What Is Tenderloin Steak? Tenderloin steak, also known as filet mignon or fillet steak, is a mouthwatering cut of beef famous for its rich flavor and unparalleled tenderness. It is derived from the tenderloin muscle located near the spine of cows and is considered one of the most prized cuts. Since it is a lean cut of meat with minimal fat marbling, it is an excellent option for those looking for a healthier alternative that doesn’t compromise on taste. It has a mild flavor that blends beautifully with marinades or seasonings, making it a versatile choice for chefs.
What Is Tenderloin Steak and Where Does It Come From?
Tenderloin steak, also known as filet mignon or fillet steak, is a highly sought-after cut of beef known for its exceptional tenderness and delicate flavor. It is derived from the tenderloin muscle, which is located in the loin region of a cow.
The tenderloin muscle is situated beneath the ribs and spans along the spine, running from the short loin to the sirloin. It is one of the least used muscles in the animal’s body, resulting in a remarkably tender texture. This lack of exercise allows the muscle fibers to remain relatively loose and makes the tenderloin steak incredibly soft and buttery when cooked.
To extract the tenderloin steak, butchers remove the entire tenderloin muscle from the cow’s carcass. The whole tenderloin is long and cylindrical, tapering towards one end. It can weigh anywhere between two to five pounds, depending on the size of the animal.
The tenderloin is further divided into three main sections: the butt end, center-cut, and tail end. The butt end, also known as the head or chateaubriand, is the thickest portion and is often used for larger individual steaks or roasts. The center cut is the middle portion, which is the most prized and commonly used for filet mignon steaks. The tail end, as the name suggests, is the narrowest part of the tenderloin and is usually used for smaller steaks or stir-fry dishes.
Due to its exceptional tenderness and minimal fat marbling, the tenderloin steak is considered a lean cut of beef. It is highly regarded for its melt-in-your-mouth texture and subtle, delicate flavor. Unlike other cuts like ribeye or strip steak, the tenderloin does not have as pronounced of a beefy flavor. However, its mild taste allows it to readily absorb the flavors of marinades, spices, or accompanying sauces, making it a versatile cut for various culinary preparations.
In restaurants and gourmet kitchens, the tenderloin steak is often grilled, pan-seared, or broiled to achieve a flavorful crust on the outside while retaining its juicy and tender interior. It is commonly served as a standalone dish, accompanied by classic sauces like Béarnaise or bordelaise. The tenderness of the steak also makes it a popular choice for dishes such as beef Wellington, where it is wrapped in pastry with pâté or duxelles.
Whether you’re enjoying a special occasion or simply treating yourself to an indulgent meal, the tenderloin steak is a prime choice for meat enthusiasts. Its luxurious texture, subtle taste, and versatility in cooking methods make it a true delicacy that is sure to satisfy even the most discerning palates.
Cooking Tips for the Best Tenderloin Steak
Cooking the perfect tenderloin steak requires delicate technique and attention to detail. Here are some cooking tips to help you achieve the best results:
Bring the steak to room temperature: Before cooking, take the tenderloin steak out of the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. This allows for even cooking throughout the steak.
Season generously: Season the steak liberally with salt and pepper or your preferred seasoning. This enhances the flavor of the meat. You can also marinate the steak for a few hours before cooking to infuse more flavors.
Preheat the cooking surface: Whether grilling, pan-searing, or broiling, it’s crucial to preheat the cooking surface to high heat. This ensures a nice sear and locks in the steak’s juices. For grilling, preheat the grill to medium-high heat.
Sear the steak: Place the tenderloin steak on the hot cooking surface and sear each side for a few minutes. This helps develop a flavorful crust. Avoid moving the steak too much during this process to achieve a good sear.
Use a meat thermometer: To ensure your steak is cooked to your desired doneness, use a meat thermometer. For medium-rare, the internal temperature should be around 135°F (57°C), while the medium is around 145°F (63°C). Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the steak without touching the bone.
Rest the steak: Once the steak reaches your desired doneness, remove it from the heat and let it rest for about 5-10 minutes. This allows the juices to redistribute and ensures a juicy and tender steak.
Slice against the grain: When ready to serve, slice the tenderloin steak against the grain. This breaks down the muscle fibers and results in a more tender bite.
Pair with complementary flavors: Consider serving your tenderloin steak with complementary flavors. Classic options include a rich red wine reduction, a creamy mushroom sauce, or a tangy chimichurri. These sauces add depth and enhance the overall taste of the steak.
When cooking tenderloin steak, the cooking temperature plays a crucial role in achieving the desired level of doneness and maintaining the steak’s tenderness and juiciness. Here are some guidelines for cooking temperatures:
Rare: For a rare tenderloin steak, the internal temperature should be around 125°F (52°C) to 130°F (54°C). At this temperature, the steak will have a deep red center and will be very tender.
Medium Rare: The most popular level of doneness for tenderloin steak is medium rare. To achieve this, cook the steak to an internal temperature of 135°F (57°C) to 140°F (60°C). The center will be pink and slightly firm, while the steak will still retain its tenderness and juiciness.
Medium: If you prefer a slightly more cooked steak with a hint of pink in the center, aim for a medium level of doneness. The internal temperature should be around 145°F (63°C) to 150°F (66°C). The steak will be firmer and the juices will be more evenly distributed throughout.
