Table for One

For Perfect Filet Mignon, Reach for the *Pixie* Cast-Iron Skillet

The cutest pan for the cutest steak.

by:
November 30, 2018
Photo by Rocky Luten

Table for One is a column by Senior Editor Eric Kim, who loves cooking for himself—and only himself—and seeks to celebrate the beauty of solitude in its many forms.


So I have this tiny pan. Like, very tiny—pixie, really. It's so small it barely exists.

This 3.5-inch cast-iron skillet I bought years ago before I knew anything about cast iron: how to care for it, what it did, why it would become one of my favorite pans down the line.

Photo by Lodge

But not at first. At first I bought it, I'll admit, because I needed a skillet—a compact, utilitarian little thing—to fry a single egg at a time. And when I tried to fry an egg in that new unseasoned cast iron, it stuck horribly. Pan: 1; Egg: 0. I lost about 97 percent of the egg to the pan, felt unutterably hoodwinked, and threw the skillet into the back of my cupboard never to be seen again.

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Top Comment:
“This steak and potato dish could’ve been perfect! I love the idea of parboiling the medallions it really makes a difference. 🙌🏿”
— Diari
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Until one day I brought home a gorgeous, perfect filet mignon from my butcher. It was so tiny, so cute, so dainty. Dainty filet.

(Aw.)

Of course, when I went to rummage through the horror of my pots-and-pans cabinet, there it was: the traitorous uselessness that was my non-nonstick pixie skillet. But even I had to concede that it was the perfect shape, the perfect size for my steak. When I grabbed it and placed the filet into it to check, a choir of angels began to sing.

I may have cried a little.

Emotional, I walked the skillet over to the stove and put it over medium heat. I sprinkled some kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper over my filet, rolled it around so the sides got some of the goodness too, then added oil to the near-smoking pan and let the steak sear.

It seared beautifully. I let it go for 4 minutes on the first side and 3 minutes on the second side. Then I threw it into the oven to finish cooking through, something I had learned from Domenico Natale, the executive chef of Casa Lever. I once had a filet mignon there that changed my mind about filet mignon forever. Contrary to popular belief, it's a pretty beefy, flavorful cut, as long as you treat it right.

Filet mignon has been given undue consideration for far too long: Many criticize its leanness, its dryness, its flavorlessness. But actually, if you just cook it correctly—that is, give it a nice sear and let it finish in a hot oven for a split second (I prefer 3 minutes in the oven for a proper rare, after which it should rest on the counter for 5 minutes for the juices to redistribute)—then what you'll end up with is a gorgeously cooked piece of meat that's not mooing on the inside, but rather uniformly pink and soft throughout the center.

The money shot (aka, "How'd I do?"). Photo by Me
Cutting against the grain for the softest meat. Photo by Me

The way you carve it is equally important. I actually love to cut mine in half, then again horizontally across against the grain—ensuring the shortest strands of meat possible, and the softest, most melting texture.

It goes without saying that filet mignon is the ideal solo cut: a single nugget of tender beef, perfectly portioned for one. But the real stars of this recipe below, I’ll admit, are the crispy-chewy roasted potatoes (which I've also spent years attempting to master, over and over until I got it just right).

One of the greatest joys of cooking for one is learning to cook at all. The older I get, the more firmly I stand in my belief that the mere act of taking time to feed yourself and prepare a proper meal well—whether it's a 5-minute weeknight affair or a slower, leisurely 18-minute stir, or this meat-and-potatoes dinner—is probably the best way to get better at cooking at all.

Potato medallions, ready for their bath. Photo by Me

Now, before I leave you to your dinner, let’s talk spuds: A medallion cut ensures the greatest surface area, resulting in the crispiest potato—but still thick enough, about half an inch, so you’re not making chips.

Parboiling before roasting (that is, bringing a pot of cold water with the potato coins to a boil, then draining immediately) gets rid of excess starch that would otherwise result in an overly grainy tater, and instead guarantees an interior that’s almost chewy in texture.

Then comes the roasting in the oven for 30 minutes, for which the cooking medium can vary: olive oil for the everyday cook, butter for those who want a richer crunch, and for those devoted in search of lost time and religiosity, duck fat.

For a home cook, there may be nothing as satisfying as perfecting a classic dish, or an old favorite. This is my meat-and-potatoes, steak-frites dinner that I've perfected over the years (at least according to my own tastes and prejudices regarding matters of the beef and spud). In this way, too, it's been a great comfort to me on many a peckish night, knowing that a brief jaunt to the grocery store for a filet mignon and a single russet potato would reward me with immeasurable bounty, after just 30 minutes of light puttering about in the kitchen.

