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Sous Vide: Utilizing Beef Tenderloin

Big box stores proved that people will butcher their own meat in order to take advantage of reduced pricing. Here's a way to avoid waste.


Time, temperature and texture

How do you like your filet?

There is debate as to the exact definition of “rare,” “medium rare,” “à point,” etc. A little practice will help you learn just exactly what temperature corresponds to your preferred appearance of doneness. Here are some basic temperature setting guidelines:

Rare: 129 F/54 C.
Medium rare: 135 F/57 C
Medium: 140 F/60 C.
Medium well: 150 F/66 C.
Well done:  165 F/74 C.

Procedure after trimming:

Set the sous vide bath to the temperature that most closely matches your preference. Stage each filet into a its own vacuum bag. Seal and sous vide process at that temperature for a minimum of two hours. Beef tenderloins may be processed using the same parameters that are used for New York steaks and rib eyes.

As per your convenience, steaks can stay in the bath for at least two additional hours without risking any detectable difference in texture, quality or safety. Because of the precise characteristics of sous vide, and if service is delayed for one reason or another, filets and/ or steaks can stay in the bath up to eight hours. There is no “moment” before which the cut is tough or under-cooked, or after which the cut falls apart. Eventually, the pink color of a rare steak will dissipate if it is left in the bath for an extended period of time. If you want to process several steaks to different degrees of apparent doneness, visit HERE.

Note: For enthusiasts who like their steaks extremely rare, they can be processed at temperatures as low as 122F /50 C. In this case the processing time should be limited to two hours in order to meet USDA food safety standards. The steaks should then be seared and consumed within two hours, just as one would if sous vide were not being utilized.

Once you remove your filets from the bath, let them rest at room temperature for up to 15 minutes. This allows the surface to cool somewhat. Doing so prevents the searing process from elevating the internal temperature beyond the original target temperature. Then, you can season, sear and serve.

Once you have trimmed your beef tenderloin, here are some links to specific recipes on this site:

Filet Mignon with Milles Feuilles Potatoes.

Pepper Seared Filet Mignon with Bearnaise Sauce

Tournedoes of Beef facon du chef


Preparing a Whole Beef Tenderloin

Primal notes:

In the picture above, you see the entire denuded tenderloin. The head is on the left, the tail on the right. The cuts used in our demonstrations come from particular sections of the beef tenderloin. The tenderloin is tender from end to end, but this treatise illustrates how to denude the tenderloin from start to finish–a process that will take no more than half an hour even for the most timid among us. There is really very little mystery to it!

Below, you see portioned steaks of various sizes. In general, the head and the heart are viewed as the most desirable cuts of the filet.

How to get there:

The picture above should look familiar to anyone who has visited the plethora of big box stores that dot the landscape these days. The label will usually say “Beef Tenderloin,” with the occasional “whole filet” or “whole tender” attached to the sticker. Anatomically, it is referred to as the ” psoas major” muscle–that’s right–humans have them too!

That’s not blood in the bag–by law, there can be no blood in slaughtered meat. If there was, the meat would spoil in a matter of hours. Those red juices are water mixed with myoglobin, an oxygen carrying protein that occurs in muscle tissues but not in veins or arteries. Like blood, it is rich in iron–hence the color.

The slender strip on the left of the picture is generically referred to as the “chain.” Some butchers actually attempt to leave it attached to market packaged filets, but it is quite gristly and fatty. Chefs usually roast it to make sauces and forcemeats. It can also be used to make ground beef. We will remove it for now. As shown, you can almost remove it bare handed, but it is better to use a sharp boning knife to help it along, so as not to damage the tenderloin itself.

Just follow along the seam–the juncture is plainly visible.

Continue towards the “head” of the tenderloin. The attachment is a little firmer, so use the butcher knife to finalize the separation.

Like so–set the chain aside for now.

Use the thin bladed butcher knife to remove the “silver skin” in narrow strips. This skin really is tough, so try not to leave any meat attached to it.

Like so.

As you can see, there is still a little bit of white fat dotting the surface. Some chefs and butchers insist on removing it for appearance sake, but it dissipates when exposed to heat anyway. There is a greater risk of OVER trimming tenderloin than there is of UNDER trimming.

Turn the tenderloin over to expose the “bone” side–you can see the little furrows where the meat was removed from the bones.

Again, use the butcher knife to remove large fatty pieces, but again, not too much. Consider that if you were eating a porterhouse or even a T-bone, this fat would still be attached at the intersection of bone and meat.

Work your way towards the tail, as shown.

This is the fully denuded tendloin, except for that little spot of silver skin at the bottom of the picture–that’s coming off soon. The chain and all the trimmings are off to the right. There is some waste, it’s unavoidable. When you buy a steak from the butcher’s case, you are still paying for that trim–you just don’t get to decide what to do with it. Not to worry–butchers incorporate everything into something.

As I said, there is a considerable amount. Anywhere from 25% to 33% of the total weight is trim. That’s the cost of doing business. You can buy the tenderloins already denuded, but, like I said–you are still paying for the trim, giving the butcher the opportunity to sell it “again.” in some other form.

I know you’re wondering what we’re going to do with this trim. Read on!

The finished product. You can see the very fine line of sinew connecting the tenderloin to what is usually referred to as the “wing” up in the upper left. See below for the next step.

There is latitude on how to treat this, but this is one way that it is commonly done–about half of the wing is removed. If we’re lucky, we will only have enough lean meat to make about half an order of Stroganoff–it has to come from somewhere. I worked in a restaurant where the bargain priced Stroganoff was so popular, the Chinese butcher was secretly cutting entire tenderloins into strips. The boss never found out, and that’s a good thing. Not exactly cost effective, but the owner was making so much money he shouldn’t have cared. But he would have, had he found out.

Again, choices. For this model, I cut three filets, three small tournedos, a double sized roast, and then the cute little mignonettes in the top right corner. Tender and delicious, but lacking in the convincing appearance associated with Filet Mignon. Actually, “mignon” means “cute.” A story for another day.

Happy butchering!

Click HERE for how to use the trim to make Espagnole/Demi-glace.

Norm King



Beef tenderloin is not the only primal cut that "wholesale to the public" merchants have come to offer. Butchers are loathe to admit that cutting meat is not as mysterious and difficult as we have been led to believe. The pricing of whole beef strip loins, rib-eyes and even pork loins, bellies and shoulders offer considerable savings to those interested in learning just what needs to be removed and what needs to be left on.

Sous vide integrates well with a little knowledge of meat cutting, especially because of it's preservation qualities. Pursuant to that, we are inclined to explain some basic principles that will avail our readers with the skills necessary to trim and cut steaks and chops

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