what is a filet mignon

What Is a Filet Mignon? A Comprehensive Guide

The mere mention of filet mignon can make mouths water, conjuring images of tender, luxurious steaks on plates in high-end restaurants. But what is it about this particular cut of beef that has earned it a reputation as the epitome of indulgence and culinary excellence? In this comprehensive guide to “what is a filet mignon”, we’ll take a journey through the world of this exquisite steak, uncovering the secrets behind its tenderness, taste, and how to prepare it to perfection.

From understanding the origins of filet mignon, exploring its taste and texture, to mastering various cooking techniques, seasoning, and flavor pairings, this guide will provide you with everything you need to know about this prized cut of beef. So, whether you’re a seasoned chef or a curious home cook looking to elevate your steak game, let’s dive into the world of filet mignon and discover what makes it so special.

Key Takeaways

  • Filet mignon is a small, tender cut of beef renowned for its melt-in-your mouth texture and mild flavor.
  • Different cooking techniques such as pan searing and grilling can be used to achieve the desired level of doneness.
  • Selecting the right filet mignon grade, marbling, shape & resilience are key factors in enjoying this luxurious dining experience.

Understanding Filet Mignon

Filet Mignon steak with butter and herbs

Filet mignon, also known as tenderloin filet or simply filet, is a small cut of beef sourced from the tenderloin, an area of the loin primal known for its tenderness. Tenderloin steak is often considered a luxury cut, and filet mignon recipes tend to emphasize the tenderness and mild flavor of this prized cut. The name “filet mignon” translates to “small cut,” and it is indeed a diminutive yet tender cut of beef, making it a popular choice for special occasions and gourmet dining experiences.

But what sets filet mignon apart from other cuts of beef, such as the T-bone steak? Filet mignon is more expensive due to its small size and reputation as the most tender cut of beef. The tenderness of filet mignon is attributed to the fact that it comes from a muscle that is not heavily utilized by the cow, resulting in a lack of connective tissue and a buttery, melt-in-your-mouth texture.

Tenderloin Origin

The tenderloin is a long muscle that runs along the spine of the cow in the lumbar region, nestled between the loin and sirloin primals. As a result of its location, the tenderloin muscle is not heavily utilized, which contributes to the tenderness of filet mignon.

This tender and luxurious cut of beef, known as beef tenderloin, is treasured for its delicate texture and mouth-watering flavor. A deeper exploration of filet mignon reveals that the tenderloin’s origin significantly contributes to the unparalleled tenderness and quality that make this cut a culinary delight.

Filet Mignon Cut

When it comes to the actual cut of filet mignon, it is typically taken from the middle of the tenderloin, located between the “tail” near the shoulder and the Chateaubriand at the rear. A filet mignon cut is typically 8 ounces in weight. The thickness ranges between 1.5 and 2 inches. This relatively small size contributes to the exclusivity and luxury of filet mignon, as there are only two tenderloins on a cow, and each yields only a limited number of filet mignon steaks.

Properly trimming a whole tenderloin requires a sharp butcher’s knife. Subsequently, the filet mignon can be cut into two-inch steaks. The tapering end of the tenderloin, being the most tender part, also yields steak cuts comparable to pre-cut filet mignon. It’s typical to discard the thin, chewy white strip of cartilage known as the silverskin. While some might opt to leave a small amount of fat on the steak for flavor, filet mignon is generally lean with minimal marbling.

With its precise cut and delicate texture, filet mignon is perfect for those who appreciate the finer things in life. Whether you’re looking to create an elegant dinner party or simply enjoy a luxurious meal at home, filet mignon is a cut of beef that is sure to impress.

The Taste and Texture of Filet Mignon

Tender Filet Mignon steak with spices and herbs

Filet mignon is known for its filet mignon taste, which includes the unique mignon taste characterized by:

  • Mild, buttery flavor
  • Tender, melt-in-your-mouth texture
  • Juicy, subtly beefy taste
  • Versatile base for a range of seasonings, sauces, and marinades

Compared to other cuts of beef, such as the strip steak, filet mignon has a more delicate taste and texture, making it a favorite among those who prefer a more refined dining experience.

The secret to a perfect filet mignon lies in cooking it just right to maintain its tenderness and flavor. Simple seasonings such as kosher salt and freshly ground pepper are often recommended, letting the steak’s natural tenderness and mild flavor be the star.

Cooking Techniques for Filet Mignon

Filet Mignon steak in a cast iron skillet

There are several cooking techniques that can be used to prepare filet mignon, each with its own advantages. Pan-searing, oven roasting, grilling, and sous vide are all viable options for preparing this tender cut of beef. The choice of cooking method largely depends on personal preferences, equipment available, and the desired level of doneness.