And the teeny-tiny pixie skillet? It was there for me all along, of course.

How do you cook your filet mignon? Let us know in the comments below.

21 Comments

Claudia T. December 8, 2018
I have a tiny cast iron skillet that came with cookie mix! I think I got it in a White Elephant holiday gift exchange? And I never even made the cookie. I still have the pan, I season it, but I really didn't know what to do with it! I was really thinking about pitching it in the Goodwill bin or just hanging it on the wall like a decoration. (If I cook a single egg I like to have space to flip it). Now I might finally have a cooking use for my tiny cast iron pan!
 
Diari December 4, 2018
Lovely! Inspired by your risotto for one I recently made dinner for myself to celebrate crushing an exam. Green salad, seafood risotto, and creme brûlée. This steak and potato dish could’ve been perfect! I love the idea of parboiling the medallions it really makes a difference. 🙌🏿
 
Author Comment
Eric K. December 5, 2018
Congrats on the exam! But can you tell me more about that crème brûlée please...? Was it a giant vat or a single-serving ramekin?
 
Diari December 5, 2018
Thanks! It was a single serving. Sooo perfect and simple. Two yolks, about a quarter cup of cream, tablespoon-ish of sugar, and half-ish of a split/scrapped vanilla bean pod. Had to watch it like a hawk but it was worth it!
 
Kathleen N. December 1, 2018
You are an inspiration! I lost loved ones and my pets and I are on our own. I struggle to want to bother to cook for just myself. I am going to follow you for inspiration. Thank you!<br />Also, you leave me wondering, Pomegranate molasses, for serving?<br />
 
Author Comment
Eric K. December 1, 2018
Aw Kathleen, thank you so much. We all need a little inspiration every now and then to take care of ourselves.<br /><br />Yes! Pomegranate molasses is a great steak sauce, turns out.
 
Dan December 1, 2018
Never tried the oven but I've heard a lot of people doing it. The one thing I would like to know is what do you set the oven too? I like to get it to a good medium.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. December 1, 2018
Hey Dan, the oven's set at 425°F. After searing, I finish the filet in there at 3 minutes for rare; so for medium, I'd say 7 to 10 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 160°F. Recipe here: https://food52.com/recipes/78311-filet-mignon-with-perfect-roasted-potatoes
 
Dentman333 December 1, 2018
Eric, have you tried "reverse sear" where you start the steak on an oven at low temp (250f) until the inner temp is 20 degrees below what you are looking for when done then drop it in a hot pan to sear?
 
Author Comment
Eric K. December 1, 2018
I have not! Is that what you do? Sounds like the method for sous vide steak (low and slow, then sear). Bet it cooks really evenly.
 
Dentman333 December 2, 2018
I've found the reverse sear method is the best way to cook a steak evenly. I finish it off by putting a small amount of canola oil in a very hot cast iron skillet then lay the steak in. Immediately add some high quality butter, a few hand crushed garlic cloves and a twig or two of thyme and rosemary. Spoon the sauce over the meat (this works just as well with a nice pork or veal chop) as the steak sears. Only takes a minute or 2 at most on each side.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. December 2, 2018
Sounds fantastic. Thanks for the tip!
 
Kevin November 30, 2018
I love this article and you did a nice job honoring an awesome cut of meat. However, I am disappointed by your use of the word “gypped”. It’s just one of many derogatory ways for people to say they feel cheated. In this case, it refers to “gypsies” who are stereotyped as theiving criminals.<br /><br />Just “food for thought”. :)<br /><br />The rest of your writing is solid enough that I believe you could have found a word that actually described your sentiment without putting down an entire group of people in the process.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. November 30, 2018
Oof, I've never made that connection. Thanks for pointing that out, Kevin. I've updated the piece with a new word. Learn something new every day--
 
Dentman333 November 30, 2018
This recipe popped up when I opened Google. Thanks Google and thanks Eric! Glad I found you!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. November 30, 2018
It was meant to be.
 
Sonja A. November 30, 2018
Eric, I discovered you on Instagram stories and have been obsessively reading and aspiring to cook all your recipes. I am not a single man in NYC (I’m merely a teenager living under my parents’ roof) but your writing resonates somewhere deep in my soul. Thank you for being so authentic and inspiring.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. November 30, 2018
Sonja, what a lovely comment. Thanks for taking the time to read this.
 
Rhianna M. November 30, 2018
I so so appreciate that this column includes recipes and ingredients that solo cook-ers might think of as too complicated or decadent to prepare just for one. Thank you.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. November 30, 2018
I so appreciate that anyone's listening. Thank you, Rhianna!
 
Rhianna M. November 30, 2018
I definitely am!