Linda explores food trends, celebrity chefs, and great places to eat.
What Makes a Chef Famous?
There are good chefs, great chefs, and chefs who are known not only by how they cook but are acknowledged, remembered, and immortalized for a "signature dish," a meal synonymous with its master chef.
Today we'll discuss Chef Gordon Ramsay and how he creates his famous Beef Wellington.
A Brief Biography of Gordon Ramsay
Gordon Ramsay is an internationally known chef with a net worth of approximately $220 million dollars. He owns 48 restaurants throughout the world and has an equally successful career as a television personality and cookbook author. However, the glamorous lifestyle he enjoys today with wealth, fame, and loving family is far removed from the humble beginnings of his youth.
Gordon was born in Scotland, the second of four children. From the age of five he was raised in Stratford-upon-Avon. Gordon’s father held (and lost) many jobs due to his alcoholism and as a result, the family relocated many times. According to Gordon his father was abusive, neglectful, and a womanizer.
Gordon once dreamt of being a famous football star; at the age of 15 he joined a pro club, the Glasow Rangers. But then a bad knee injury changed the trajectory of his life plans, catapulting him from the soccer pitch to pot washer at an Indian restaurant. Now 16 years of age he had a steady (though meager income) which allowed him to escape his troubled home life. But the job had another, even greater impact on Gordon. His work at the Indian dining establishment piqued his interest in restaurant management and so he enrolled in the North Oxfordshire Technical College. A series of chef positions followed, interrupted by a study of French cuisine and mentoring by several Michelin-starred chefs. And the rest . . . is history.
And the Story of Beef Wellington
The origin of Beef Wellington is a happier story than the Ramsay saga (unless you happen to be Napoleon Bonaparte and/or the French army).
The infamous Battle of Waterloo brought together numerous European countries and states against the army of Napoleon. Gebhard von Blucher led the Prussian forces; the British Army and its allies were under the command of the Duke of Wellington, Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley. As we all know, on that infamous Sunday in June 1815, Napoleon was soundly defeated. As a sign of homage, Blucher was made an honorary citizen of Berlin, and after his death statues, ships, and even a locomotive were named after him. Wellesley ultimately rose to the position of Prime Minister, had a boot named after him, and (some would want us to believe) was rewarded with a luxurious dish of beef wrapped in pastry.
Was Beef Wellington really created for the Duke of Wellington? Consider the list of ingredients—an expensive cut of prime beef, mushrooms, wine, and butter-rich puff pastry. Those sound quite “French” to me. And could the same people famous for kidney pie, head cheese, and haggis really create something so delicious? I’m going to posit that the dish is actually a case of cultural appropriation—French boeuf en croute renamed for the man who defeated Napoleon (adding insult to injury).
What Are the Components of the Ramsay Wellington?
These are the basic components of the Gordon Ramsay beef Wellington. Each is a defining contribution, crucial to the success of the dish. But the completed Wellington is truly greater than the sum of its parts.
Puff Pastry Sheets
A simple yeast dough and a slab of cold butter—those simple ingredients are the geneses of this indulgent, flaky pastry. The dough covers the butter as an envelope encases a love letter. Roll out, fold, chill, repeat. Each replay of this process creates whisper-thin layers of dough separated by butter. Those layers puff and separate with the heat of the oven, resulting in a golden pastry that shatters into a myriad of buttery flakes when sliced. Each If you ever eaten a croissant, you have experienced puff pastry. Don’t worry—you won’t have to make your own puff pastry. Even Chef Gordon purchases ready-made pastry.
Tenderloin is not a rich, flavorful cut of beef. This is not a prime steak marbled with fat. Mushrooms, ham, and mustard are the flavor bombs in a Wellington. The emphasis here is on tender (hence the name). The tenderloin is the one muscle of the steer that is not exercised. It’s small and unused but for that very reason, it also has a buttery, cut-with-a-fork tenderness.
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Next, the mushrooms. Yes, duxelles is mushrooms, and yes, duxelles is a French cooking term, created in the 17th century by Chef Lois Pierre La Varenne (kinda supports my theory that beef Wellington originated in France, doesn’t it?).
The standard method is to cook finely minced mushrooms in butter; most cooks add shallots and thyme for flavor, but the most important step is allowing the mix to simmer in a shallow pan until all the liquid has evaporated. Mushrooms might look dry but in truth, they are wet little monsters; depending on the variety, they can be as much as 92 percent water.
Ramsay doesn’t use butter in his duxelles (but he also has a chef-grade, well-seasoned saute pan). Use whatever type of mushroom is available; crimini impart umami flavor, but this is one case where more could be better. Mushrooms are not all the same and different varieties come with different flavors. If you can, use at least two varieties to make your duxelles rich and complex.
"Prosciutto di Parma is a simple product. It's nothing but pork, sea salt, air, and time." Giovanni Bianchi, 4th generation owner/operator of Pio Tosin, 116-year old purveyor of 500-day aged prosciutto in Langhirano, Italy.
Oh my, if only it were that simple. At the deli counter, you might find parma ham labeled as Prosciutto di Parma, and boy does that make things confusing. All parma ham is prosciutto, but not all prosciutto is parma ham. Allow me to explain.
Prosciutto is a generic term for the paper-thin ham slices, air-dried and cured for up to 12 months. It’s salty with a hint of sweetness, fatty, buttery, with a melt-in-the-mouth savory quality. Prosciutto Parma takes all of that salty-sweet-savory richness to the next level.
- The micro-climate of Parma provides the perfect balance of humidity and air temperature.
- The type of pig used (Large White, Landrace, and Duroc–either purebred or a breed that's registered in the Italian Herd Book) is regulated by the Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma.
- Each ham is trimmed by hand.
- And perhaps, most important—pigs destined to become prosciutto di Parma have a diet enhanced by the milky whey left over from Parmesan cheese production.
My American friends will not understand this one at all. This is not the Day-Glo yellow stuff that you swipe across a ballpark hotdog. Colman’s is a combination of brown and white mustard seeds that, quite frankly, is hotter than hell. The brand has the distinction of being one of the oldest in existence, originating in 1814 in Norfolk. There is no substitute or copycat recipe. In fact, it is still served in the Queen’s royal kitchen; by decree of Queen Victoria it is “The Queen’s Mustard.”
Let's Put Them Together
This is the authentic Gordon Ramsay beef Wellington recipe, from his professional website. The ingredient list is not lengthy, and the instructions are well-written and concise.
Plan ahead—Chef Ramsay suggests wrapping each fillet in plastic wrap and chilling overnight. After that, you will have about two hours of work from start to finish.
By the way, as a bonus, Chef also includes his recipe for a red wine reduction sauce.
Watch Chef Ramsay Make His Famous Beef Wellington
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© 2021 Linda Lum