Beef tenderloin, the most tender cut, is large enough to feed a roomful of relatives, or it can cater to guests who like their meat at varying degrees of doneness.

It is also a blank slate for seasoning and cooking styles.

"It's a great entertaining piece of meat," says Paul Malcolm, a chef instructor at Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte, N.C.

Restaurateur Giorgios Bakatsias, who owns Georges Brasserie in Charlotte, Vin Rouge in Durham, N.C., and seven other restaurants, agrees: "The beef tenderloin is versatile."

When shopping, figure a third of a pound to a half-pound per person, depending upon appetites and what else is on the menu.

Roasted tenderloin can be sliced to order so each person gets the wanted portion and doneness.

It can be plated in the kitchen or set on a buffet, and it lends itself to different preparations.

In a recipe for the show-stopping beef Wellington from award-winning author James Peterson's new cookbook, Meat: A Kitchen Education, chateaubriand - the loin's most prized cut - is wrapped in puff pastry. A layer of sauteed mushrooms is tucked between the beef and the pastry, soaking up the meat's juices while keeping the pastry crisp.

For a simpler approach, author Pam Anderson's The Perfect Recipe technique for searing and then roasting the tenderloin is key to creating great texture. The roasted tenderloin can be served with Anderson's recipe for red-wine thyme pan sauce, Bakatsias' caramelized onion butter, or a more traditional creamy horseradish sauce.

More tips for cooking beef tenderloin

Bring meat to room temperature before cooking. This will take about 45 minutes.

Pat beef dry before seasoning to ensure a good sear.

Season meat with a dry rub of seven parts brown sugar to one part kosher salt plus any seasonings that will complement the sauce, such as black pepper, rosemary or thyme.

Use a meat thermometer to test doneness. Cook until 120 to 125 degrees for rare, 130 to 140 degrees for medium rare, 145 to 150 degrees for medium. Remember that the meat's temperature will rise an additional five degrees while resting.

After the meat is cooked but before it's cut, let it rest for 10 minutes. This allows the juices to be reabsorbed into the meat.

To make a brandy cream sauce, deglaze the roasting pan with a half-cup of brandy. Pour liquid from the roasting pan into a saucepan, add 2 cups beef stock and reduce to a quarter-cup. Add 3 cups heavy cream and reduce over low heat until sauce is thick but still easily poured. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer and serve.

To make a rosemary sauce, deglaze the roasting pan with a half-cup of beef stock. Pour liquid from roasting pan into a saucepan; add four cups of demi-glace, available at specialty food stores, 1 sprig of rosemary, 4 tablespoons honey and a couple of grinds of black pepper. Reduce over low heat until the sauce is thicker but still pourable. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer and serve with the beef.

Beef Wellington

makes 8 servings

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1 center-cut beef tenderloin section, about 8 inches long and 2 1/2 pounds, trimmed of fat and silver skin

Salt and pepper to taste

4 tablespoons butter or olive oil

2 pounds cremini mushrooms, finely chopped, by hand or in food processor

1 pound store-bought all-butter puff pastry, thawed in refrigerator if frozen

1 egg, beaten with a pinch of salt

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1. Season tenderloin liberally with salt and pepper and reserve at room temperature while you prepare the other ingredients.

2. Melt butter or oil over high heat in a large saute pan. When butter froths or oil ripples, add a large handful of mushrooms and toss and stir for about 1 minute. Continue adding mushrooms, a handful at a time, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until any liquid they release evaporates and they are nicely browned and dry. Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool.

3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. If it has a convection feature, turn it on.

4. Roll the pastry out into a rectangle just large enough to enclose the tenderloin completely. Sprinkle a sheet pan with cold water, and transfer the pastry to the pan. Spread cooled mushrooms over the pastry to within 1 inch from all edges. Place tenderloin near one long edge of the pastry, and then roll up the meat in the pastry to enclose it completely. Make sure the wrapped tenderloin is seam side down, and then seal the open ends by folding them under. 5. Place the wrapped tenderloin on the pan. Using a sharp knife, cut a series of diagonal slashes, about 1/2 inch apart, along the top of the roll, being careful not to cut into the meat. Brush the pastry with the egg wash.

6. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the tenderloin reads 120 degrees for rare or 125 degrees for medium-rare. (The temperature will rise 5 degrees as the roast rests.)

7. Transfer to a platter, tent loosely with aluminum foil, and let rest for 20 minutes before serving. Using a sharp knife, cut into 1-inch-thick slices to serve.

From: Meat: A Kitchen Education by James Peterson (Ten Speed Press, 2010) 

Per serving: 731 calories, 48 grams protein, 29 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams sugar, 48 grams fat, 174 milligrams cholesterol, 274 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.EndText

Cracked Black Pepper Beef Tenderloin With Red Wine-Thyme Pan Sauce

makes 8 servings

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1 4-pound beef tenderloin roast

Splash, vegetable oil

Salt to taste

2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper

1 cup chicken broth

1/4 cup dry red wine

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or heaping 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

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1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Heat a heavy roasting pan large enough to accommodate the roast over two burners on medium-high for 5 minutes. While pan is heating, rub roast with oil to coat, and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.

3. Add roast to pan when hot and sear until well browned, about 21/2 minutes per side, for a total of 10 minutes. Meanwhile, mix broth, wine, mustard and thyme in a bowl.

4. Transfer roast to a platter. Pour fat out of pan and discard. Return pan to heat and add the broth mixture, stirring to scrape up browned bits from bottom. Pour liquid into a small saucepan over low heat. Whisk in cornstarch to thicken sauce. Set aside.

5. Set a wire rack in pan and place roast on rack. Roast until an instant-read thermometer registers 130 degrees for medium-rare, or 135 degrees for medium, 40 to 45 minutes. Remove roast from the oven and let rest for 15 minutes. Slice and serve with reserved sauce.

From Perfect Recipes for Having People Over (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2005) by Pam Anderson 

Per serving: 538 calories, 64 grams protein, 1 gram carbohydrates, trace sugar, 28 grams fat, 211 milligrams cholesterol, 202 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.EndText