Published March 1, 2009.
The classic approach to roasting this prime cut sacrifices juiciness for crust. Why settle for anything less than perfection?
The moist, delicate texture of tenderloin can easily be compromised by the oven’s harsh heat. When we tried a handful of recipes and techniques, the tenderloins emerged from the oven with one of two problems: Some cooked evenly but lacked the dark, caramelized crust that gives the meat a deep roasted flavor. Others had optimal flavor and an appealing brown crust, but were marred by a thick, gray band of overdone meat near the edge. And considering the steep price tag of this cut, neither of these was an option.
We wanted a technique that produced perfectly cooked and deeply flavored meat—without too much fuss.
First, the style of tenderloin roast was critical. Whole tenderloin is too time-consuming to trim and peel, and its tapered shape is a challenge to cook evenly. We settled on the smaller, center-cut roast, also known as the Châteaubriand. While it is expensive, it comes already trimmed (so there’s no waste), and its cylindrical shape ensures both ends cook to the same degree of doneness.
To achieve a good crust on the meat, we settled on pan-searing (after disappointing results in oven-searing tests). We browned several roasts on all sides before transferring them to the oven and experimented with different oven temperatures. Each of these roasts had an appealing crust, but each also had ring of overdone meat below that crust. We decided to try reversing the cooking order, roasting first, then searing, a technique we’ve used in other meat recipes. The switch worked wonders here. Because the roast started out warm and dry, it could reach the necessary temperature (310 degrees), for browning to occur a lot faster than when it was raw, cold, and wet. Less searing time also minimized the overcooked layer of gray. To eliminate it, we roasted the meat at a lower temperature. As it turned out, a lower temperature yielded consistent ruby coloring from edge to edge.
But we wanted to coax more flavor from the mild-mannered tenderloin. First we sprinkled all of the sides of the meat with salt, covered it with plastic wrap, and let it sit at room temperature. After sitting for an hour, the roast cooked up with significantly more flavor. Why? The salt first draws juices out of the meat, then the reverse happens and the salt and moisture flow back in, drawing flavor deep into the meat. We got even better results when, after salting, we rubbed the meat with a bit of softened butter before cooking, which added surprising richness.list of recipes