First referenced in 1906’s “The Four Million,” by O. Henry, the “dainty fillet” was a main course employed throughout the novel underscoring moments of romance between two lovers. Now, more than a hundred years later, fillet de bouef is still found at the center of our most intimate evenings — whether it be Valentines seated in the finest of dining establishments or a rustic date night for two over the flames of a backyard barbeque.
The smallest end portion of a cattle’s psoas major muscle (an elongated, non-weight bearing muscle located near the spine) represents what we recognize as the most succulent and intimidating cut of beef known to man.
Although incredibly tender, Filets contain incrementally less intramuscular fat as compared to other popular cuts such as, the strip or ribeye steak — but, when cooked appropriately can be sliced with a dull butter knife. To compensate for this absence of fat marbling, the steak is liberally seasoned, often wrapped in bacon, gently prepared to a medium-rare via one of several dry, high-heat cooking methods, and plated with a simple glaze or sauce.
In this post we’ll offer general best practices and outline an under-leveraged cooking method in preparing the most incredible, mouthwatering Filet Mignon.
10 Steps to Perfect Pan-Seared Filet Mignon:
1. Start with phenomenal Filet Mignon.
To deliver an incredible end product, it’s critical to start with a phenomenal cut of beef. Choose your beef from a trusted source. Always! Considering you’ve arrived here — step one, complete!
2. Choose the right tools.
Choose from one of 3 metal sources for your 12” skillet or fry pan: cast iron, copper core, or carbon steel. Each will facilitate the incredibly high temperatures necessary for searing a steak, but note: cast iron will smoke and requires regular seasoning care; copper core is a nightmare to keep clean; and the cost of a well-crafted carbon steel pan can range above $200. Pick your poison.
3. Thaw the right way.
Cold steaks are tough steaks. 30 minutes to one hour in advance of cooking your Filet, remove it from your refrigerator, rinse in water, pat entirely dry with a paper towel, brush with canola oil, season with fresh ground peppercorn, and wrap it in plastic and rest at room temperature.
4. Salt at the right time.
Dry steaks are flavorless steaks — no matter the degree of seasoning. Five minutes prior to cooking, season liberally with kosher salt. Do not add salt before, as the salting in advance can break down the proteins and will draw out moisture from inside the steak.
5. Never cook on a cold surface!
Never heat your meat and cooking surface simultaneously. With the oven set to 400 °F, preheat the pan for 15 minutes. Expect a touch of smoke, particularly if using cast iron. But the intent is to super heat your cooking source, allowing the surface to deliver a five-star restaurant-quality sear upon your steaks.
Place your preheated pan over the range top. Turn to high heat. Pour in a few tablespoons of canola oil (be sure it has a high smoke point, or else you’ll need a fire extinguisher) and heat, adding whole sprigs of rosemary, sliced shallot and a few cloves of chopped garlic. Sauté for 3-5 minutes.
7. Steak time!
Gently lay the seasoned filet mignon in the searing hot pan. Baste intermittently with the oil-butter. Cook the steak three minutes per side, encrusting the exterior of the steak. Only flip the steak once — let the pan and aromatics do their duty!
8. Put your oven to work.
After searing, place the skillet in the preheated oven at 400 °F. Over the top of your steak, spoon an additional nob of butter. Every 60-90 seconds, baste the steak in the butter until it is 5 °F below your desired internal temperature. Remove from oven.
9. Choose your desired doneness.
Beef steak should be plated at the following internal temperatures:
- Med-Rare: 130-135 °F
- Medium: 140-145 °F
- Med-Well: 150-155 °F
- Well: +160 °F
10. Never, ever, ever forget to rest.
Place on a cutting board and tent with tin foil. Rest the steak 5 minutes per inch of thickness or 10 minutes per pound, whichever is greater — allowing the internal fibers to relax, juices to redistribute, and the meat to reabsorb all of it’s juices.
Season additionally to taste & serve!
Below is a video from that teaches you an additional Filet-cooking technique known as sear-roasting:
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in August 2014 and has been updated for freshness and comprehensiveness.