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What Is Filet Mignon?
Filet mignon is a steak cut from the narrow front end of a cow’s tenderloin muscle. It’s a very lean and tender cut, with hardly any marbling or connective tissue. Since it doesn’t have a lot of fat, filet mignon isn’t especially flavorful, but what it lacks in flavor it makes up for in tenderness: a properly cooked filet mignon almost melts in your mouth.
Coming from the very tip of the tenderloin, filet mignon is a small cut—hence its name: mignon means small in French—often just 1½ to 2½ inches in diameter. It’s also usually the most expensive cut on the carcass, a luxury morsel often prepared simply and served with decadent sides like pomme purée or sautéed asparagus.
What's the Difference Between Filet Mignon and Beef Tenderloin?
The tenderloin is a muscle near the backbone of the cow that hardly gets any exercise, so the muscle fibers are small and extremely tender. It’s a long muscle (18 to 24 inches) that stretches from the loin primal to the sirloin primal. The whole tenderloin can be sold as beef tenderloin steaks, or broken into smaller steaks, including filet mignon, which comes from the very front (loin end) of the tenderloin.
In France, where cattle are butchered according to muscle divisions, the tenderloin is removed from the carcass and cut into sections from the filet mignon in the front to the châteaubriand in the middle, and bifteck at the rump end of the tenderloin. In American-style butchery, the tenderloin is included as part of a larger steak cut: T-bone steaks include the filet mignon, and porterhouse steak includes the châteaubriand.
2 Ways to Cook Filet Mignon
Fat and bones both act as insulators during cooking, slowing the process down. Since filet mignon has neither fat nor bones, it cooks especially fast. However you cook your filet mignon, make sure to keep a close eye on it.
- Skillet-to-oven: Briefly sear filet mignon in a hot oven-safe skillet (like a cast-iron pan) until a brown crust forms, about 2 minutes per side, then transfer to the oven for a few minutes to finish cooking.
- Pay-frying: Skip the oven and simply pan-fry the filet mignon in a skillet on the stovetop, about 3 to 8 minutes per side.
Filet Mignon Temperature Guide
Since filet mignon doesn’t have any fat or connective tissue that needs to melt down, there’s no reason to cook it beyond medium-rare.
- For rare filet mignon, aim for an internal temperature of 120–130°F, the juiciest stage of cooking.
- A medium-rare filet mignon will have an internal temperature of 130–135°F and offer a little more resistance when poked.
Keep in mind that carryover cooking from resting the meat can increase internal temperature by 5°F.
How to Serve Filet Mignon
Since filet mignon isn’t particularly flavorful, it’s often paired with bold flavors. Try filet mignon:
- Wrapped in bacon, which makes up for the lack of fat.
- Rubbed with a crust of freshly ground peppercorns.
- Garnished with parsley or other fresh herbs.
- Topped with truffles or sautéed mushrooms.
Lean filet mignon also benefits from a rich sauce, such as:
- Béarnaise, an emulsified egg-based sauce flavored with vinegar and tarragon.
- Mustard sauce, made with shallots, cognac, cream, and—of course—tangy mustard.
- Compound herb butter: Combine one stick of softened butter with a tablespoon of minced herbs, a minced shallot, and a little citrus juice or vinegar. Shape into a log and refrigerate until firm. Slice and serve atop filet mignon.
Cooking a grass-fed USDA prime filet mignon is a good excuse to open up a fancier wine, such as a rich red wine from Bordeaux, for a special occasion.
Juicy Pan-Seared Filet Mignon Recipe
Prep Time30 min
Total Time40 min
Cook Time10 min
- 1 filet mignon steak, 1–2 inches thick
- Kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon butter, plus more if needed
- 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil or neutral oil
- Flaky salt, to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Let steak come up to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 415°F. Pat steak dry with paper towels and season with kosher salt. Melt the butter with the oil in a cast-iron skillet set over medium-high heat. When the foam from the butter subsides, add the steak to the hot pan. Sear until nicely browned on each side, about 2 minutes per side.
- Carefully transfer the hot skillet to the oven and continue cooking until steak reaches your desired internal temperature (115–125°F for rare or 125–130°F for medium rare) and offers some resistance when poked, about 4–6 minutes longer. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper. Let rest 5–10 minutes and serve.
Learn more cooking techniques with Chef Thomas Keller here.