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How to Cook Filet Mignon in a Cast Iron Skillet

on January 24, 2016
Americans love their meat. According to the USDA, we eat over 200 pounds of meat per person per year, with more than 50 pounds of that in beef. One of the most popular beef products is steak because it tastes great and is very versatile. But not all steaks are created equal. Cheaper cuts of meat come from muscles that get a lot of movement, such as the shoulder. These steaks, such as flank or skirt steaks, usually require a slower cooking method in order to be tender. The best cuts of meat come from muscles that don't get used as much, such as the loin along the back. The most tender cut, and one of the best, is the tenderloin - also known as filet mignon.   Filet mignon comes from the Psoas major, a pair of short muscles along both sides of the spine. This is a very small cut which makes it more expensive, but arguably the best there is. It is naturally lower in fat than other cuts. Filet mignon means "dainty filet" in French and the term was first used in 1906. It is an extremely popular cut and is the steak of choice for romantic dinners, especially on Valentine's Day. You can usually find it in 4-, 6-, or 8-ounce portions starting around $25.    

Nutritional Value of Steak

  A lot of people have been scared off from red meat by the saturated fat content, but the American Heart Association actually recommends ordering filet mignon at a restaurant because it is a lean cut so it is naturally lower in fat than other cuts. It is also low in calories, a good source of needed protein for growth and repair of muscles and contains zinc, which helps strengthen the immune system and prevent hardening of the arteries.   The nutritional profile of your steak can vary based on the cow's diet. The healthiest meat comes from grass-fed cows. These cows only eat grass and similar feed for their entire lives. This type of steak is going to have more omega-3 fatty acids which are known for their health benefits and are leaner and more flavorful. Organic is also a good choice because they are raised without antibiotics and growth hormones. Most grass-fed beef is also going to be organic.  

How to Prepare Filet Mignon

  Don't be intimidated to try cooking this cut at home. It is usually cooked in one of three ways: pan seared, grilled, or wrapped in bacon, which helps add flavor and keep in the moisture. Cooking it in a cast iron skillet is easy and requires very few ingredients.   Let's discuss the importance of your equipment before we get to the ingredients.   First, a cast iron skillet is perfect because it heats evenly, stays hot, and can go from the stove top to the oven. Consider buying a skillet that has grill marks if you plan on cooking steak in it often. This does not change the flavor of the filet, but it does make it more attractive.   An instant-read meat thermometer is a must. The biggest mistake most people make when cooking any type of steak is overcooking. This results in dry, tough meat that doesn't have the same flavor and aroma. If you will be using the oven to finish your steak, an oven thermometer is very useful. According to a test by Cook's Illustrated, two ovens set at the same temperature can vary by more than 90 degrees! You can't trust your oven's settings, so get an oven thermometer for an accurate reading.   Tongs are the tool of choice for turning steak. This lets you maneuver the steak easily, especially if you opt for the cast iron skillet with grill marks. The tongs also help to keep you from getting burned and really help when you are cooking the lateral sides of the steak.   Finally, paper towels are useful for patting your steak dry.   Assemble the following:
  • Cast iron skillet
  • Instant-read thermometer
  • Oven thermometer (for thicker cuts)
  • Tongs
  • Paper towels
  Next, get your ingredients together:
  • 8 oz filet mignon
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • 1 Tbsp coconut oil or ghee
Now you're ready to cook!    

Step One: Warm It Up

  To help it cook evenly and have the best flavor, it is important to bring the steak up to room temperature before cooking. Take it out of the refrigerator a minimum of 40 minutes before you plan to cook it to allow it to warm up. Larger cuts of steak could take longer, up to two hours.   If you forget to take it out of the refrigerator before cooking, you can speed up the process using the microwave. Place the filet on a plate and microwave on the lowest setting for 3-5 seconds, then flip and repeat. It is important that you do not bring the steak past warm because then the cooking process will begin.  

Step Two: Heat Your Skillet

  Cast iron takes a little while to warm up, but once it gets hot it tends to stay hot. Take the time to season your skillet by adding the coconut oil or ghee and heating it up until it starts to smoke. Since you are taking the oil to such a high temperature you need an oil that can handle the heat, which is why coconut oil or ghee are the best. Then, just set the pan aside and quickly wipe it using paper towels. This will help prevent the filet from burning and sticking and is an important step. Place your skillet back on the stove on high and allow it to come back up to the right temperature. When a little smoke is coming off the pan, you know it's hot enough.   You can also preheat your skillet in the oven if you prefer. This ensures the skillet is heated evenly but be sure to remember the pan is hot when you take it out of the oven. Use oven mitts or a handle holder made for cast iron skillets.    

Step Three: Dry and Season Your Filet

  Use your paper towels to pat your steak dry. Be gentle and remove all the moisture from the outside of the surface. Then use 2-3 pinches of salt per side to season, but don't add the pepper yet. It is far more likely to burn and leave you with a charred taste, so wait until after the searing to add fresh pepper.  

