As we work our way through another winter, I find myself turning to comfort foods that, for me, typically include some kind of meat. While I do love veggies and fish, when I want to cook something comforting but also special, working with some kind of chicken, pork or beef comes to top of my list.
Reflecting on this love of meat, I have to admit it comes from long ago—growing up with parents who rarely, if ever, included any kind of processed foods into our diet. One of my father’s absolute musts when it came to meat was to buy only from a butcher. Every so often, he’d ask me to go along. As one of six kids, time alone with either parent was rare, so tagging along to the meat store was one of the few but very favorite things we did together. I would marvel at all the cuts of meat in the cases. I was just the right height to have a front-row view of the orderly line up of pork chops, flanked by the tenderloins and roasts, whole chickens and whatever special cuts were out for the day.
Over time, I would end up learning to cook meat from my dad out of necessity to get dinner on the table. I learned it was very simple and that less was more (that is, less handling, turning, touching, poking, prodding, etc., to cook the meat). I later went to culinary school where I excelled in our meat courses. The recipe below is one of my favorite simple but amazing dishes, especially if you splurge on quality filets. It’s adapted from a much more thorough article and recipe in Cook’s Illustrated (Mar/Apr 2006). The sauce is absolutely a fantastic touch, so be sure to make it too!
Pepper Crusted Filet Mignon
Makes 4 servings
5 Tbls black peppercorns, cracked
5 Tbls plus 2 tsps olive oil
1 Tbls kosher salt
4 center-cut filet mignons, 1 ½ to 2 inches thick, 7 to 8 ounces each, trimmed of fat and silverskin
- Heat peppercorns and 5 tablespoons oil in small saucepan over low heat until faint bubbles appear. Continue to cook at bare simmer, swirling pan occasionally, until pepper is fragrant, 7 to 10 minutes. Cool; add salt and rub steaks with the mixture, coating tops and bottoms thoroughly. Cover steaks with plastic wrap and press gently to make sure peppercorns adhere. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour.
- Adjust oven rack to middle position, place a rimmed baking sheet on the rack and heat oven to 450 degrees. Heat remaining teaspoons of oil in heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat until faint smoke appears. Place steaks in skillet, until dark brown crust has formed, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn steaks once and brown on second side, about 3 minutes. Transfer steaks to hot baking sheet. Roast 3 to 5 minutes for rare, 5 to 7 minutes for medium rare to medium. Transfer steaks to wire cooling rack and let rest, loosely tented with foil, for 5 minutes before serving.
Port – Cherry Reduction
Makes about 1 cup
1 ½ cups port
½ cup balsamic vinegar
½ cup dried tart cherries
1 large shallot, minced
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 Tbls unsalted butter
- Combine first five ingredients in medium saucepan; simmer over medium-low heat until reduced to 1/3 cup, about 30 minutes. Set aside, covered.
- While steaks are resting, reheat sauce. Off heat, remove thyme, then whisk in butter until melted. Season with salt to taste.