Every Christmas day, my small family of four shares a special holiday roast: a salt-crusted beef tenderloin. The night before, we exchange gifts with my husband's family — a gaggle of nieces, nephews, aunts, and uncles — and eat a smorgasbord of appetizers. But Christmas day dinner is an intimate affair that my husband and I created as newlyweds. A beef tenderloin was a huge expense that first Christmas and I didn't want to mess it up, so I leaned on a technique I'd learned as an intern on Good Eats: the salt crust.
Whether you know this technique as a salt dome or a salt crust, covering a tender cut of meat or fish with a paste of egg whites and kosher salt does two things. Its primary function is to perfectly season the meat, and the second is to guarantee your success — a hefty promise for two humble ingredients. Seven Christmas dinners later, this is my tried-and-true technique for cooking a juicy, flavorful beef tenderloin in a salt crust.
The Simplest, Easiest Salt-Roasted Beef Tenderloin
The ingredient list below is seven ingredients long, but at its core, this recipe requires only three: a beef tenderloin, kosher salt, and egg whites. I've only ever added ingredients or steps to this simple recipe when they improved the final roast. A beef tenderloin is one of the more expensive cuts of beef, primarily because it's prized for its tenderness, and cooking a tenderloin with a salt crust simply ensures it remains delicious.
For Your Information
- This recipe calls for a relatively small beef tenderloin, which will serve a crowd of four to six people.
- Not all kosher salts are created equally. Diamond Crystal will give the best results for this method.
- This is a relatively short roast — just 25 to 30 minutes in the oven and 15 minutes rest time.
For a Better Salt Crust, Use Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt
Not all kosher salts have the same shape and size crystals. Diamond Crystal brand kosher salt has a larger, more rigid structure that makes it ideal for salt crusts. I've certainly made this with other kosher salts such as Morton's, and while it will works well enough, expect more cracking in the crust as it bakes. Be sure to use kosher salt and not a fine or flaky sea salt for making the salt crust; fine or flaky salt won't hold up in the oven and can leave the roast salty.
Will the Roast Be Super Salty?
This is probably the most common question about this method, and the answer is no. Since much of the salt is held together by the egg whites in the crust, the roast ends up being perfectly seasoned rather than incredibly salty.
Buying a Beef Tenderloin
Beef tenderloin is the most expensive cut of beef you can buy. Typically supermarkets sell beef tenderloin untrimmed or trimmed, and the price per pound will vary based on how it is prepared. Untrimmed tenderloin comes with the fat and silverskin still intact at a lower price point — something of a boon if you've got a filet knife and the confidence to use it.
For a few dollars more a pound, the butcher can do the work of trimming (and sometimes tying) the roast for you. Trimmed beef tenderloin can often be labeled "peeled" at big-box stores like Costco or Sam's Club, which is, coincidentally, the place to get the best price on your beef tenderloin.
How to Salt Roast a Beef Tenderloin, the Step-by-Step Guide
- Trim the roast (tying optional). If you bought your beef tenderloin untrimmed, you'll need to remove the surface fat and silver skin before roasting. Use a thin, sharp knife to remove the thin, sliver membrane that coats the tenderloin. Depending on the shape of your tenderloin, you may also want to tie the roast with butcher's twine.
- Make the salt crust. Combine the salt and egg white (and any aromatics like rosemary and garlic) until the mixture holds together when squeezed.
- Brown the beef in a cast iron skillet. Sear the tenderloin for just a few minutes on each side, about 8 minutes total cook time. This creates a thin, delicious crust on the outside of the tenderloin.
- Cover the beef tenderloin with the salt. Here's the crazy part — now you're going to cover the beef tenderloin in a thick layer of the salt crust on all sides.
- Roast the tenderloin until 125°F to 130°F for medium rare. Roast the tenderloin for about 30 minutes, until a probe thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the roast registers 125°F to 130°F.
- Rest the roast in the salt crust. Out of the oven, rest the roast for 15 minutes before removing the salt crust, slicing, and serving the beef tenderloin.
Serving a Salt Roasted Beef Tenderloin
The very best way to serve a salt-roasted beef tenderloin is bringing the whole roast to the table and then cracking open the salt crust to oohs and ahhs. Okay, so you don't have to make a huge production about bringing it to the table — just carefully crack open the salt crust and remove the crust in large pieces. Use a pastry brush to dust off any excessive salt from the exterior of the beef and then use a pair of tongs to move the tenderloin to a cutting board to slice and serve.
Salt-Roasted Beef Tenderloin: The Easiest, Simplest Method
Serves 4 to 6
What You Need
1 1/2 to 2 pounds
beef tenderloin, trimmed of surface fat and silverskin
kosher salt, preferably Diamond Crystal
freshly ground black pepper
finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
cloves garlic, minced
large egg whites
Rimmed baking sheet
Measuring cups and spoons
Chef's knife and cutting board
Heat the oven to 425°F and pat the beef dry. Remove the beef tenderloin from its wrapping and pat dry with paper towels. Let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Meanwhile, arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 425°F. Make the salt mixture while the oven heats.
Make the salt mixture. Combine the salt, pepper, rosemary, and garlic in a large bowl and toss to combine. Add the egg whites and mix by hand until the salt is moist and will hold together when pressed.
Prepare the baking sheet. Transfer about 1/3 of the salt mixture onto a rimmed baking sheet and press into an even layer roughly the size of the roast.
Sear the tenderloin. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the tenderloin and sear until browned, about 2 minutes on each side, 8 minutes total cook time. Transfer the tenderloin onto the salt on the baking sheet.
Cover the tenderloin with the salt mixture. Mound the remaining salt mixture on top of the seared tenderloin, patting it down the sides and around the ends of the tenderloin until the tenderloin is completely covered. Do your best to make the coverage even, but don't worry about making the coating perfect.
Roast the tenderloin for 25 to 30 minutes, or until it reaches 125°F. Roast the tenderloin until a probe thermometer inserted into the center of the roast reaches 125°F to 130°F for medium rare, 25 to 30 minutes. The salt crust will harden while roasting, so you'll need to put some pressure on the thermometer to penetrate the crust and reach the center of the roast. It's okay if the crust cracks.
Rest the roast for 15 minutes. Remove the roast from the oven and let the roast rest for 15 minutes on the baking sheet.
Remove the salt crust, slice, and serve. Use the heel of chef's knife to crack the salt dome along one side if roasting hasn't cracked it already. Remove the salt in as large pieces as possible. Transfer the tenderloin to a cutting board and slice into 1/2-inch-thick rounds. Serve immediately.
Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.