts like prime rib its intense beefy favor and juiciness—is next to nil. It's also much milder in flavor than other beef roasts, so you'll want to find a way to bump up that flavor. The red wine sauce helps take care of flavor, while the horseradish cream adds more flavor and plenty of richness.
First and foremost, you need to trim your meat. The "silver skin" will not break down in cooking, and the nubs of fat that cover the outside of a tenderloin aren't particularly appealing. Most good butchers can trim the meat for you, but if you want to do it yourself, all you need is a good, sharp boning knife and a bit of know-how. Check out the beginning of this video for a demo of how to trim silverskin.
Whole tenderloins also have an uneven shape with a fat knob on one end and a tapered tail on the other. To get them to cook evenly, you'll want to fold that tail back to even out the thickness along the length, then tie it off at two inch intervals with pieces of butcher's twine to help it retain a nice round shape while cooking. Cutting the whole thing in half can also make cooking it easier.
I'll admit it: the cooking technique I use here—searing, then cooking with a bit of liquid in the pot—is not very common. On the surface, it seems almost like a braise, as the meat is cooking in a touch of simmering liquid, but the cook time and end result of rosy-red meat places it firmly in the category of roasts.
While some cooks prefer to do the browning in the oven, I find that doesn't always work—you run the risk of overcooking the interior, which can spell death to tenderloin. Instead, I quickly sear mine in a hot Dutch oven before transferring it to the oven to finish roasting. This gives me the added benefit of having some fond (those browned bits left at the bottom of the pan after searing) to help build up a flavorful base for my pan sauce. You could transfer the roast to a separate pan, but I just leave mine in the same Dutch oven—it continues to get exchange flavor with the marinade while it roasts in the moist heat.
Once the meat is cooked, I take it out of the dutch oven—the sauce will have reduced into an intense glaze (you may even need to add a bit of water to the pot while cooking so that it doesn't dry out), which I then enhance with a touch of beef broth and butter to emulsify.
While the beef roasts and rests, I throw together the horseradish sauce, a simple mix of sour cream, prepared horseradish, parsley, mint, and dill. Served all together, the beef is as tender and buttery as the best tenderloin roast you've had, with an intensely flavorful crust made all the richer by the horseradish sauce.
The best part? The leftovers are perfect served cold, tucked into a crusty baguette with a handful of peppery arugula leaves.