Here’s the thing about cooking steak. Sure, it tastes pretty good most of the time no matter what you do to it, but there are methods you can use that render it otherworldly. It’s the reason steakhouses are so popular. They have equipment that allows them to cook the steak to the perfect level of doneness, with a caramelized brown crust on the outside and the perfect juicy, pink interior.
Many people find these results difficult to achieve at home. I started experimenting with a method Cook’s Illustrated recommended for cooking filet mignon and found it transfers well to all steaks, especially thick ones.
I am a huge fan of Cook’s Illustrated. Even if you never cook one of their recipes, reading their magazine and cookbooks from cover to cover will provide you with an amazing cooking education.
What Cook’s Illustrated recommends to make perfect filet mignon is to par-cook it at a low temperature oven and finish it with a sear on a very hot stovetop. For a 1 to 1-1/2 ” thick filet mignon, 20 minutes at about 275° F does the trick. For other cuts like thick cut rib-eyes or porterhouses, you will need between 30 and 45 minutes depending on the size and thickness of the steak. When you remove them from the oven, they should be slightly browned on the outside but still have a distinctly pinkish cast. A quick touch to the steak should be quite soft and yielding, but not squishy.
I like filet mignon for its tenderness, but I am not a huge fan of its flavor. Because of this, I feel it is a steak ripe for a good pan sauce. I like to make mine with a tawny Port-tarragon sauce.
Filet Mignon with Port-Tarragon Sauce
- 2 to 4 1-1/2″ to 2″ thick filet mignon steaks
- Salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
- 3 Tbsp. clarified butter
- 1/2 to 1 shallot, finely minced
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup tawny Port
- 1 stick of unsalted butter, cut into 1″ pieces and chilled so it is very cold
- 2 to 4 Tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon
- Preheat oven to 275° F.
- Place steaks on a rack placed over a baking sheet and season with salt and fresh cracked black pepper.
- Cook steaks for 20 – 25 minutes.
- Heat butter in a saute pan over high heat. If you like, you can also use grapeseed oil. Though it lacks the flavor of butter, it has a high smoke point.
- Saute steaks for two minutes on each side without moving them until it is time to flip them.
- Remove steaks from pan and set aside, tented with foil.
- Reduce heat to medium and deglaze the pan with Tawny port, taking care to scrape all of the browned bits off the bottom with a wooden spoon.
- Add shallot and allow to simmer until liquid is reduced and syrupy. It should coat the back of a spoon.
- Whisk in butter, staring with one piece and allowing it to fully incorporate before adding a second. Add 3-4 pieces of butter separately, and then add a few at a time, whisking continuously, until butter is incorporated and sauce is thick and creamy.
- Remove from heat and stir in the tarragon.
- Spoon over steaks, and serve immediately.
Serve with a nicely aged Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux blend wine. A young Cab may be a bit too heavy for the delicate sauce. A personal favorite is Spring Valley Uriah, a Washington State wine that incorporates a variety of Bordeaux varietals in a Merlot base. Januik Winery, another Washington State winery, also makes consistently good Cabernet Sauvignon wines.