They key to a great holiday party is a relaxed host. And that is easier than it sounds. All it takes is a little planning.
When I entertain, I make sure that all the food can be prepared and served or set out on a buffet with very little effort. At the very most, I include only one menu item that has to be cooked just before serving.
For that reason, I find beef tenderloin to be my entertaining slam dunk! Everyone loves beef tenderloin and it is good served chilled, at room temperature or warm. If you are serving it chilled or at room temperature, it can be made the day before, making it even more convenient.
It also is economical because you can slice it thin and get 20 to 25 portions out of a single tenderloin. If you like, you can splurge and buy prime tenderloin. Or if you plan in advance you can employ my trick and "wet age" it yourself in the refrigerator, resulting in a tenderloin with great depth of flavor.
Home wet-aging is effortless and especially handy because you can buy the tenderloin when it is on sale and save it for a future party or parties. Make sure you purchase a tenderloin that has been shrink-sealed (no air in the packaging). Once the meat is exposed to air, you have to cook it or it will go bad.
But in airtight packaging, you can let the meat "age" in your refrigerator for up to six weeks. Many restaurants do this and you can really tell the difference in the end product.
I place a couple of tenderloins in the back of my meat drawer and turn them every couple of days. I then schedule an alert on my calendar for two, four and six weeks to remind me that they are in my refrigerator waiting to be cooked.
If I am feeling ambitious, I smoke the tenderloins with a combination of pecan and cherry wood and serve them chilled the next day. If I don't have that much time, I sear them on the outdoor grill or a stovetop grill pan and finish roasting them with indirect heat, either in the grill or in the oven.
The key to a perfect beef tenderloin is to season it simply and not overcook it. I take the meat out when the internal temperature reaches 130 F and let it rest for a minimum of 15 minutes, the longer the better so that the juices redistribute and every slice is rosy pink with a soft, tender and buttery texture.
Beef tenderloin itself is a crowd pleaser, but I always have a couple of options to dress it up. My favorite is this very simple but light and tangy horseradish cream. I make it just before my guests arrive and set it out with the meat and a small selection of dinner rolls. Pumpernickel is my favorite, but seeded hard rolls, soft brioche and/or a crusty baguette also are good choices. Your guests can make their own sandwiches or eat the tenderloin simply with a dollop of the fluffy horseradish cream.
Holiday Beef Tenderloin with Horseradish Cream
Start to finish: 2 hours (15 minutes active)
For the meat:
5-pound whole beef tenderloin
2 tablespoons olive oil
For the rub:
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
For the horseradish cream:
1 pint heavy cream
1 to 2 tablespoons refrigerated, white prepared horseradish (not horseradish cream)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Fine-grain sea salt
Remove the meat from the refrigerator and let come to room temperature, about 1 hour.
When the meat is ready, use paper towels to dry it. Brush the meat all over with a thin coat of olive oil. Set aside.
Heat a grill to high.
To prepare the rub, in a small bowl mix together the salt, pepper, garlic and cayenne. Sprinkle the rub evenly over the tenderloin.
Place the tenderloin directly on the cooking grate and sear for 2 minutes on each side over direct high heat. After all the sides are seared, reduce one side of the grill to medium and the other side to the lowest possible heat. Set the meat over the cooler side and grill for another 30 to 40 minutes for medium-rare, or until a thermometer inserted at the thickest spot reads 130 F.
Alternatively, the tenderloin can be seared in a large skillet on the stovetop, then set on a rack over a rimmed baking sheet and roasted at 350 F.
When the tenderloin is done, transfer it to a platter, cover with foil and let rest for 15 minutes.
While the beef rests, pour the cream into a large stainless steel bowl. Using an electric mixer, whip the cream on high until it forms soft peaks. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of prepared horseradish. Taste and adjust, adding more horseradish if you like it stronger. Season to taste with lemon juice and salt.
Thinly slice the beef and serve with horseradish cream and dinner rolls.
Nutrition information per serving (not including dinner rolls) (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 380 calories; 280 calories from fat (74 percent of total calories); 31 g fat (14 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 105 mg cholesterol; 1 g carbohydrate; 23 g protein; 0 g fiber; 650 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling and Southern foods expert and executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurants in NewYork and Washington, as well as Hill Country Chicken in New York. She is the author of three cookbooks, including "Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned."