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What is Beef Wellington?

By Cassie L. Damewood
Updated May 16, 2024
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Beef Wellington is an elegant beef dish whose origins date back to 1815. It is often served at sophisticated restaurants and in upscale dining rooms where, based on its size, it can only be ordered for two people. In establishments that prepare individual Beef Wellington portions, it can be ordered by just one person. Due to the intensity of the preparation steps, some eateries require diners to order Beef Wellington 24 hours ahead of time.

Famous for its elegant presentation, Beef Wellington starts with a piece of raw beef tenderloin that has been trimmed of all fat and connective tissue. It is then coated with pate, normally pate de foie gras, and duxelles, a mixture of finely minced mushrooms and onions mixed with herbs and spices, reduced to a paste in a mixture of brandy, sherry or cognac and beef stock or demiglace. The beef roast is then traditionally wrapped in a large sheet of puff pastry that is securely sealed on the bottom. Some Beef Wellington recipes recommend first wrapping the meat in an oversized crepe to prevent the puff pastry from becoming soggy. The package is typically placed seam-side down on a buttered baking sheet and baked at a high temperature until the center of the tenderloin is medium rare.

The stories of how Beef Wellington got its name vary considerably. The most prevalent tale of its origins claims the dish was named after Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, who reportedly had a penchant for beef, mushrooms, wine and pate. Other accounts state that the British chef who created the dish wanted to give it a blatantly English name to distinguish it from the similar French dish called filet de boeuf en croute since France and England were feuding during this period of history. Another tale of how the beef dish got its title is that the slab of meat, before it was wrapped in the puff pastry, resembled the shiny military boots that were synonymous with the attire of the Duke of Wellington.

Variations on Beef Wellington include preparing individual portions using filet mignon steaks instead of the whole beef tenderloin. In recent years, the term Wellington has been used to describe any food that is baked after being enclosed in a sheet of puff pastry. Wellington dishes that feature duck breast, chicken breast filet, sausage, sea bass and whole salmon filets are often served at fashionable high-end eating establishments.

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Discussion Comments
By Windchime — On Sep 30, 2011

As I'm not much of a cook I cheat and buy Beef Wellington from a local speciality store. It isn't any more expensive than me buying all the ingredients and making a mess of the dish!

Because I order food from them quite often I get some deals and special favors. Last month they even made me a vegetarian Wellington - filled with mushrooms, vegetables and goats cheese. The non meat eaters at dinner that night were much envied!

By Acracadabra — On Sep 30, 2011

I was first inspired to cook Beef Wellington for my family after I saw it on the show Hells's Kitchen. Ironically the contestants seemed to get it wrong most of the time, leaving an irate chef and rising tempers! But as I like a challenge this was exactly what made me try it.

Gordon Ramsay has a video online which walks you through it, so it really is something anyone can have a go at. I like that his recipe substitutes parma ham for the traditional Beef Wellington pate. It's much lighter and lower in calories this way.

By burcidi — On Sep 29, 2011

@burcinc-- I agree that the ingredients are basic and it's not hard to make Beef Wellington, but it does take some practice.

I made some small mistakes the first couple of times I tried to make it and it didn't quite come out the way it should. The first time I made it, I didn't wrap the meat in the puff pastry well. It turns out I have to wrap it very tightly, without leaving any space or air between them. But I did and the trapped air made huge bubbles in the pastry while it was cooking and finally exploded and made small holes.

The other step I've forgotten before is to brush on some egg and oil mixture on top of the dough before cooking it. Without this mixture, the pasty doesn't brown much and comes out pretty white and bland. I've learned to mix some egg whites and vegetable oil and brush it on the pastry. Egg whites are better than egg yolks for this because egg yolks make the pastry smell like eggs.

I make a good Beef Wellington now, but I do wish I had known about these tips earlier.

By burcinc — On Sep 28, 2011

I like to make Beef Wellington a little bit differently. The original recipe is very good, but thankfully, there is also room to change some things around if you want to.

I do like puff pastry, but I do find it a bit oily and not as satisfying as bread. So instead of using puff pastry, I make my own dough and roll out out flat as if I'm making flat bread. I put the beef brushed with mushroom sauce in the center and close it up just like with the puff pastry. Sometimes I put other things in it as well, like thin slices of turkey meat under the beef. I also used ground beef once instead of sirloin and placed chunks of boiled potatoes in it.

I've tried so many different things with it, but it has never disappointed me. It's nice to be working with some basic ingredients like meat and flour because you can add so many things to it if you want.

By SteamLouis — On Sep 28, 2011

There is no other beef dish that tops Beef Wellington in my opinion. It's just the best, both in terms of flavor and how it looks. This is a family favorite especially during holidays and special occasions. Sometimes I go home just to see the Beef Wellington sliced and placed on my plate!

My mom makes this in the shape of bread. So when it comes out of the oven, it looks like a loaf of bread or pastry. But when you slice it, you see the best meat in side. If it is cooked right, the meat will be dark brown around the sides and a pink red in the center. Amazing stuff! I like having it with a side of garlic potatoes and some steamed veggies.

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