Food history: Beef Wellington

I myself have yet to attempt making, or even try eating, Beef Wellington. However, it’s always intrigued me. Beef Wellington seems to be one of the most fancy-shmancy dishes out there – right up there with Baked Alaska.

How did this pastry-wrapped meat dish come to be?

Definition: a steak fillet covered with pate de foie gras, then wrapped in pastry and baked

The origin of Beef Wellington comes from a man named Arthur Wellesley. Wellesley is famous for defeating Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo; he was dubbed the first Duke of Wellington.

Reportedly, Wellesley was “indifferent” to food, to the point that his cooks felt that their culinary talent was being wasted, and would often quit.

However, there was one meal that Wellesley couldn’t get enough of: a dish consisting of beef, mushrooms, maderia wine, and pate cooked in a pastry. Wellesley requested this decadent delight at every dinner he hosted.

The beef creation was named for the Duke of Wellington. Supposedly, it also resembles a Wellington boot, but that’s a bit of a stretch if you ask me.

The idea of cooking beef inside of a pastry dates back to the late 1700s; Wellesley was made Duke in 1814.

Beef Wellington saw a surge of popularity in the late 1950s, during Richard Nixon’s reign as president – it was his favorite meal.

More recently, the succulent dish has become well known once again, thanks to Gordon Ramsay of the Food Network.

Ramsay, known for his rather aggressive and sometimes crude approach to cooking, teaching, and television, has declared the Beef Wellington his signature dish.

Not surprisingly, this meal is not an easy one to put together. does an excellent job of describing the preparation process: “The beef  [tenderloin] is seared, then topped with either foie gras, and/or duxelles (a mince of mushrooms blended with additional flavoring ingredients), wrapped in a puff pastry and finished in the oven.”

Beef Wellington can either be cooked in a large cut, or it can be split into individual servings beforehand. If left whole, the juices may be more in tact, which are said to compliment the duxelles mushroom mixture perfectly.

Duxelles, by the way, are finely chopped mushrooms, onions, shallots, garlic, and parsley.

I have a feeling if I were to attempt a Beef Wellington I’d have to make it at least a dozen times before I’d dare blog about it.

If you’d like to give it a shot yourself, it could be a great substitute for ham or duck this Easter!

Here is a video on Gordon Ramsay making his signature Beef Wellington.

The Food Network actually has several different recipes, and this one looks the best to me.