- Filet is delicious, easy to prepare, and an affordable luxury.
- If you shop carefully, a 7-ounce filet serving costs about $8 — cheaper than take-out.
- That steak has 13 grams of fat, about half the fat of a rib eye.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Like a lot of you, the pandemic has had me cooking a lot more at home. I must have made Ina Garten’s lemon chicken breasts about 50 times. If I’m feeling more indulgent, I bake Martha Stewart’s crispy apricot pork chops. (As with any pork chops recipe, it’s important to buy good, not-too-lean chops.)
I have improved my braise game: I make chicken cacciatore, chicken thighs with mushrooms and tarragon and wine, chicken thighs with fennel and lemon, chicken curry, pork stew with clear broth … let’s just say my Le Creusets have been seeing a lot of action.
Of course, sides are important, too. I have indulged repeatedly in Mark Bittman’s potatoes au gratin. I boil broccoli and toss it in olive oil. I blanch broccoli rabe and sauté it with whole cloves of garlic.
I sauté spinach — always from frozen, which is so much less of a pain than cooking down a bushel of fresh spinach. Just sauté a shallot or two with a seeded and finely chopped jalapeno pepper in olive oil, add a pound of frozen chopped spinach, salt, pepper, and some chopped fresh herbs — bam, instant side.
I’ve come to enjoy this cooking routine. But after about a year, I made a key decision: From now on, steak night is always filet mignon.
Filet is the best steak
Unlike some other widely popular foods I like, nobody is going to say my endorsement of filet mignon (aka tenderloin) is contrarian. Everybody likes filet: That’s why filet is so expensive! But I mean it’s the best steak for you to make at home.
Filet’s superior tenderness is why it commands such a high price. But it has other advantages, too. Its tenderness makes it very simple to prepare, because it doesn’t need to be tenderized (I’ll describe my preferred method below.) Its small cross section makes it simple to portion: Steaks around an inch-and-a-half thick weigh about half a pound, meaning each diner can have a whole steak without getting beef overload. And it’s much lower in fat than other premium steaks, like rib eye and strip.
And while filet is expensive as beef cuts go, cooking at home is a frugal activity. If you’ve been cooking at home more, you have room to splurge on ingredients, especially if you get a good value on your meat.
You could pay over $30 per pound for beef tenderloin, but lately I’ve been buying tenderloin steaks from Stop & Shop at $18 per pound, and I’ve been very satisfied with the quality. At that price, you’re paying about $8 per person for a 7-ounce steak — add in some rice or potatoes and a vegetable, and you’re way below what it would cost to order takeout.
And you’re probably eating less fat, too.
How to cook a perfect filet mignon
Preheat your oven to 275 degrees.
Liberally apply Kosher salt to your steaks (which should ideally be a bit under a half-pound each) on all sides.
Bake the steaks on a rack set in a baking sheet until their internal temperature rises to 115 degrees. I monitor them with a probe thermometer, so I don’t need to take them out of the oven to test the temperature; in fact, I use a probe for virtually all meat recipes, and I don’t understand how anybody cooks without one.
Heat a heavy pan or griddle (preferably cast iron) over high heat on the stove top. When the steaks reach 115 degrees, add butter or oil to the hot pan, then immediately add the steaks.
Sear for just one minute on each side, then remove to a plate. Season both sides with fresh ground black pepper, cover with aluminum foil, and rest for 10 minutes. The steaks will end up at a perfect medium-rare internal temperature, around 135 degrees.
You will want to boost the flavor
One of the downsides of filet is that it’s less flavorful than fattier cuts, so it’s especially important to enhance your steaks’ flavor before serving.
A good bottled steak sauce is always an option. If I’m feeling fancy, I’ll make a pan sauce while the steaks rest. Take the pan you seared the steaks in, sauté a large shallot, then add red wine, beef stock, a little balsamic vinegar, and thyme. Reduce that until it’s thick, take it off the heat, add any juices that have collected on the plate the steaks rested on, and whisk in a few chunks of cold butter so it becomes glossy. (“Glossy” is a euphemism for sauces that contain a lot of butter.)
But that’s overkill for a weeknight. My favorite simple approach lately is to drizzle the steaks with a fragrant and flavorful extra virgin olive oil, such as this coratina from Chile.
Other steaks are too big and fatty
Before my filet awakening, my go-to steak night steak was New York strip. And I love a good strip. It beats a filet for rich, meaty flavor. But strips (and rib eyes) have downsides.
First, a nice thick-cut strip or rib eye is going to weigh well over a pound, maybe almost two pounds. Because that’s too big for a one person — and because the tough fatty strip needs to be trimmed off the strip steak before eating — I was always having to slice up the steaks before serving them. Especially if you’re entertaining, that’s a time consuming task that comes right at the end of cooking when you’re trying to get everything on the table at once.
Strips and rib eyes, of course, are much higher in fat than filets. I can squint at a filet and tell myself it’s a healthy meal choice. Nobody is kidding themselves about the health value of a rib eye.
And because the single-serve nature of filet provides portion control — if you serve sliced strip steak, each person is likely to end up eating more than half a pound — choosing filet saves more calories than you might expect, and even saves some money.
Go ahead, treat yourself
Filet has a “special occasion” aura, but how special does the occasion really need to be to treat yourself to an $8 piece of meat?
Rough day? Busy day? Need to cook at home and want something easy yet indulgent, without too much fat? Have I got the steak for you.
It’s a filet.
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