Filet Mignon, translated from French as ‘cute fillet’ or ‘dainty fillet’, is often referred to as tenderloin steak. It has a very mild beef aroma, and mild beef flavor when compared to other steaks and needs additional steps to make it more flavorful. Some chefs call filet mignon overrated, but I love it. When cooked right it’s very tender, flavorful and tasty.
The best way to cook filet mignon
Filet mignon can be cooked many different ways, but pan-searing first then finishing in the oven is by far the best way to cook it. A friend of mine who works at a local steakhouse shared this method and the recipe with me. I was skeptical at first, but once I tried it I knew I would never cook my filet mignon any other way. Served with my favorite rosemary garlic roasted potatoes, it’s to die for.
So, what’s the secret? I used to think that smoky flavor and a nice char, coupled with proper internal temperature, are all that’s needed to make a great filet mignon. And they do, but only to a point. Filet mignon, being a very lean cut, is quite flavorless. To compensate, you must use butter and herbs.
Unfortunately, butter and open fire of the grill don’t play nicely together. Butter will quickly run off and go up in flames. That’s where a large 12″ cast iron pan comes in really handy. You pan-sear the meat with butter and oil over high heat, to give it a beautiful, intensely flavored crust. Then immediately transfer the pan into a preheated oven to complete the cooking which will result in a buttery-tender, perfectly cooked filet mignon. This is it. Simple yet very effective.
Great meat makes great fillet mignon steak
To cook a perfect filet mignon you need to start with a good meat, I think that goes without saying. Use the highest grade meat you can buy.
Butter or not, good marbling will make filet mignon more tender and taste better.
Beef tenderloin is a very tender cut, but you can tenderize it even further. This is not a required step, but I always do it and swear by it, and so does Meathead Goldwyn.
About two hours in advance, liberally salt both sides of each steak and put back in the fridge. Let the salt melt and be pulled back into the meat. Salt tenderizes and amps up the flavor.
Flavorize your steak
Another trick the pros have for making a perfect filet mignon is to serve it with a pan sauce, Bearnaise sauce or compound butter.
The sauces take additional time and effort to prepare but that can be totally worth it. If you are like me and want things to be super simple, make some compound butter which takes about 5 minutes.
My favorite combination is fresh garlic, rosemary, parsley and oregano. These herbs add complexity and a balanced flavor to the steak. To make the herb butter, simply chop garlic and herbs and mix with room temperature butter. Shape into a log and refrigerate. The butter then can be stored in a fridge until you are ready to use it. You may want to take it out of the fridge 10 minutes before serving.
If you want to minimize pungency of garlic, bring a cup of water to a boil, remove from the heat and drop garlic into hot water for a minute. That will neutralize the harshness and the pungency – a good thing to remember and do if are making this for a date dinner.
Don’t overcook it
The last step is to ensure the right doneness. You want to cook the steak as evenly as possible and hit the right target temperature. This can be very tricky, especially because different sources define steak doneness differently.
USDA tells us to cook steaks, lamb chops, and roasts to 145°F with a 3 minute rest.
At 145°F a steak is medium well, mostly tan/gray with a tinge of pink.
Yet, the popular opinion on the street is that optimum temp for tenderness, juiciness, and flavor of a steak is medium rare, about 130 to 135°F. Most steak lovers know this, and no steakhouse could stay in business if they followed the 145°F plus 3 minute guideline.
So, what are the pros doing and what will you get at your local restaurant? Below is the table of temps that summarizes that very nicely. It’s based on a fairly unanimous opinion of my friend and such respected sources as AmazingRibs.com, CertifiedAngusBeef.com and other.
|Steak Doneness||Remove from Oven at this Temp||Final Cooked Temp|
To ensure even cooking, flip the steaks right before putting them into the oven, and then again halfway during oven baking. This will also help the steaks cook faster. Oven and pan heat is unidirectional, resulting in bottom side cooking faster then the top one. Flipping helps even things out.
There are several ways to tell when the meat is done to your liking. Timing works if you’ve tested it out and keep all the variables constant – same searing time, same oven temperature, same filet mignon steak thickness and size. In my experience, at 410F, 2-inch thick filet mignon steaks will take about 8 minutes to reach 130F in my oven. Longer if I don’t flip midway. About 9-10 minutes to get to 140F and about 11-12 minutes to reach 155F.
A finger test is another somewhat popular technique. I tried it but I could never master it to feel confident enough and have consistent results. I suppose if I made a dozen steaks a day, or even a week, I would. But I don’t.
Using an instant read thermometer is a better alternative, but it can become hectic and you can overcook the meat if you aren’t checking at the right time.
The most reliable way and the one that I like immensely is to use a BBQ thermometer with a probe.
This little gadget makes things so simple and fool-proof that I use it practically daily, both for grilling and for oven cooking.
Homemade Filet Mignon with Compound Butter (Restaurant-Style)
- 4 2- inch thick beef tenderloin steaks
- 2 Tbsp good quality olive oil
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
- Sea or kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper to taste
- For the compound butter:
- 1 stick of butter
- 1 Tbsp each fresh rosemary parsley and oregano, finely chopped
- 2 garlic coves minced (blanched for 1 minute in hot water prior to mincing for reduced pungency)
- Preheat oven to 410F.
- To make the compound butter, take the butter out of the fridge and let it sit at room temperature while preparing herbs and garlic. In the meantime, rinse rosemary, parsley and oregano, chop and set aside. Blanche garlic, if needed, by bringing 1 cup of water to a boil in a small saucepan, taking the water off the heat and letting the garlic blanch in hot water for 1 minute, then cooling in cold water. If the butter is too hard, microwave for 10 seconds or pound by a pasta roller. Add the chopped herbs and minced garlic, and mix in until evenly distributed. Shape into a log and refrigerate until ready to use. Remove the butter from the fridge 10 minutes prior to using.
- Remove filet mignon steaks from the fridge about 45 minutes before cooking and let come up to room temperature. Liberally season with salt and pepper on both sides and set aside.
- Heat the olive oil and the butter in a large (12") cast iron pan over high heat. When the butter starts smoking and turns dark brown in color, place the filets in the pan and sear undisturbed for about 2 minutes. Flip and sear for another 2 minutes. Flip the steaks again and immediately transfer the pan into the preheated oven.
- Bake to desired doneness: rare - 120F-125F, medium rare - 130F-135F, medium - 140F-145F, medium well - 150F-155F and well done - 160F-165F.
- Remove the filets from the skillet and place on a platter. Cover with foil and let the steaks rest for 3 minutes. Top with a slice of compound butter and serve immediately.