WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS: When it comes to special-occasion entrées, it’s hard to beat beef tenderloin. It’s easy to make—just oven-roast it until it’s done—and, as the absolute most tender cut of beef, it’s luxurious to eat. But that tenderness comes at a cost (beyond the hefty price tag): Tenderloin is not known for its beefy flavor. To give it a boost, we wanted to give our tenderloin a crunchy peppercorn crust that would stick to the roast without being punishingly spicy.
Glue On the Peppercorns: To make sure we ended up with a full pepper crust and not a scant scattering of pepper, we rubbed the roast with a mixture of coarse kosher salt and baking soda, which roughed up the surface and made it slightly tacky. We then pressed the cracked peppercorns onto the sticky surface. We also sprayed the twine with vegetable oil, so that it wouldn’t stick to the roast when we removed it and take our peppercorn crust with it.
Turn Down the Heat: We took two approaches to ensure our pepper crust wasn’t overly spicy. First, we added sugar to the salt and baking soda rub. Sucrose, which is found in sugar, has been proven to temper the spiciness of black pepper. Second, we simmered the cracked peppercorns in oil, which mellowed out some of the heat compounds in the pepper.
Amp Up the Peppery Character: Unfortunately, less heat came at a cost. Simmering the peppercorns in oil had drawn out not only their spiciness but also the nuanced piney and floral flavors that contributed much to making this dish so good. We learned that the compounds found in pepper are also found in high concentrations in orange zest and nutmeg. Adding both of these elements to the simmered peppercorns amped up the pepper flavor for a balanced finish.
Finish with a Sauce: To give an extra boost of flavor, we created a sauce that mirrored and enhanced the flavors we had used to prepare the beef.
Pepper-Crusted Beef Tenderloin Roast
Serves 10 to 12
Whole beef tenderloin is also known as whole filet. Not all pepper mills produce a coarse enough grind for this recipe; our top-rated pepper mill is the Cole & Mason Derwent Gourmet Precision Pepper Mill. Serve with Red Wine–Orange Sauce (recipe follows), if desired.
1½ tablespoons kosher salt
1½ teaspoons sugar
¼ teaspoon baking soda
9 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup coarsely cracked black peppercorns
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 (6-pound) whole beef tenderloin, trimmed, tail end tucked and tied at 2-inch intervals
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Combine salt, sugar, and baking soda in bowl; set aside. Heat 6 tablespoons oil and peppercorns in small saucepan over low heat until faint bubbles appear. Continue to cook at bare simmer, swirling pan occasionally, until pepper is fragrant, 7 to 10 minutes. Using fine-mesh strainer, drain cooking oil from peppercorns. Discard cooking oil and mix peppercorns with remaining 3 tablespoons oil, orange zest, and nutmeg.
2. Set tenderloin on sheet of plastic wrap. Sprinkle salt mixture evenly over surface of tenderloin and rub into tenderloin until surface is tacky. Tuck tail end of tenderloin under about 6 inches to create more even shape. Rub top and side of tenderloin with peppercorn mixture, pressing to make sure peppercorns adhere. Transfer prepared tenderloin to wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet, keeping tail end tucked under.
3. Roast until thickest part of meat registers about 120 degrees (for rare) or about 125 degrees (for medium-rare) (thinner parts of tenderloin will be slightly more done), 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes. Transfer to carving board and let rest for 30 minutes.
4. Remove twine and slice meat into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Serve.
Red Wine–Orange Sauce
Makes 1 cup
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 4 tablespoons cut into 4 pieces and chilled
2 shallots, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons sugar
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups beef broth
1 cup red wine
1⁄4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 sprig fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
1. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add shallots, tomato paste, and sugar; cook, stirring frequently, until deep brown, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add broth, wine, orange juice, vinegar, Worcestershire, and thyme sprig, scraping up any browned bits. Bring to simmer and cook until reduced to 1 cup, 35 to 40 minutes.
2. Strain sauce through fine-mesh strainer and return to saucepan. Return saucepan to medium heat and whisk in remaining 4 tablespoons butter, 1 piece at a time. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
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