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What Exactly Is Filet Mignon?

So you visit a classy restaurant and for the main course one of the waiters recommends a marinated Filet Mignon wrapped in bacon… Filet mignon is a tender and expensive cut of beef. It is considered the king of steaks because of its melt-in-your-mouth texture. A prime filet mignon can literally be cut with a fork. Although this beef cut can be quite costly when dining out, it’s much less expensive to make at home, especially if you purchase a whole tenderloin.

Filet mignon is a French name, with filet meaning thread or strip and mignon meaning small and pretty. This prized cut comes from the middle of the tenderloin (also called the short loin), which is found inside the rib cage of the cow. Because this muscle is not weight-bearing, the connective tissue is not toughened by exercise, resulting in extremely tender meat.

The name of the muscle is psoas major, and it sits inside the ribs next to the backbone. From its flat pointy end at the ribs, it gets thicker toward the rear of the animal ending at the femur. Each animal has two tenderloins, one on each side of the rib cage.

Filet mignon steaks are cut from the middle of the tenderloin, in between the pointy tip near the shoulder, known as the “tail,” and the thick steak at the rear, which is called Chateaubriand. Porterhouse and T-bone steaks include the filet mignon as the medallion of meat on the other side of the bone across from the sirloin.

In the market, filet mignon slices are generally 1 to 2 inches thick and 2 to 3 inches in diameter, but true mignons are no more than an inch in diameter and are taken from the tapered end, next to the “tail.” These steaks are naturally rounded as they come from the tube-shaped end of the muscle.

The silverskin is a shiny white strip of cartilage that is usually removed because it is tough to chew. The fat is usually trimmed away, though if left, it produces a bit more flavor.

How to Cook Filet Mignon

Filet mignon is very tender, but it also has a less pronounced flavor. For this reason, it is often served with an accompanying sauce or with compound butter. It may also be marinated, smoked, wrapped in bacon, or seasoned with a rub.

Filet mignon can be cooked in a variety of ways, including grilling, broiling, roasting, and pan-frying. Usually, high heat is first applied to sear the meat on both sides. Then it is transferred to lower heat to finish the steak to the desired doneness while being careful not to overcook it. Cubed tenderloin is also a popular choice for fondue hot-pots and shish kebabs.

Here are a few tips to cook filet mignon to perfection:

  • Take the steak out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking to allow it to come to room temperature, which will result in a more even cooking.
  • Since the beef tenderloin and filet mignon have no surrounding fat tissue, they are often wrapped in a layer of fat (called barding) such as bacon or lard, both to keep it from drying out and to add flavor.
  • Use a dry, high-heat method such as broiling, roasting, pan-frying, or grilling.
  • Having so little interior fat, filet mignon should never be cooked beyond medium-rare. The longer you cook it, the drier and less tender it becomes.
  • Use an instant-read meat thermometer or the touch method. For medium-rare, remove the steak from the heat when it reaches 120 F. Note that the temperature will rise a bit while the meat is resting. For the touch method, press the meat. If it feels soft and mushy and leaves an imprint, it is rare. If it is soft but slightly resilient, it is medium-rare. The moment it begins to feel firm, it is overdone. Do not cut into the meat to check for doneness as this lets precious juices escape.
  • After removing the filet mignon from the heat, cover it with foil and let it rest for about five minutes before serving. Resting allows the heat and juices to be evenly distributed throughout the steak.
  • Serve the filet mignon with a pat of compound butter, Béarnaise or Bordelaise sauce, or with a sauce made with the pan juices.

What Does Filet Mignon Taste Like?

Filet mignon obviously tastes like beef, but there are as many variations on the flavor of beef as there are different breeds of cattle and ways of raising them. In general, however, filet mignon tastes milder and sweeter than most other cuts of beef that come from more developed muscle areas of the steer. For the same reason, filet mignon also has a very soft texture, which adds a luscious buttery sensation to its delicate, refined, meaty flavor.

Filet Mignon vs. Sirloin

It is interesting to compare filet mignon and sirloin steak as they are right next to each other, located just on opposite sides of the rib bones. But, despite their proximity, the two are very different. The sirloin, which is divided into top sirloin and bottom sirloin, is considerably longer than the tenderloin and produces a wide variety of cuts, such as rib eye (from the upper part, beyond where the tenderloin ends), shell steak, porterhouse, New York strip, Kansas City steak (which is a New York strip with a bone), and boneless sirloin. Because this back muscle is a very much used one, the meat develops a lot of fat and pronounced beefy flavor, which also gives a more fibrous, firmer texture. For this reason, the technique of dry-aging was devised where whole bottom and top loins are hung in a well-ventilated temperature-controlled space for 14 to 28 days, which makes them both more tender and more flavorful. Filet mignon, without bone or fat, is not suitable for dry-aging.

Storing Filet Mignon

Filet mignon can be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in the fridge for three to five days. If the filet is already cut into steaks, each one should be wrapped individually. Alternatively, filet mignon can be stored in the freezer for six to nine months.

Nutrition and Benefits of Filet Mignon

The specific amounts of key nutritional factors for filet mignon vary widely depending on which grade it is (prime beef will have a higher fat content than choice), what breed of cattle it comes from (some are naturally lower in fat), and how it was raised (grass, corn, or a combination of both). At Nyama Tamu, you are sure of getting the best Filet Mignon cut from the best breeds of Cattle (Laikipia Cattle) that are grass-fed from pasture.

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