Monday, March 24, 2014

Recipe: Steak au Poivre

Jon and I watch a TV show where the main character, a spy, likes decadent things. One of his favorites is a meal called "Steak Au Poivre" that neither Jon nor I had ever tried.
Jon researched it and we found out that it was a French recipe as "Peppercorn Steak" or "Pepper Steak". It's origins are controversial, like all food histories, and some people believe it can be traced to as early as 1790. Most people believe it became famous in the early 1900's.
In short, a tender cut of beef is seasoned with crushed pepper, seared and served with a rich pan sauce. There are many additions - cognac, cream, shallots and many variations. Typically, filet mignon was used, but variations include sirloin, strip steaks, rib eye, and Porterhouse.
This recipe relies on a good cut of beef and an excellent sauce. To achieve this, here are a few pointers that will make the recipe successful.
Use a good cognac or brandy. You don't need very much, so splurge on a small bottle (even a mini bottle will do nicely.) I chose Courvoisier VS Cognac, but if you have a favorite one, use it.
Let the beef sit out of the refrigerator 15 - 20 minutes before cooking to lose it's chill. Pat dry and then season with salt and lots of COARSELY freshly cracked peppercorns.
I ground the peppercorns on a course setting on the grinder, but you can smash them with a cast iron skillet or use a mortar and pestle. Don't skimp on the pepper. I had to go back and add more ground pepper to make 2 steaks.

 Heat your pan and then sear your meat well. DO NOT use too high heat because the peppercorns will burn and that will affect the taste of your sauce. Use a medium high heat, not a high heat and monitor the heat setting carefully. (Some recipes suggest searing the meat before seasoning it, so you can use a high heat without concern. I like a seared pepper crust, but do which ever method you like.)
You can sear your meat to cook it thoroughly or you can just sear it and let it finish cooking in a 425 oven. But whichever method you choose, make sure you allow enough time to let the meat rest before serving. You don't want to rush this step, because the meat will become amazingly tender and tasty as the juices have time to be reabsorbed into the beef.
You can make the sauce while the beef rests. Season it accordingly to what you like. Garlic is not traditionally called for in this recipe, but the next time I make it I will add some in.
Here's my recipe that serves 2:
2 Beef Tenderloins, sliced 2 inches thick
1T Canola oil
2 T butter
2 shallots, minced
2 oz Cognac
4 oz Beef Stock
1 oz heavy cream

If finishing the steak in the oven, preheat oven to 425.
Remove steak from the refrigerator for 20 minutes to take off the chill. 
Heat a skillet to medium heat.
Pat steaks dry and then season with salt. Grind peppercorns (or smash) and place in a dish. Press the steak into the crushed peppercorns to form a crust. If you miss any spots, just add more and press them in. Do this on both sides of each steak.
Add Canola oil to the hot skillet and 1 T butter. Place the seasoned steaks into the hot pan. They will sizzle and let them sit untouched for 4-5 minutes on the heat.
After that time, flip the steaks and sear on the other side.
Place the seared steaks onto a baking tray and place in the hot oven to finish cooking (about 5-7 minutes for RARE, 10 min for medium rare).
While the steaks are finishing cooking, make the sauce using the hot pan.
Add the shallots to the pan and let sizzle and cook down. They will be fragrant and golden in about 2 minutes.
Remove pan from the heat (temporarily) and add the cognac. Be careful as the mixture is flammable.
Some chefs like to flambé the cognac by lighting it on fire with a long match. The claim is that it burns off the alcohol and caramelizes the cognac resulting in an intense taste. I personally don't find that step necessary and I had a professor in college who disproved that igniting alcohol removes 100% of the alcohol.
Instead, I return the pan to the heat and let it reduce and cook down. This results in a rich and tasty sauce that doesn't risk a visit from the fire department.
When the cognac has reduced by more than half, I add the warmed beef stock. Let this simmer and reduce further, about 6 minutes or so. When this finally reduces (it may take longer if the stock isn't hot) slowly stir in the heavy cream and then the remaining 1 T of butter. The sauce should be rich, thick like a loose pudding and utterly fragrant.
Plate your steak, drizzle sauce on top and serve.
The sauce is so good that you'll want to serve it in abundance so that you can dip potatoes and bread in it!

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