Spice Crusted Beef Tenderloin is the perfect way to jazz up a traditional holiday meal–or any formal dinner. And if you can afford beef tenderloin for an informal meal, more power to you! I updated the photos for the Spiced Crusted Beef Tenderloin in January 2017. Affiliate links have been used to link to items I am discussing in this post.
Despite the title above, I would just like to say that this would also make a rockin’ Valentine’s dinner. For what it’s worth. Or any meal where you can afford to be serving beef tenderloin as the centerpiece.
Original photo from December 2011
My evil plan began when my sister started begging me for mashed potatoes for Christmas dinner. I don’t hate them–in fact I like them with, for example, a pork chop with a chutney, but plain they don’t do much for me. And I already knew I was serving a beef tenderloin, which I like fairly unadorned, nixing the chutney or any other strong sauces. So I started thinking about how I might get more excited about mashed potatoes.
The answer of course was to make them Indian flavored–except that it might have given my dad a heart attack if he could tell. So I decided to make a tarka and serve it on the side–and just keep calling it a tarka (which meant nothing to anyone except my sister) and make it clear I would not be offended if people chose not to use it. (If you are wondering a tarka is a flavoring or seasoning added at the end of an Indian dish, frequently comprised of spiced aromatics in oil or ghee.) I would put peas in the tarka, with the goal of basically creating the flavor of the inside of a vegetarian samosa after it was mixed into the mashed potatoes. YUM. Now that I could get excited about. (Check out the bottom of the post for a link to Samosa Smashed Potatoes that I made in December 2016.)
Original photo from December 2011
So next I started contemplating spice mixtures to put on the tenderloin. I wanted something just exotic enough to both appease me and complement the tarka–but nothing with strong spices that my parents might regard as too foreign, especially for Christmas dinner (such as fenugreek, for example). Enter Floyd Cardoz, whose praises I have already been singing. One Spice, Two Spice: American Food, Indian Flavors had a rub for a strip steak that I figured would translate just fine. I tweaked it here and there to calm its heat down, and threw the tenderloin in the oven to roast as normal.
This meal was fantastic. Everyone loved it, including my dad–who did try the tarka, if you’re wondering. The word Indian did not pass anyone’s lips until the end of the meal (at which point the look on my dad’s face was priceless–maybe he’ll start letting me cook Indian food for him). I made a chutney similar to the one I made for Thanksgiving and my sister roasted cauliflower and broccoflower with cumin and coriander (which was also amazing).
This is hands down the best holiday meal I have ever prepared. It walked the line perfectly between traditional and exotic, making every single person table at the table happy.
Now don’t be too grouchy with me, but I don’t have a tarka recipe for you. The day was too hectic to keep track of what I was doing and certain kinds of Indian cooking have become second nature enough that I have no idea what all I threw in there. I can promise there were onions, garlic, ghee, maybe ginger, ground cumin and ground coriander. I honestly do not remember beyond that, but even that would make a tasty flavoring when combined with peas for mashed potatoes.
- 1 beef tenderloin, trimmed of excess fat and silver skin (if you use a smaller portion of it, as I did, you will have leftover spice rub)
- 1 t Szechwan peppercorns
- 1 T allspice berries
- 3½ T black peppercorns
- 3½ T yellow mustard seeds
- 4 T coriander seeds
- 2½ T cumin seeds
- 1 T kosher salt
- Combine the spices in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Crush or grind until the mixture is partially finely ground and partially cracked. Mix in the salt.
- Sprinkle the spice mixture over the beef tenderloin 1 hour before you want to roast it. Pat the spices into the meat so that they form a crust around the meat. Place in a roasting pan on a rack and let sit for the remaining hour. This time will both allow the meat to come to room temperature and also allow the spices to penetrate the meat.
- minutes before cooking, preheat the oven to 500 F. Place the tenderloin into the oven and let it roast for 20 minutes. After that 20 minutes, reduce the heat to 300 F but do not open the oven. Let the tenderloin cook another 15-25 minutes, or until the outside is nicely browned but the interior temperature is 120 F for rare (the only way I would ever serve tenderloin; 125 is medium rare). Take the tenderloin out of the oven and let it sit for 10-15 minutes (up to 30 minutes) before slicing (during which time the interior temperature will rise).
Click here to check out Samosa Smashed Potatoes, which combine the ideas I had for this sneaky holiday meal with guests who did not need to be protected from what they were eating–so I served the smashed potatoes with the flavoring mixed in!
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