Sunday, 29 August 2010

B is for... Black pepper encrusted fillet of beef with boulangere potatoes, braised baby gems and broccoli served with bearnaise sauce and/ or a brouille and balsamic reduction

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Black pepper encrusted fillet of beef with boulangere potatoes

I knew I couldn't have "B" night without including one of my absolute favourites - fillet of beef. I bought some amazing organic beef from Chadwicks of Balham. I won't lie, this beauty is not a cheap cut of meat, so jump at the first chance you get to push the boat out and get yourself a fillet - I can't think of a more delicious and succulent treat to skip home from the butchers with.  I like my beef on the blue side of rare and fillet has very little fat on it, so it's at its best cooked rare, or medium if you must. If you like your beef well done, don't bother wasting a fillet. For over-cooked, aherm sorry, well done beef, you'll need a fattier cut or you'll end up with a dry, leathery and sorry excuse for your dinner. 

The fillet I bought weighed in at about a kilo and was enough to feed 8, though a very greedy party of 6 could polish it off without breaking a meat-sweat. I used a whole 40 g jar of black peppercorns and dry toasted them in a non-stick frying pan to release their essential oils. You'll know they're ready when your kitchen fills up with the aroma of black pepper. Tip the peppercorns into a pestle and mortar (or magimix/ coffee grinder if you're feeling lazy) with some coarse sea salt and pound them. Don't overdo it though, you don't want black pepper powder.

Place your fillet of beef on a large sheet of clingfilm and pour your bashed black peppercorns on top. Press them into the beef on all sides so they stick and roll up your fillet in the clingfilm. You can do this a day in advance and pop it in the fridge, but it is absolutely essential that you let your fillet come up to room temperature before cooking, to get the best out of your beef.

To cook, sear each side of your beef in a hot frying pan with a little vegetable/ sunflower oil and pop in a preheated oven at 180 C (160 C Fan). Leave it in for 10 minutes for rare or 15 for medium. If you insist on spoiling it, you can leave it in for 25 minutes for well done - but please don't. Once you've taken your fillet out of the oven, leave it somewhere warm to rest for about 15 to 20 minutes before carving and serving.

Boulangere potatoes

B proved to be another excellent excuse for a gratinated potato dish - I do love them. Boulangere potatoes aren't as rich as Pommes Anna, or as artery-clogging, so unlike Anna and Dauphinoise, you can throw caution to the wind and pile up your plate with wild abandon. I like to make my own stock for these, but if you can't be bothered or haven't got time, a good pot of fresh stock would be a much better choice than a stock cube. Making chicken stock really isn't as faffy as people think and it is a great way to utilise your Sunday roast's carcass. It's just a matter of bunging some bones in a saucepan with coarsely chopped veg (I used onion, celery, leek, carrot and a few whole, peeled garlic cloves), salt, a few whole black peppercorns and herbs (I used thyme and bay). Then you just top it up with water and leave it on a low heat to simmer for a few hours. Once it's ready, leave it to cool, strain it into a jug and pop it in the fridge. It'll last a few days in the fridge or you can leave it in the freezer for about a month (defrost before use).

Preheat the oven to 180 C (160 C Fan)

A large knob of butter
A glug of olive oil
2 large white onions, sliced into half moons
3 - 4 crushed cloves of garlic
1.5 k potatoes (I used Maris Piper potatoes)
1.5 litres of fresh chicken stock (see above)
Salt and pepper

Peel your potatoes and slice them thinly (about the thickness of a £1 coin) and pop them into a large bowl of cold water. Grease a large gratin dish with some of the butter and place the rest in a frying pan with the olive oil and fry off the onions and garlic until soft and brown. Set them aside for later. Drain your potato slices and dry them with a clean teatowel. Place a layer of potato slices, followed by a layer of onions and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Continue to layer up the potatoes and onions this way, but make sure the top layer is potatoes. Pour over your chicken stock until your potatoes are just covered and pop some foil over the top. Bake for around  half an hour, take off your foil lid and pop your spuds back in for a further half to three quarters of an hour or until your potatoes are soft and your top layer has nicely browned.

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