The Daley Question

Timing a tenderloin

Hungry for company, reader looks for do-ahead tips

 Wolfgang Puck's Tenderloin with mushroom gravy

Wolfgang Puck's Tenderloin with mushroom gravy (Tribune file photo / November 4, 2004)

Q: I have been cooking beef tenderloin with Madeira sauce from the Dec. 3, 2003, Trib for several years. My question is: Could I make it up to the point where I make the sauce then refrigerate it? Then, prior to serving, bring to room temp and finish it off?

This is a Wolfgang Puck recipe and it keeps me at the stove while everyone is chomping at the bit waiting for the meat. Any help you can offer would be greatly appreciated.

—Beverly Leone, Wayne, Ill.

A: Sure, you can follow the recipe through step one, at which point the meat is cooked. I, personally, would take it through the next two steps so the roasting pan is deglazed, the sauce base created, and the roasting pan cleaned and stowed away.

Finish the recipe from step 4, finishing the sauce, right before serving. The sauce should take under 10 minutes to complete, especially if you've done your prep work ahead of time and have all your ingredients sliced, chopped and measured.

You can time cooking the tenderloin so that it will sit, cooked, on the counter for up to 2 hours before serving — that's the maximum time considered safe for leaving cooked foods out at room temperature, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service. (The limit is 1 hour in areas where the room temperature is 90 degrees.)

I would refrigerate the tenderloin after roasting if you want to cook it hours ahead. Ditto the makings of the sauce. Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart in their new book, "Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking" (Gibbs Smith, $45) suggest wrapping the cooked beef in foil after cooking, then reheating it in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes.

Honestly, I'm not a huge fan of reheating beef, especially expensive cuts like this. I like my beef cooked just so, the rarer the better.

I also posed your question to Puck. He thinks it best to time the cooking of the tenderloin so that it comes out of the oven, rests briefly to redistribute the juices, and then gets sliced and served. I’m happy to say he, too, worries about what re-heating would do to the meat. He also cites the food safety risk in having the meat sitting out for a long time.

Puck suggests doing step 4 first — making the sauce with the vegetables, broth, whipping cream and flavorings. Re-heat the sauce gently while the tenderloin rests. Use that time to quickly deglaze the roasting pan with Madeira and add the deglazing liquid to the sauce. Serve.

Beef tenderloin with mushroom Madeira sauce

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: 1 hour

Yield: 8 servings

Along with this recipe, Wolfgang Puck offered buying tips for beef tenderloin in his 2003 column. Purchase a piece with the "widest possible diameter so there's less risk of overcooking,'' he wrote. "Beforehand, trim off excess fat and the silverskin, a tough membrane covering part of the meat. Both are easily removed with a sharp knife, inserting it just beneath the silverskin and cutting parallel to the surface." How much beef to buy? Puck called for 12 ounces per person for a simple meal or 8 ounces per person for a more elaborate multicourse dinner.

1 beef tenderloin roast, about 4 pounds, preferably the wide-end cut, trimmed

1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

1/4 cup olive oil

1 large onion, peeled, cut into 1-inch chunks

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