Medium Well: For those who prefer a steak with just a touch of pink, cook the tenderloin to an internal temperature of 155°F (68°C) to 160°F (71°C). The center will have a faint pink color, but the steak will be firmer and have less juiciness.
Well Done: Cooking a tenderloin steak to be well-done results in a fully cooked steak with no pink in the center. The internal temperature should reach 165°F (74°C) or higher. However, keep in mind that cooking the steak too well may sacrifice some of its tenderness and moisture.
It’s important to note that these temperature ranges are general guidelines and personal preference should be taken into consideration. Additionally, the thickness of the steak will affect cooking times, so it’s recommended to use a meat thermometer to ensure accurate results.
When measuring the internal temperature of the steak, insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, avoiding contact with the bone if present. Allow the steak to rest for a few minutes after cooking before serving, as this helps the juices redistribute throughout the meat for a more flavorful and tender eating experience.
Marinating is a popular technique used to enhance the flavor and tenderness of tenderloin steak. It involves soaking the steak in a flavorful mixture of ingredients, allowing it to absorb the marinade’s flavors before cooking. Here are some details about marinating tenderloin steak:
Purpose of Marinating: Marinating serves several purposes when it comes to tenderloin steak. Firstly, it infuses the meat with additional flavors, adding complexity and depth to the taste. Secondly, certain marinades can help tenderize the steak by breaking down connective tissues, resulting in a more tender texture. Lastly, marinating can also help to retain moisture, preventing the steak from drying out during the cooking process.
Marinade Ingredients: A marinade typically consists of a combination of acidic, flavorful, and tenderizing ingredients. Acidic ingredients such as citrus juices (lemon, lime, or orange), vinegar, or wine help to tenderize the meat by breaking down its proteins. Flavorful components can include herbs, spices, garlic, onions, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, or various condiments and seasonings. Oil is often added to the marinade to help carry the flavors and keep the meat moist. The ingredients used can be adjusted to suit personal preferences and desired flavor profiles.
Marinating Time: The duration of marinating depends on the thickness and cut of the tenderloin steak. Thinner steaks may only require 30 minutes to an hour of marinating time, while thicker cuts could benefit from marinating for several hours or even overnight in the refrigerator. However, it’s important to avoid excessively long marinating times as the acid in the marinade can break down the meat too much, resulting in a mushy texture.
Marinating Techniques: To marinate a tenderloin steak, place it in a shallow dish or a sealable plastic bag. Pour the marinade over the steak, ensuring it is fully covered. Massage or flip the steak occasionally to ensure the even distribution of the marinade. If using a plastic bag, squeeze out any excess air before sealing it. It’s essential to marinate the steak in the refrigerator to prevent bacterial growth.
Precautions: When marinating, it’s important to handle raw meat safely to prevent cross-contamination. Always marinate in a non-reactive container or a food-safe plastic bag. Discard any leftover marinade that has come into contact with raw meat, as it may contain harmful bacteria. If you wish to use the marinade as a sauce, reserve a portion before adding it to the raw steak.
Cooking the Marinated Steak: After marinating, remove the tenderloin steak from the marinade and discard any excess liquid. Pat the steak dry with paper towels to ensure proper browning during cooking. Grill, pan-sear, or broil the steak according to your preferred cooking method and desired level of doneness. Remember to adjust cooking times based on the thickness of the steak and refer to recommended cooking temperatures.
Resting time is an important step in the cooking process of tenderloin steak. After the steak is cooked to the desired level of doneness, it is crucial to allow it to rest before serving. Here are some details about resting time and its significance:
Purpose of Resting: Resting time allows the juices inside the tenderloin steak to redistribute evenly throughout the meat. When the steak is cooked, the heat causes the juices to move toward the center. Resting helps to retain these juices, resulting in a more flavorful and tender steak. It also allows the muscle fibers to relax, making the steak more tender and juicy when you take a bite.
Resting Duration: The ideal resting time for tenderloin steak is generally around 5 to 10 minutes. This duration may vary depending on the thickness of the steak. Thicker cuts may require a slightly longer resting time, while thinner steaks may need less time. The resting period allows the steak to cool slightly, making it easier to handle while also allowing the flavors to develop further.
Tenting the Steak: To keep the steak warm during the resting period, you can loosely tent it with aluminum foil. This helps to retain some of the heat and prevent excessive heat loss. However, it’s important to avoid tightly sealing the foil, as it can trap steam and make the steak soggy.
Benefits of Resting: Resting the tenderloin steak offers several benefits. Firstly, it allows the steak to retain its juiciness. When you slice into a rested steak, you’ll notice the juices distributed more evenly, resulting in a moist and succulent bite. Secondly, resting gives the steak time to complete its cooking process. The residual heat continues to cook the meat during the resting period, ensuring that it reaches the desired level of doneness. Lastly, resting also enhances the tenderness of the steak. The relaxation of the muscle fibers during this time makes the steak more tender and easier to chew.
Planning the Meal: When factoring in resting time, it’s essential to plan your meal accordingly. Consider the resting period as part of the overall cooking time. For example, if your steak requires 10 minutes of resting time, you can adjust the cooking time accordingly, ensuring that the steak is ready to be served at the desired moment.