While cooking filet mignon to medium-rare or medium is generally recommended, using a meat thermometer and allowing the steak to rest after cooking is crucial for achieving the perfect tenderness and flavor.

We will delve into the different cooking techniques for filet mignon in the subsequent sections, assisting you in finding your ideal recipe.

Pan-Searing and Oven Finish

Filet Mignon steak in a cast iron skillet with butter and herbs

One popular method for cooking filet mignon is pan-searing followed by finishing in the oven. This technique allows for a good sear on the outside while ensuring even cooking throughout the steak. To achieve the perfect pan-seared oven-finished filet mignon, start by allowing the steaks to reach room temperature and seasoning them liberally with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.

Heat a cast iron skillet or oven-safe pan on high heat with a tablespoon of oil, swirling the pan to distribute the oil as it heats. Once the pan is hot, sear the steaks for 2-3 minutes per side until a nice crust forms, then transfer the pan to a preheated oven at 415°F. Bake for 5-6 minutes for medium-rare doneness, or until the internal temperature reaches your desired level.

Remove the filet mignon from the oven, tent with foil, and let it rest on a cutting board for a few minutes before serving.

Grilling Filet Mignon

Grilled Filet Mignon steak with spices and herbs

Grilling is another great option for cooking filet mignon, as it imparts a smoky flavor and allows for even cooking. To grill filet mignon, follow these steps:

  1. Preheat the grill to high heat.
  2. Season the steaks with salt and pepper.
  3. If you’re working with a thicker cut, consider butterflying the meat to ensure even cooking and preserve its moisture.

Place the seasoned filet mignon on the hot grill and cook for 4-6 minutes per side, or until the internal temperature reaches 135°F for medium-rare doneness. Keep in mind that cooking times may vary depending on the thickness of the steak and the heat of the grill, so it’s always a good idea to use a meat thermometer to check for desired doneness.

Sous Vide Cooking

Filet Mignon steak cooked sous vide with herbs and spices

For those who prefer a more precise and controlled cooking method, sous vide cooking is an excellent choice for preparing filet mignon. Sous vide involves vacuum-sealing the steak in a heat-safe bag and cooking it in a precisely regulated water bath for a longer duration than traditional methods. This technique offers consistent and even cooking, ensuring a perfectly tender and juicy filet mignon every time.

To cook filet mignon using the sous vide method, follow these steps:

  1. Season the steak and vacuum seal it in a heat-safe bag.
  2. Place the sealed steak in a water bath set to your desired level of doneness.
  3. Cook the steak in the water bath for the recommended cooking time.
  4. After cooking, remove the steak from the bag and pat it dry.
  5. Sear the steak in a hot skillet or grill for a few minutes on each side to achieve a nice crust.
  6. Let the steak rest for a few minutes before serving.

The precise temperature control provided by sous vide cooking ensures that the steak is cooked evenly throughout, making it an ideal method for those who want to achieve the perfect filet mignon without the guesswork involved in other cooking techniques.

Seasoning and Flavor Pairings

A succulent and juicy filet mignon steak cooked to perfection, served with a side of roasted vegetables and mashed potatoes, perfect for exploring what is a filet mignon and its seasoning and flavor pairings.

The mild and buttery flavor of filet mignon makes it a versatile canvas for a variety of seasonings, sauces, and marinades. Classic seasonings like kosher salt and freshly ground pepper are often recommended, as they allow the natural tenderness and flavor of the steak to shine through. However, feel free to experiment with different herbs, spices, and sauces to create your own unique flavor combinations that complement the filet mignon.

Some popular flavor pairings for filet mignon include:

  • Garlic and rosemary
  • Red wine reduction
  • Béarnaise sauce
  • A simple compound butter made with fresh herbs

Whatever your preference, the key to a delicious filet mignon is to enhance its natural tenderness and mild flavor without overpowering it, allowing the luxurious texture of the steak to remain the star of the dish. A well-crafted filet mignon recipe can help you achieve this perfect balance.

Choosing the Right Filet Mignon

USDA Prime grade Filet Mignon steak

When choosing the ideal filet mignon, consider factors like grade, thickness, and breed. Various types of filet mignon are available, including USDA Prime, Angus, and Wagyu. You can find filet mignon in grocery stores, butcher shops, and gourmet food shops with a meat department.

Beyond the grade and breed, the steak’s quality can be determined by its color and marbling. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Steaks with a lighter color are preferred over darker ones, as this suggests more marbling and tenderness.
  • For consistent cooking, choose steaks of identical shape and thickness, especially if cooking several at once.
  • A resilient steak with little red liquid in the package also signals quality.

