Steak with gratin on a plate
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Before it was cut, beef tenderloin spent its life "going along for the ride" and never lifted a muscle. Tucked inside the cow just below the back and surrounded by other parts of the beef that have designated tasks during the life of the bovine, the tenderloin is the lazy cousin. And the most expensive. Its lack of exercise makes it truly a "tender"-loin, but not the most tender. Located at the very tip of the tenderloin is a pointed tip that butchers and diners covet. This is the true filet mignon, and credit the French with naming it the "cute" filet.

First the Tenderloin

A trip to the meat department of a big box store is like visiting "cow heaven." Packages of strip steaks, rib-eyes, T-bones, prime ribs all stare at you, begging for your approval. But it's the demure roll of the beef tenderloin that yields the high price tag and quiet demeanor. You usually have a choice between the more expensive, trimmed tenderloin, or, if you're handy with a filleting knife, you can buy the untrimmed version for a lesser price.

Then the Filet Mignon

At the very tip of your tenderloin is a pointed end officially known as the filet mignon. But, because of its unusual shape, it's difficult to turn it into an eye-pleasing presentation. Therefore, most butchers and restaurants simply trim the tenderloin into 2-inch steaks and call them all filet mignon. The difference in tenderness is negligible.

Preparing a Beef Tenderloin

All your relative and friends are descending on your home for a special celebration, and you're stuck with feeding the masses. While it may be pricey, buying an entire beef tenderloin, which ranges from 4 to 6 pounds and can be cut into small slices, is an easy solution.

  1. Rub the tenderloin in olive oil.
  2. Sprinkle it with fresh herbs, such as basil and rosemary, plus salt and pepper.
    Roast, uncovered, in a 425 degree Fahrenheit oven until a digital thermometer reads 135F for medium-rare and 140F for medium. 
  3. Let it sit for 5 minutes before carving. 

Another version is a French favorite: pepper steak.

  1. Rub the tenderloin in olive oil.
  2. Cover the top with crushed, multi-colored peppercorns. 
  3. Roast in a 425 degree Fahrenheit oven until the temperature reaches 135F for medium-rare. 
  4. Drizzle with a melted butter/fresh thyme combination and let it sit for 5 minutes before carving.

Melt-in-Your-Mouth Filet Mignon

As easy as preparing a beef tenderloin is, filet mignon is just as simple. All it takes is a hot skillet and an oven, plus olive oil and seasoning. Cut the steaks into 2-inch pieces for an even cook.

  1. Heat a cast-iron or oven-safe skillet on the stovetop until it's screaming hot.
  2. Rub the steak tops and bottoms with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper.
  3. Sear each side for 2 1/2 minutes. Roll the edges in the skillet to sear them as well.
  4. Put the skillet with the steaks in a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven and roast for 5 minutes, or until a thermometer reads 135F for medium-rare.
  5. Let the steaks sit for 5 minutes before serving.

The Mysterious Sous Vide Process

Restaurants depend on a water bath for their meat to get the orders out quickly. By pre-heating the vacuum-packed filets in the sous vide process, they can be set aside until diners order them. A quick sear, some seasoning and a bit of garnish deliver a mouth-watering, tender filet within minutes.