The filet mignon (French for "petite or dainty fillet") is the most prized cut of meat from a cow. Universally recognized for its tenderness, this small portion of meat is extracted from the tenderloin, which is a snake-like-shaped piece of meat sandwiched between the sirloin and top sirloin cuts. Each steer produces two tenderloins but they combine to only weigh maybe 4 to 6 pounds in total, hence its relative rarity and consequently higher cost. The filet mignon's extreme tenderness is derived from the fact that that particular part of the steer does not get any workout at all, remaining tender throughout the lifetime of the steer. Which is good news for the rest of us because after biting through a medium rare-cooked filet mignon, you can never go back to any other cuts of meat.
Walking through the meat section of my local grocery store last week, I came across a surprising find. Vacuum packed in a compact and neat package were two circular cut filet mignons (weighing about 5 oz. each), already wrapped tightly around them with bacon. Now, that is not the reason for the surprise. What got me all excited was the price. For $4.99, I was able to purchase two pieces of filet mignon wrapped in bacon! Just imagine this, a gourmet dinner entrée for two that will cost you around $10 or less (after adding in side dishes). An impressive and delicious treat for you and a significant other without breaking the bank.
For this dish, I chose to make a shiitake mushroom sauce and some crispy ridged potato chips to go along with the filet mignon. I started by rehydrating some dried shiitake mushroom in water. After that's done, no not discard the soaking water as we'll use it later to add more flavor to the sauce. Julienne the mushrooms as they are now nice and pliable. Now, lets sear the filet mignons on a deep skillet. Make sure the oil is nice and hot before browning the meat on both sides. Remove the filets from the skillet and finish them in a low oven set between 300 and 350 degrees F. No sense in rushing it and you wouldn't want to go over medium temperature on this one. Trust me, a well-done filet mignon is such a waste of a good piece of meat.
Lets now make the sauce starting from the skillet that was used to brown the meat. Sauté some finely chopped shallots and garlic, scraping the bottom of the skillet to mix in all the fine savory meat crust left behind from the earlier meat searing. Deglaze the skillet with a little bit of red wine and some of that mushroom soaking water from earlier. Add the julienned mushrooms and half a can of beef broth (can be easily obtained from the grocery store). Simmer the sauce until it reduces to half the liquid level that you started with or until it reaches a saucy consistency (sticks lightly to the spoon). Taste it and season with salt and pepper if desired.
As for the potato chips, I found a chance to use my new mandolin, so I went for the ridged cut. You can either use regular Russert baking potatoes or red bliss potatoes for this application. I chose the latter. Just wash them thoroughly (no need to peel) and go crazy on the mandolin. Make sure that the oil that you are using for deep frying the potato chips get to a desired temperature of 350 degrees F and above or the resulting chips will be soggy. Deep fry them until golden brown and when done, place them on paper towel-lined plates to drain the excess oil. Immediately after coming out of the frying oil, sprinkle salt and pepper on the chips to get the seasonings to stick to the surface.
And there you have it, a gourmet meal without the gourmet prices. Why pay more than $50 for a couple of filet mignon entrées at a restaurant when you can do it quite as easily from the comfort of your own home for a fifth of that price. And you get to impress that special someone in your life as well. Bon Appétit!