Buying and butchering a whole tenderloin is a great way to make your beef dollars stretch further, especially on this super luxe cut.
The nice part about doing light butchering on a tenderloin at home is the freedom to cut the biggest and most deluxe steaks for yourself. But there’s also a satisfaction from finding a use for the trim and side muscles and maximising your purchase.
As the name would suggest, the tenderloin is the most tender muscle on the animal. It’s tucked away in the hindquarter where it doesn’t get a whole lot of use, so it’s far more tender than those muscles that work much harder (like cheeks!) . Of course, since it is the most tender cut, it’s also the most expensive per pound. Particularly filet mignon steaks, which are cut from the very centre of the muscle (considered the best part).
What it has in tenderness, it can sometimes lack in flavor, which is where the quality of beef comes in. Prime beef, the very top USDA grading, is known for it’s generous marbling. Marbling are those tiny seams of fat running through the meat – and fat is what gives you even more tenderness and flavor.
So let’s do the math – if you are taking the highest grade of the most tender muscle, you are talking about a very luxurious experience. But, luxury doesn’t always have to be expensive! Firstly, you’re saving $ per lb by buying the whole muscle. The less work the butcher has to do, the more your wallet benefits. Secondly, you can be smart about where you purchase your beef. Some grocery stores and bulk clubs have excellent pricing.
So now that you know what to get, and how to get it, here’s how to butcher a whole tenderloin:
Step 1: start with the whole tenderloin
Ok, this part can be intimidating. It all looks a little rough and gnarly, but it’s easy to find your way through. The muscle in this state is known in industry slang as a PSMO – ‘peeled side muscle on’. Start by patting the meat dry with a paper towel – it makes it safer to cut when it’s not slippery. Also, make sure your knives are nice and sharp. This is both safer and helps cut away all the nasty bits without taking the precious meat.
Step 2: identify the different muscles
In the photo above, I have already cleaned off the silverskin so you can really see the muscles clearly. If you compare it to the first picture, this is the same position these sections lie in. Here, they have just been trimmed (cleaned up) and separated. The Chain is not very edible as is, because it’s filled with silverskin and thick fat seams. It will need to be trimmed down into the stew meat pieces you see in the bottom left. The Heel is actually a separate muscle too, and not a true tenderloin. It’s best to cut this off but leave it whole – it makes for a lovely small roast. If you didn’t want to keep it whole, you could also cut it into trim and stew meat.
Once you get the side muscles and pieces off, the whole tenderloin will be magnificently visible on your board, and you will see how much it tapers on each end.
Step 3: Clean up the tenderloin by removing the silverskin.
Silverskin is pretty nasty stuff – it’s very tough and doesn’t break down when cooking steaks. There’s no point in having incredibly tender beef but leaving the tough silverskin on there, so you need to remove it. You’ll need a very sharp boning or filet knife. A small thin paring knife will work, too, but they are harder to use because the blade is shorter. As in the picture above, insert the knife right below the silverskin, then angle the blade upwards and gently pull along the length of the skin. Muscle cuts more easily than silverskin so it should glide right across. Repeat until the whole muscle is cleaned and trimmed, and always cut away from yourself.
Step 4: tie off the chateaubriand
The very centre of the muscle where it’s most thick is the Chateaubriand. Because it makes for the largest medallions, the Chateaubriand is considered the more premium part, though the entire muscle is premium eating. Tying the Chateaubriand is not necessary, but it helps guide you to cut even steaks, and it also helps keep a nice round shape on those steaks as they cook.
Because the ends of the tenderloin taper, they are not considered true filets. You can cut smaller steaks from the ends (also called tails). Alternatively, you can cut the meat into stew or dice, or use it for some seriously luxe tartare. I use a vacuum sealer to save the steaks and other cuts, and freeze them until I’m ready to use them.
Step 5: cut the filet mignon steaks
This is the part we are all waiting for, right? You can cut this section into anywhere from 4-8 steaks. Four are going to be nice, thick steakhouse style. If you try to cut up to eight or so, you’ll end up with quite thin filets. It may be necessary if you are trying to make them go farther, but you won’t end up with very generous portions.
Once cut, the steaks can be cooked immediately, or vacuum sealed, refrigerated or frozen and saved for later.