With my last few recipes being quite long-winded and time consuming, my next couple are going to be the complete opposite; all about the simplicity and flavour. Often the tastiest and most memorable meals are simple gatherings of a few ingredients that go perfectly together. I have made so many meals that have been overworked, and have too many different things going on. So with this it is time to go back to basics again.
Fillet of beef is a prime example of an ingredient that is so easily spoilt by overcomplicating. I personally think that the best ways to get the most out of a fillet steak is to either eat it raw or cook it in a beef wellington (cooked very rare). I even think that cooking it as a piece of steak is a waste of money, with rib eye and sirloin having a higher fat content and way more flavour. Both of these cuts are often half the price and money way better spent.
My inspiration for this dish is from a holiday in Italy a few years ago. The food that we ate throughout the trip was massively hit and miss, with some lovely meals had, but also some terrible experieces of over-inflated ‘Italian’ food made for tourists. One of the best places that we went to was a tiny restaurant tucked away in Venice. We had spent hours walking around looking for something more than veal escallops sitting next to tables of rude tourists, and just stumbled randomly across it. It was one of those small bustling rooms where everybody seemed to be having a great time and eating the most amazing food. Our waiter was a larger than life Italian man who made the experience that much better. The food lived up to our expectations too, in typical Italian style being simple combinations of high quality produce. I had the carpaccio and despite the fact that it was just beef, parmesan, rocket and olive oil, it has stayed in my mind ever since.
I wouldn’t quite class this dish as a carpaccio though, as I have prepared the beef a little bit differently. Firstly I sear the fillet lightly before chilling and carving. The caramelisation on the edge of the meat gives that little bit more flavour whilst you still get the taste and texture of the raw centre. I also cut the meat slightly thicker, which again gives a better texture in my opinion.
This makes a lovely starter on it’s own, or part of a big spread of food for a bigger group to dig into.
Serves 3-4 as a starter.
For the beef:
500g beef fillet, trimmed of any sinew
3 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, picked and finely chopped
10 sprigs thyme, whole
Salt and pepper
1 lemon, finely grated zest only
2 garlic cloves, crushed
For the chilli and lemon oil:
200ml good extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon, zest only
6 basil leaves, crushed gently
1 medium red chilli, sliced
For the croutons:
2 slices white bread, crusts removed and cut into 1cm cubes
Salt and pepper
Parmesan, cut into thin shards
Salt and pepper
Remove the piece of fillet from the fridge about an hour before cooking and allow to get to room temperature.
Crush the garlic and scatter onto a small chopping board with the lemon zest, whole thyme, seasoning and a little olive oil. Set aside.
Heat up a heavy frying pan to the highest heat possible, until smoking. Season all sides of the meat really well and rub with the chopped thyme and olive oil. Cook very quickly for about 30 seconds to a minute on each side, so that the outside forms a nice brown crust. Remove straight to the seasoned board and roll around. Leave to cool completely then wrap tightly with cling film and put in the fridge for a few hours.
To make the flavoured oil, pour the oil into a frying pan with the chilli and lemon zest. Bring just to a warm temperature, enough to touch but no hotter. Tip into a bowl and add the basil leaves. Allow to infuse for at least an hour.
Heat the oven to 180ºC.
Make the croutons by cutting the bread into 1cm cubes and scattering onto a lined baking tray. Season and drizzle with olive oil and roll around to cover well. Cook for about 10 minutes until nicely golden with a bit of give in the middle still. Set aside.
Take the chilled beef out of the fridge, unwrap and slice very carefully with a sharp knife into rounds a couple of millimetres thick. Allow to come to room temperature for about 20 minutes before serving.
To plate up, take a large plate or platter and spread the slices of beef evenly around. Season very well with salt and pepper. Scatter the croutons, basil and parmsan over the top and spoon over some of the oil.