What Is Filet Mignon?

Raw filet mignon
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Filet mignon is an expensive and tender cut of beef. It is considered the "King of Steaks" because of its melt-in-your-mouth texture. A prime filet mignon can literally be cut with a fork. This beef cut can be quite expensive when dining out, but much more reasonable to make at home, especially if you purchase a whole tenderloin.

Origins of Filet Mignon

Filet mignon is French, of course, with filet meaning "thick slice" and mignon meaning "dainty." It first appears in American print in 1899.

Filet mignon comes from the small end of the tenderloin (called the short loin) which is found on the back rib cage of the animal. This area of the animal is not weight-bearing, thus the connective tissue is not toughened by exercise. The result is extremely tender meat.

The actual muscle used is the psoas major. It sits beneath the ribs, next to the backbone, and gets thicker from its pointy end at the ribs to the rear of the animal. As in humans, it is a hip flexor muscle. It has its origins on the lumbar vertebrae and the last rib and inserts on the trochanter of the femur, the largest leg bone. There are two tenderloins for each animal.

The center cut of the tenderloin is used for steaks including the filet mignon, Chateaubriand steak, and beef Wellington. Chateaubriand is cut from the thicker end of the tenderloin. Porterhouse and T-bone steaks include the filet mignon as the medallion of meat on one side of the bone.

Cutting the Filet Mignon From the Tenderloin

The tenderloin term applies to the entire strip of tenderloin meat, whereas slices of the tenderloin are termed filet mignon. Filet mignon slices found in the market are generally 1 to 2 inches thick and 2 to 3 inches in diameter, but true mignons are no more than 1 inch in diameter and are taken from the tapered end.

These steaks are naturally rounded as they come from the tube-shaped end of the muscle.

The silver-skin is usually removed so as not to give the steak a tougher area to chew. The fat is usually well-trimmed, although if left intact it produces more flavor.

Selecting Filet Mignon

Tenderloin doesn't appear to have as much of the fat marbling which is the sign of more flavor in other cuts. Look for choice and prime grades. You will want steaks of the same shape and thickness for consistency of cooking, especially when cooking them at the same time. The steak should be firm to the touch and there shouldn't be much red liquid in the packaging.

Cooking Filet Mignon

Although filet mignon is very tender, the beef flavor is proportionately lessened. As such, it is often served with an accompanying sauce incorporating the pan juices. It may also be marinated, smoked, wrapped in bacon, or seasoned with a rub.

Filet mignon can be cooked in a variety of ways, including grilling, broiling, roasting, and pan frying. Usually, high heat is first applied to sear the meat on both sides. Then it is transferred to lower heat to finish the steak to the desired doneness.

Filet Mignon Cooking Tips

• When selecting tenderloin or filet mignon slices, choose the lighter colored ones over dark red.

This indicates more marbling which makes it more tender.
• This cut is so tender that it should never be cooked beyond a medium-rare stage. The longer you cook it, the less tender and drier it becomes.
• Use a dry, high heat method such as broiling, roasting, pan-frying or grilling for this tender cut.
• Whole tenderloin is wonderful to stuff or bake en croute (in savory pastry).
• Cutting into the meat to check doneness lets precious juice escape. Use the touch method. Press the meat. If it feels soft and mushy and leaves an imprint, it is rare. If it is soft but slightly resilient, it is medium-rare. The minute it begins to feel firm, it is overdone.
• Since the beef tenderloin has no surrounding fat tissue, it is often wrapped in a layer of fat (called barding) such as suet or bacon to keep it from drying out.

Likewise with filet slices. The barding also adds flavor.
• Cubed tenderloin is a popular choice for fondue hot-pots and shish-kebabs.
• To ensure even cooking when roasting the whole tenderloin, the small end should be tucked up and tied or trimmed for other use.