Food & Culture

Anatomy of a dish: beef Wellington

Take roast beef to the next level with this golden British classic.

We go through every component of the classic beef Wellington, from pastry to mushrooms and the inclusion (or not) of crepe.

Tender beef swaddled in layers of buttery pastry and pâté-enriched mushrooms, beef Wellington honours either the gumboot (for the shape, some argue), or the man that gave the boot its name, the first Duke of Wellington. It's about as British as it gets - at least as long as you don't compare it too closely to boeuf en croûte.

In any case, it's the stuff that dinner-party dreams are made of. Or were in the seventies at any rate. But beef Wellington is far too tasty and creates too much impact at the table to consign it to the history books. Break out the silver candlesticks, put on your puffiest toque and get into it. Here's everything you need to know about what constitutes this British classic.

1. Pastry

As with many savoury pastry dishes, the outer layer was once purely utilitarian – an inedible mixture of flour, suet and water, that, according to he Oxford Companion to Food, was simply a protective casing. The rather tastier buttery puff pastry is now typically used to wrap the beef, but some variants deploy brioche dough.

2. Crêpe

Though it doesn't appear in every Wellington, a layer of crêpe helps insulate the flaky pastry from the juices of the meat and mushrooms. Some cooks like to gild the lily further, substituting or adding a layer of ham.

3. Pâté

Chicken liver pâté, mixed through the duxelles, brings the richness and adds another layer of flavour.

4. Beef

Fillet is the standby here; brown it well all over in a pan to add flavour, then, once it's cooled, smear it with a layer of Dijon mustard. Aim for it to come out of the oven medium-rare. A probe thermometer takes away the guesswork.

5. Mushrooms

Mushrooms finely chopped and sautéed with shallots, garlic and thyme for a duxelles and flavoured with Madeira, Sherry or a dry white, are a must. If you're using field mushrooms, consider adding some dried porcini or morels to boost the flavour. Cook the moisture out well to keep the pastry from getting soggy.

Where to find one

The menu at Adelaide's Mayflower Restaurant is rich in nostalgia. The Wellington makes an appearance with a twist: puff pastry and prosciutto wrap a lamb loin smothered with duxelles. Craving the classic? Wednesday's lunch-special Wellington is done with beef.

Mayflower Restaurant & Bar, Mayfair Hotel. 45 King William St, Adelaide, (08) 8210 8899, mayfairhotel.com.au