USDA Grades

Understanding the different USDA grades for filet mignon can help you make the best choice for your culinary needs. The USDA grades for filet mignon are:

  1. USDA Prime: This is the highest grade, offering the most marbling and tenderness.
  2. USDA Choice: This grade is also recommended for filet mignon, as it provides a good balance of tenderness, flavor, and quality.
  3. USDA Select: This grade is lower in marbling and tenderness compared to Prime and Choice.

By knowing the different grades, you can choose the filet mignon that suits your preferences and cooking style.

When selecting filet mignon slices, opt for USDA Prime or Choice steaks with a lighter color and more marbling for the best results. Remember that investing in a high-quality cut of beef will result in a more satisfying and enjoyable dining experience.

Wagyu Filet Mignon

Wagyu filet mignon is a unique and luxurious option for those who want to indulge in the very best. Sourced from the Wagyu cattle breed, this cut is renowned for its exceptional marbling and tenderness, with a minimum Beef Marbling Score (BMS) rating of 8, signifying a highly marbled and flavorful steak.

The marbling of Wagyu beef offers a melt-in-your-mouth texture and a robust flavor that is simply unmatched by other varieties of filet mignon. Whether you’re preparing it using the pan-searing and oven finish method, grilling, or sous vide cooking, Wagyu filet mignon is sure to elevate your steak experience to new heights of culinary delight.

Storing and Preparing Filet Mignon

Filet Mignon steak with butter and herbs on a cutting board

Proper storage of filet mignon is crucial to maintain optimal freshness and flavor. If you’re not planning to cook it immediately, you can freeze it for six to nine months. When ready to cook, defrost it in the refrigerator after removing it from the freezer.

Before cooking filet mignon, allow the steak to reach room temperature, which typically takes 20 to 30 minutes. This step aids in ensuring accurate cooking times and even cooking throughout the steak. Once at room temperature, season it liberally with salt, pepper, or your preferred seasonings to enhance its natural tenderness and flavor.

Side Dishes and Accompaniments

Side dishes and accompaniments for Filet Mignon steak

To complete your filet mignon dining experience, consider pairing your steak with a variety of delicious side dishes and accompaniments. Some excellent choices that complement the mild flavor and tender texture of filet mignon include:

  • Roasted asparagus
  • Garlic mashed potatoes
  • Creamed spinach
  • Mushroom sauce
  • Red wine

These options will enhance the overall taste and presentation of your meal. Enjoy!

Some popular side dishes to serve with filet mignon include:

  • Roasted vegetables
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Creamed spinach
  • A side salad

Wine pairings, such as a bold Cabernet Sauvignon or a smooth Pinot Noir, can also enhance the flavors of your filet mignon, creating a truly memorable meal.


In this comprehensive guide to filet mignon, we’ve explored the origins, taste, texture, cooking techniques, seasoning, and pairing options for this luxurious and tender cut of beef. Whether you’re a seasoned chef or a home cook looking to indulge in a special meal, understanding the nuances of filet mignon can help elevate your culinary creations to new heights.

By mastering the art of cooking filet mignon, you can bring a touch of gourmet dining to your own kitchen, impressing friends and family with the tenderness, flavor, and elegance of this exquisite steak. So, go ahead and indulge in the world of filet mignon – your taste buds will thank you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where is filet mignon located on a cow?

Filet Mignon is a highly-prized cut of beef from the small end of the tenderloin, located near the spine of the cow. It's a lean, tender part of the loin primal that boasts almost no fat or connective tissue, making it one of the most sought-after cuts of steak.

What makes filet mignon so tender compared to other cuts of beef?

Filet mignon is extremely tender compared to other cuts of beef due to its location on the cow, which comes from the tenderloin muscle that isn't heavily utilized and lacks connective tissue, giving it a buttery, melt-in-your-mouth texture. This cut of beef is prized for its tenderness and flavor, making it a popular choice for special occasions. It is also more expensive than other cuts of beef, so it is important to know how to cook it properly to get the most out of it.

How thick should a filet mignon steak be?

For a standard filet mignon, aim for an approximately 8 ounce steak that is 1.5 to 2 inches thick.

What is the best way to cook filet mignon for a tender and juicy result?

For a tender and juicy result, the best way to cook filet mignon is by pan-searing, oven roasting, grilling, or sous vide.

What seasonings and flavor pairings work well with filet mignon?

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper are simple seasonings that pair well with filet mignon, while herbs, spices, and sauces can be used to create unique flavor combinations.

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