Let us now consider the subtleties of that French bistro classic, Steak au Poivre. I can't explain it, but never until this week have I tried to make it. Of course it's maybe the best way to cook a steak that there is. I guess I just figured it was too complicated. Pas de tout! It's fast and it's simple. However, it's one of those simple things that's a bit hard to do well. (I can't eat beef anymore after passing these gentle bovines pictured at left on my walk in the mornings, but I still cook it for Ron).
Now there are two schools of thought on the famous French Steak au Poivre. One uses cream for the pan sauce, and the other uses only beef stock. Both include Cognac. And both involve wrapping the steak in coarsely crushed peppercorns, that form a nice crust when browned. This being a French dish, shallots are usually involved.
Here is my thought: If you want to make the beef stock version, in which you end up with a delicious reduced, boozy, brown sauce, you MUST use good strong homemade beef stock. I don't know about you, but this is something I'm unlikely to have in my freezer. I suspect chefs add a bit of good demi-glace to their sauce as well. If you only have canned stock, skip it and go straight to the cream. Sure, it's heavy cream, but it doesn't take much, and if the skinny French don't mind, we don't either.
I speak from experience. For my first attempt I didn't stick to the classic. I used a hybrid recipe with mostly (canned) beef stock and a little cream as well. NOT a success.
The second try, sans stock and with a dose of cream, was not bad at all. OK so I got a little carried away with the shallots, but really, can you have too many shallots?
So make it a French bistro night, and serve your steaks with oven fries and broccolini. And if you have an improved version, do share: the experiment continues!
RECIPE: Steak au Poivre
For this recipe you want the peppercorns crushed coarsely but not ground. I tried various recommended methods: a rolling pin, a meat tenderizer, a cast iron skillet. The skillet worked best by far. It will still take a number of whacks to get them all crushed.
- 4 ribeye or strip steaks
- 1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt
- 3 tablespoons whole peppercorns (I used a multi-colored mix, but black is fine)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 shallots, chopped
- 1/2 cup Cognac, or brandy
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
Preheat over to 300.
Place peppercorns on a cutting board and cover with plastic wrap or put in a plastic bag. Crush them by pressing a cast iron skillet on top of them. Form into a little pile and repeat, until they are all smashed. Mix in the salt. Coat the steaks with the mixture on both sides, and set them aside.
Meanwhile, chop the shallots, and do the mise en place thing: gather and measure out all your other ingredients, as everything happens fast at the end.
Heat a cast iron skillet to medium high. Add oil, then steaks. Cook until rare, turning once, 2 to 3 minutes per side. (Cook longer if you like, but know that they will cook a bit more in the oven while you make the sauce). When rare and browned, put them in the oven on a baking sheet.
Reduce heat and add butter to the pan. Add shallots and cook about 3 minutes, stirring. Pour in cognac (stand back! It may ignite). Reduce about 3 minutes, until it's a bit syrupy. Add cream and reduce it by half. Add any pan juices from the baking sheet. Pour sauce over steaks and serve, with a hearty Voila! and a good red wine.
In the COMMENTS: Boy did we have comments! And very interesting, every one. Thank you so much for your impassioned thoughts, strong opinions abound. I love to have a dialogue.
Several readers contributed more funny signs. Here are two of the best:
And from Nathalie, this one cracked me up: