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Beef Tenderloin at a Glance
Primal: beef tenderoin is part of the Loin Primal Cut
Meat Buyers Guide variations: 189, 189A, 189B, 190, 190A, 191, 191A, 191B, 192, 192A
Weight Ranges: 1 lb - 7-up, see the Fresh Beef IMPS page for specifics
Best Cooking Methods: roasting, grilling, broiling
Cut Variations: roasts, steaks
Beef tenderloin, aka Fillet Mignon, is without a doubt the most tender cut of meat a cow has to offer. And in high-end restaurants it is one of the most esteemed cuts ordered by diners. It represents extravagance and a willingness to splurge or celebrate. Personally however, although I enjoy beef tenderloin, I’d rather have a New York Strip because it has much more flavor. Mario Batali and Anthony Bourdain have compared the fillet mignon to Paris Hilton…everyone wants it, but no one quite knows why!
Cuts of Beef Series: Beef Tenderloin
There are two tenderloins per animal. It is an oblong shaped muscle located beneath the ribs next to the backbone. The narrow, pointed end of the tenderloin “faces” the front of the animal and the muscle gets larger as it moves toward the rear. It spans two primal cuts: starting in the short loin and ending in the sirloin. This muscle sees very little action and gets minimal exercise, which is the reason it is so tender. Running down the side of the tenderloin is the “chain” (or “bavette” in French), which is trimmed off and utilized for other preparations. It is similar to skirt or flank steak.
The tenderloin is commonly used for a number of specific applications. If left whole, the entire tenderloin is referred to as the “fillet”. The classic “Chateaubriand” is a French standard which is cut from the thick end of the fillet and usually serves two people. The French term “mignon” means small, and as such a true filet mignon is a small steak cut from the narrow end of the tenderloin. However, most American butchers and chefs refer to any steak cut from the tenderloin as a filet mignon. Lastly, “carpaccio” is thinly sliced tenderloin served raw.
While lacking in robust flavors, this cut is very versatile: it can be roasted whole, steaks can be sautéed, broiled, or grilled, all with excellent results. Marinades, rubs, smoking, and of course bacon are often successfully used to enhance the tenderloin's weak flavor.
Beef Tenderloin NAMP Variations
There are multiple variations of the tenderloin available for purchase, each basically having more of the trim, fat & silver-skin removed.
Beef Loin, Tenderloin, Full NAMP 190A & 1190A Steaks
This is what most people think of when you mention tenderloin: the main muscle (psoas major) is cut into 1” to 2” thick steaks with the excess fat and silver skin removed. Most fine dining restaurants will serve fillet mignon steaks trimmed this way.
Photographs: NAMP Meat Buyer's Guide
Beef Loin, Tenderloin Steak, Side Muscle off, Defatted NAMP 190 & 1190 Steaks
This variation leaves the silver skin on. While it may be cheaper to purchase, leaving the silver skin on would ruin the beautiful texture which make tenderloin famous. The option is available if you'd like, but I strongly recommend removing the silver if you purchase it this way.
Beef Loin, Tenderloin Full NAMP 189 & 1189 Steaks
This is the whole tenderloin, untrimmed. It consists of the psoas major muscle, the iliacus muscle, and if present, the sartorius muscle. All of the ragged edges should be trimmed off, and no cuts deeper than half an inch in the muscles are allowed. Remember, more fat = more flavor, and juicier meat...but few restaurants serve a filet mignon with this much fat left on (perhaps an injustice!). The 189 has a lot of fat attached, which is awesome if you want the added richness and flavor the fat will add.
Beef Loin, Tenderloin Steak, Side Muscle on, Defatted NAMP 189A & 1189A Steaks
This is still the full tenderloin, but the majority of the surface fat has been removed. This version leaves both the silver skin and some of the fat layer intact.
Beef Loin, Tenderloin, Butt NAMP 191
The “butt” is the thicker end of the tenderloin and this cut is roughly the thicker half of the entire tenderloin. The psoas major muscle, the iliacus muscle, and if it is present, the sartorius muscle should all be exposed. The flap, or obliquus abdominis internus, should be trimmed level with the surface fat.
Beef Loin, Tenderloin, Butt, Defatted NAMP 191A
This is identical to the cut above, but all the surface fat has been removed.
Beef Loin, Tenderloin, Butt, Skinned NAMP 191B
And again, identical to the cut above, but this time with the silver skin removed as well.
Beef Loin, Tenderloin, Short NAMP 192
This is what’s left from a tenderloin when the “Butt” end is cut off. It is the narrow end of the halved tenderloin, also called the “short tenderloin”.
What to look for when buying
While difficult to find on a tenderloin, look for cuts which have the most marbling, preferably choice or prime grades. Remember, more fat equals more flavor and tenderness after cooking. If you are purchasing steaks then be sure that they have a uniform shape and thickness so as to ensure even cooking. The meat should be a bright cherry-red color with flecks or strands of fat scattered throughout the flesh. The muscle should be firm to the touch and the cryovac should have minimal blood loss.
How To Cut Beef Tenderloin Steaks
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