The Showstopper: Herb-Crusted Beef Tenderloin

herb-crusted beef tenderloin
If you ever need to make a dinner to impress someone or you just want a really amazing meal, this is the dish to make.

I came across this recipe for herb-crusted beef tenderloin in the holiday issue of Entertaining from Cook's Illustrated. I'm usually enticed as soon as I hear the word beef, and tenderloin clearly ups the ante. Add herb-crusted, and it's pretty unlikely that I'd be able to resist.

So on a random Sunday afternoon, following a trip to the new Whole Foods in Dedham, Mass. (one of my new favorite places), I made this for dinner just for my boyfriend and me. It wasn't a special occasion, but if you saw the spread, you would have been fooled. I still can't believe how incredible this meal was.

Like all Cook's Illustrated recipes, this one was tested and retested until it could be called perfect. Even someone like me, who cooks but isn't necessarily great at getting meat to the right doneness and things like that, can execute this recipe flawlessly.

It didn't hurt that this was actually the first time I relied on the temperature probe that came with the oven. If you have one, and you haven't used it before, start now. All I had to do was stick the probe into the middle of the tenderloin, set the desired temperature, and as soon as that temperature was reached, the oven let me know. It's the easiest thing ever.

Cook's Illustrated still hoards recipes rather than offering them online for free like Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Everyday Food, Martha Stewart Living, and virtually any other magazine with recipes; however, I made this one on a smaller scale and it isn't exactly Cook's Illustrated's tried and true version, so below I'm giving you my herb-crusted beef tenderloin for two recipe.

I can also offer you something Cook's Illustrated doesn't: these beautiful, full-color, step-by-step pictures!

Herb-Crusted Beef Tenderloin (adapted from Entertaining from Cook's Illustrated, Holiday 2009 issue)

Note: While the recipe is fairly simple to execute, it does take a lot of time. You'll want to give yourself 3 1/2 to 4 hours, from start to finish.


1 small beef tenderloin, tied with twine (about 1 1/2 pounds)
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
1 slice of white sandwich bread, torn into pieces
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium garlic cloves, minced

ingredients for herb-crusted beef tenderloin

In a small bowl, combine 1/2 tablespoon salt, 1/2 tablespoon pepper, and sugar. Rub mixture all over tenderloin. Place tenderloin on a wire rack set inside a sheet pan. Let stand at room temperature for 2 hours. (This part made me really nervous, but if Cook's Illustrated says it's okay, I figured it must be okay.)

seasoned beef tenderloin
Toward the end of the 2 hours, pulse bread in food processor until fine crumbs form. Place crumbs in medium bowl and add 1 tablespoon parsley, 1 teaspoon thyme, 1/4 cup Parmesan, and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Mix well.

bread crumb mixture
Clean food processor bowl and process remaining 3 tablespoons parsley, 1 tablespoon thyme, 1/4 cup Parmesan, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and garlic until smooth paste forms. Transfer to a small bowl.

herb paste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roast tenderloin for 20 minutes, then remove from oven and cut and discard twine.

beef tenderloin with twine
Using a rubber spatula, spread the herb paste over top and sides of tenderloin.

beef tenderloin with herb paste
Press the bread-crumb topping over the herb paste.

beef tenderloin with herb crust
If using oven probe, insert into meat and set oven to alert you when the meat has reached 130 degrees (otherwise check meat with a meat thermometer until it reaches 130 degrees). The meat should be cooked to medium rare and the topping will be golden brown. This should take 20 to 25 minutes.

Remove roast from oven, and let rest for 30 minutes.

finished herb-crusted beef tenderloin
Transfer meat to cutting board, and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices.

Savor every last bite!

The only change I would make is to cook the meat a little less because I like my meat rare. The middle pieces were nearly perfect for me, and the ends were great for my boyfriend who prefers his meat more on the medium side, though I'm slowly convincing him that rare meat has so much more flavor and is safe when made under the right conditions.

We ate this with crispy homemade potato latkes (also a CI recipe) and steamed broccoli. Everything tasted way too good for a random Sunday dinner, but we thoroughly enjoyed it. And I can consider it the test dinner. Now that I've made it once, I know I can make it again and serve a showstopping meal when we have company.

What's your showstopping meal?