Step Four: Sear Your Steak

  When you see gentle smoke coming from the pan, you know it is hot enough. Count to 20 and place your steak in the skillet. It should make a nice sizzling sound. A lot of people struggle with the question: How long should it be cooked? A general rule is to cook a filet 3 minutes per side if you want a medium-rare steak. Use tongs to flip the steak and also cook the lateral sides for 2 minutes each. Hold the steak with the tongs to cook the edges. Total cooking time is about 10 minutes.   To test the degree of doneness use an instant-read thermometer. You can tell by the temperature if your steak is rare, well, or somewhere in between. Look for these degrees of doneness:
  • Rare: 125 degrees F, 52 degrees C
  • Medium Rare: 130 degrees F, 57 degrees C
  • Medium: 145 degrees F, 63 degrees C
  • Medium Well: 150 degrees F, 66 degrees C
  • Well Done: 160 degrees F, 71 degrees C
  Your degree of doneness will depend upon how you like your steak. A rare steak has a cook red center, a medium rare steak has a warm red center, a medium steak has a warm pink center, a medium well steak has a slightly pink center, and if you want little or no pink, opt for a well done steak. Cooking to these temperatures is a better indicator of doneness than cutting into the steak to check. Make sure you are putting your thermometer into the thickest part of the steak and aren't touching the pan to get the most accurate reading.   If your steak is very thick or you would like a higher degree of doneness, you can sear your steak for one minute per side and then finish it in the oven. You should still use your instant-read thermometer to check for the desired degree of doneness. This gives it the nice browning on the outside but a higher degree of doneness that some people prefer.    

Step Five: Let It Rest

  When you remove the steak from the pan, place it on a cutting board or plate. This is the appropriate time to add your freshly ground pepper. Let the steak rest for 3-4 minutes before cutting to stabilize the steak's juices and keep them from running out onto the serving dish when it is cut into. After the rest, it is ready to serve.  

How to Pick the Best Cut of Filet

  When looking for the perfect filet, look for one with marbling in the center. More marbling, or streaks of fat, will add flavor and juice to the cooked steak. Portions are usually 1 to 2 inches thick, but if you like yours well-done, you can ask a butcher to butterfly it for you.   Since filet is such a lean cut, it has the potential to toughen up if you don't cook it properly. One way to help this is to look for a dry aged steak. Meat is typically aged for 14, 21, or 28 days. This process breaks down the protein molecules in the meat, making it more tender and having a more concentrated flavor. Dry aged steaks do tend to cost a little more but there is a noticeable flavor difference. A grass-fed, dry aged filet mignon is a true culinary delight.   When deciding how much filet to purchase plan for around 7 ounces of meat per person. This is a good size for serving as it will fill everyone up without being stuffed or feeling guilty for leaving uneaten steak on their plate. When you pair it with the right sides it makes for a superb meal without breaking the bank with a larger portion.    

How to Serve Filet Mignon

  Filet mignon is often served with a sauce, such as a red wine sauce. Another great way to add flavor is to enhance the searing process. Add 1-2 Tbsp of butter, 2 cloves of crushed garlic, and 2-3 sprigs of fresh rosemary about 2 minutes before you finish searing the filet. Flip so both sides are covered in the butter mixture. This will impart flavor and aroma to the finished filet.   A popular side for filet mignon is a potato dish. Baked potatoes and steak fries are classics, but feel free to venture away from potatoes. Other good options include sauteed mushrooms and onions, roasted carrots, sweet potatoes, roasted corn, green beans, broccoli, or a spinach dish. A salad is also a classic accompaniment, either a house or a caesar salad served before the main dish or on the side.   When searching for a beverage for your filet mignon, look for a wine that is not fruity or very ripe as these tend to overwhelm the flavors of the meat. A good rule to remember is that the color of wine should usually match the color of your meat, so go with a red wine for your filet. You want to choose one lower in tannins for filet mignon because it is a leaner cut and you do not want to overpower the taste of your steak. A Rioja Reserva or Gran Reserva work very well to complement the buttery flavor of filet mignon. Another excellent choice recommended by Omaha Steaks is a Cabernet Sauvignon.  

Conclusion

  Now you should know everything you need to cook and serve filet mignon at home like a pro. Don't be afraid to try it. Keep in mind that filet mignon is best served warm, so if you aren't going to eat it right away you will want to keep it in the oven on the lowest possible setting. Just be sure not to leave it too long or it could dry or overcook your steak. With such a beautiful piece of meat that would be a shame. Use this information to pick your meat, choose your tools, and impress your friends. If you don't want to do spend all this time on cooking your own meat, you can always come over to Atlas Steakhouse where you will try the best steak in Brooklyn!
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