Modernist pork tenderloin Wellington for Xmas dinner

For Christmas dinner, I decided to do a modernist pork tenderloin Wellington. Two things make it “modernist”

  • Meat glue to form the tenderloin into the desired shape
  • Sous vide precook so the pork won’t be too rare inside the pastry

We bought a 1.5 lb pork tenderloin. Like all tenderloins, this comes in an inconvenient shape for a cylindrical Wellington. My friend John Richardson had sent me some transglutaminase last year to play with. I’d been storing it in the freezer and I thought it might be fun to play with it for Xmas.

IMG_1534Based on this website, I used 1g of Transglutaminase (Activa RM) to make a slurry with 6 ml of water (I was aiming for 4 ml by weight, but overshot). I cut the tenderloin and painted the surface to be glued with the slurry and then wrapped the whole thing in saran wrap, tightened to make a cylinder, and put it back in the fridge at 1PM. I wasn’t actually sure the enzyme was still active, since I had stored it at room temp for a while before thinking to put it in the freezer.

Ideally I would have done this the night before, but we only decided to shop last night and I started reading recipes this morning. This lack of planning is not recommended, but it’s my normal mode of operation.

IMG_15354PM, put the whole wrapped thing in a bag and into a 138F bath. I left the wrappings on to not disturb the joint as the meat cooked. This trapped some air, so I used a spatula to hold it all underwater.

While the meat was in the sous vide, started the mushroom duxelle. I pulsed some mushrooms in the food processor and then cooked them in butter and olive oil with some dried thyme. I added about 100 ml of Chardonnay from the little six-pack bottles we keep around for cooking and then reduced until the liquid was pretty much gone.

IMG_1537 IMG_1538Here’s what it looked like before and after searing after coming out of the sous vide. When I took it out of the bag, the two pieces held together, indicating that the transglutaminase had done its job (but see below). I seared in a hot saute pan with oil and butter using tongs to rotate the meat and get all sides browned. Each face got about 30 seconds of browning.

IMG_1539I laid out some prosciutto on more saran wrap and spread the mushrooms on it. At this point I realized I probably should have started with more than one small package of mushrooms. I spread Dijon mustard on the meat, laid it on  and used the plastic wrap to wrap the loin tightly in the prosciutto and duxelle layers.

IMG_1540Laid this on the puff pastry. I used an old package that we had in the freezer. Best used by … July 2013!


Into a 400F oven at ~7PM CST. Took it out after 20 minutes

Here’s what it looked like after slicing. It was delicious. The approach definitely works with pork. Of course, there are improvements that could be made.

The doneness of the pork was what I wanted, but the two pieces had separated. I suspect that the meat glue bonding worked, but was not uniform enough. Twisting the saran wrap didn’t press the two pieces together tightly enough, especially since I didn’t cut them to make the surfaces really flat first (didn’t want to waste any meat).

I’m thinking that next time I try something like this I should tie the meat with string while the bonding is going on. That’s what is recommended here, if you don’t have a vacuum sealer (I don’t).

Another problem was that while the top puff pastry was crisp, the bottom crust was soggy. This wasn’t surprising, as there was a fair amount of fat that rendered out and leaked onto the pan (note to self: a rimmed pan is probably a better idea instead of the flat one I used). This probably came from the prosciutto. The classic recipe suggests using a crepe.  Kenji suggests using phyllo as a moisture barrier. NIgella Lawson’s team suggests blind baking a puff pastry foundation to be placed underneath the meat. They also comment about making sure the mushrooms are dry enough. That was probably a factor in mine, but the prosciutto would probably still render even if the mushrooms were drier. Others suggest bread. The absorbent carb layers are disliked by the Guardian’s Felicity Cloak.

Not only are the cooled pancakes more difficult to roll than I’d anticipated, causing my sous chef Richard to pause and watch in horrified fascination before I shoo him out of the kitchen, but the finished result is decidedly stodgy. “I just had a chunk of pancake,” my flatmate, on her third sample of wellington of the evening, declares, “and now I feel a bit sick.” They’re not crisp like the pastry (which seems just as moist on the bottom as any of the other recipes), or meaty like the beef – in fact, they’re just an extra layer of carb-laden work. Save that room for more meat.

I’m wondering if it would help to cook the whole thing on a rack, instead of just sitting on parchment.

There are also a bunch of deconstructed beef wellington recipes, which are essentially meat with a puff pastry square or mushroom tart on the side. These solve the crisp pastry problem, but in my view they miss the whole showpiece nature of a Wellington.