The late George Harriman once drew Krazy Kat under a shower of falling leaves and remarking plaintively "It's Ottim!" Mouse, of course, was scouting around with a gun, drawing a bead on Kat. On New England autumn weekends I often think of Kat. For the woods are full of trigger-happy poachers; anyone picnicking in a leather jacket is apt to be shot at for a deer or something less.
The season has its risks and its drawbacks, to be sure. But it has huge satisfactions as well—resplendent foliage and fine, crisp air, pheasants in the brush and geese overhead, hunt meetings and field trials and football. Not the least of October's rewards are the gargantuan appetites engendered by outdoor enthusiasms. And the delight, in this robust season, of confronting at the table such a platter as is shown on the opposite page.
This pink-of-perfection is the ne plus ultra of roasts, a whole tenderloin or fillet of beef. One of the most expensive cuts of meat, it is often difficult to come by, as the loin of the animal must be specially butchered to remove the fillet in one piece. (The fillet is a long, tender muscle that runs lengthwise along the carcass beneath the saddle. In the usual manner of butchering, the choice cuts of steak—porterhouse, T-bone and sirloin—are cut across the loin where the fillet lies, so that each individual steak includes a small portion of the fillet.) When the butcher removes the entire fillet, it is usually for dividing into pieces to be served as filets mignons. A thick cut from the largest section of the fillet provides the sumptuous steak known in France as a chateaubriand. A tournedos is a smaller cut, rolled with fat and tied into a little circle.
Fillets from the two top U.S. grades of beef, Prime and Choice, are of course the finest and may be roasted with a simple barding, or blanketing of suet wrapped partially around the meat. This blanketing is removed after cooking. Fillets, if available, from the less expensive beef grades designated Good and Commercial (or Utility) can make good eating if they are painstakingly larded, by poking little pieces of suet beneath the surface of the fillet with a larding needle or the point of a knife or an ice pick. This larding, which makes for richness and tenderness, is eaten together with the meat. The French prepare fillet from lesser grades of beef most successfully in this manner.
Buying a fillet
When you order a whole fillet for roasting at the butcher shop, the butcher will weigh it with its thick layer of fat, which he will then pare off. Be sure that he also pares off the tough, thin membrane that covers the meat. Generally, a six-pound fillet, as weighed originally, gives only about three pounds of clear meat. The piece is much thinner at one end than the other. To make this into a reasonably symmetrical log shape, which insures even roasting, the fillet is cut in two, across the middle, and the pieces are then laid one on top of the other, "head to tail." If as many as 10 or 12 people are to be served, two entire fillets can be laid "head to tail" in the same manner.
To lubricate the meat as it cooks, the butcher should blanket the fillet with a thin layer of beaten-out suet taken from the flank of the carcass. This blanket, or barding, encloses the bottom and sides of the roast only—the top being left uncovered—and is tied in place with string at about one-inch intervals.
Cooking the fillet
Remove the fillet from the icebox, barded and tied as it is, half an hour before cooking. Preheat oven till very hot (about 500°). Place the meat in an uncovered roasting pan and sear for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low medium (300°). For a 3-pound fillet, cook at this temperature for approximately 35 minutes more. If you use a meat thermometer, remove meat from oven when thermometer reaches temperature indicated for "beef rare." Remove strings and barding of fat. Let the fillet rest for a few minutes before carving and serving.
Garnish for the roast
Cauliflower divided into flowerets, string beans, peas and small ends of carrots—all of them boiled, buttered and seasoned—form the garnish in the picture. But any cooked vegetables may be used—mushrooms, potatoes, asparagus tips, etc.—neatly arranged in small heaps or bouquets surrounding the roast. In Paris restaurants the dish garnished in this manner goes by the name of filet de boeuf √† la bouqueti√®re.
If you want sauce
It is not strictly necessary to prepare gravy or sauce to go with fillet of beef, since the meat provides its own juice. However, if a sauce is desired, the best is a hot, unthickened mixture of either meat glaze or concentrated consommé, plus a small quantity of black truffles, chopped fine, Madeira wine and seasoning to taste.