Filet mignon is French, of course, with filet meaning "thick slice" and mignon meaning "dainty." Filet mignon comes from the small end of the tenderloin (called the short loin) which is found on the back rib cage of the animal. This area of the animal is not weight-bearing, thus the connective tissue is not toughened by exercise resulting in extremely tender meat. This also means that the meat lacks some of the flavor held by meat that has the bone attached. In order keep the flavor, you must cook filet mignon quickly. This can be done a variety of ways, including broiling and grilling.
It should never be cooked beyond medium rare, because the more done it is, the less tender and more dry it becomes and the more flavor it will lose. You should always use a dry method of cooking, even when it will be a quick method. Methods of cooking that are dry are such types as roasting, pan frying, grilling, broiling, etc. Since this cut of meat is more dry than others, you will not want to cut the meat to check to see if it is done. Instead, you should touch it. The touch-method of checking is not as hard as it may sound:
1. If the meat feels hard or firm, it is too done.
2. When the filet mignon is soft when you touch it and your finger leaves an imprint, it is rare.
3. If it is still soft, but leaves no imprint, and is slightly resilient, then it is medium rare (best for this particular type of meat).
The reason filet mignon is often wrapped in bacon (this wrapping is called barding) is because this particular cut of meat has no layer of fat around it. The bacon not only adds extra flavor to the filet mignon, it also gives it the fat necessary to keep the meat from drying out. This is a concern since the strips are so small in filet mignon and they have less fat than most cuts of beef.
What to serve with Filet Mignon
Since the flavor of filet mignon tends to be quite mild, many people prefer to serve it with sauces, either smothering the beef or as a dip. There are many different choices for the best sauce for filet mignon and most depend solely on the person's particular flavor preference. Some consumers prefer to have a certain type of steak sauce for dipping and some may prefer a marinade to add flavor during cooking. Either of these can turn out well.
Wines & Filet Mignon
There are many different types of wines that are good to serve with filet mignon, and determining which one will go best with it depends largely on the flavor of the sauce. This is especially true if the sauce is rather strong, or has a flavor that is stronger than the filet mignon itself. The best wines to match with filet mignon are dry, red wines such as Merlot. If your preference is a sweet wine, you may want to consider trying a White Zinfandel (if this is your choice, though, you will not want to use very much pepper on the filet mignon). If you are a white wine drinker, the best match for filet mignon will be a rich Chardonnay.
Tips for cooking Filet Mignon
-When selecting tenderloin or slices, choose the lighter color over dark red. This indicates more marbling which makes it more tender. This cut is so tender that it should never be cooked beyond a medium-rare stage. The longer you cook it, the less tender and more dry it becomes.
-Use a dry, high heat method such as broiling, roasting, pan-frying or grilling for this tender cut.
-Whole tenderloin is wonderful to stuff or bake en croute (in savory pastry).
-Cutting into the meat to check doneness lets precious juice escape. Use 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 minute it begins to feel firm, it is overdone.
-Since the tenderloin has no surrounding fat tissue, it is often wrapped in a layer of fat (called barding) such as suet or bacon to keep it from drying out. Likewise with filet slices. The barding also adds flavor.
-Cubed tenderloin is a popular choice for fondue hot-pots and shish-kebabs.
-To ensure even cooking when roasting the whole tenderloin, the small end should be tucked up and tied or trimmed for other use.
Daniel Urmann is a contributor and author for the website Big Sky Filet Mignon.