Pepper steak, which I order at restaurants often, is on the home menu tonight. It’s not so hard to make and is fun for pyromaniacs like me. Be sure to take the batteries out of the smoke alarm before you start, or you’ll be racing around with a pan full of flaming steak, looking for a broom handle to shut the damned thing off. Most unsettling if you’ve got a romantic dinner thing going on.
Here’s what to do:
Get a steak.
And some peppercorns.
Crush the peppercorns.
Press the peppercorns into the steak.
Fry the steak.
After frying the steak and adding the cognac, this is what the pan looks like.
I added the shallots after I’d lit the cognac on fire. Adding the cold butter in to finish the sauce gives it a beautiful sheen and texture.
Steak au Poivre.
Steak au Poivre
From Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home by Julia Child and Jacques Pépin (Knopf)
A classic restaurant dish, steak au poivre is French for steak with peppercorns. It is served with a flamed cognac pan sauce. If you must, bourbon or red wine may be substituted for the cognac.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
1 thick-cut well-marbled strip steak, about 1 pound total weight, and 1-1/2 inches thick
2 tablespoons mixed whole peppercorns, including black, white, green, Szechuan and Jamaican (whole allspice)
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons minced shallots
2 tablespoons cognac (or bourbon or red wine)
1/2 cup flavorful dark stock
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
Trim the steak of all the surrounding fat and cartilage. Cut the meat into 2 pieces and crush the peppercorns using the bottom of a heavy skillet.
Sprinkle salt to taste on the top and bottom of the steaks; then press each side into the cracked peppercorns, encrusting the steaks lightly or heavily, as you prefer.
Heat the oil and the butter in a heavy sauté or frying pan over high heat. When the pan is quite hot, lay the peppered steaks in. Fry for about 1-1/2 to 2 minutes, until the undersides are well seared. Turn the meat and cook the second side for about a minute. Press with a finger to test for the slight springiness that indicates rare. Cook to desired doneness and remove to a warm platter.
Making the pan sauce:
Add the shallots to the pan and sauté briefly, stirring with a spoon to scrape up the drippings. Lean away from the stove (averting your face) and pour the cognac into the pan; tilt the edge of the pan slightly, over the burner flame, to ignite the alcohol. The cognac will flame for a few seconds as the alcohol burns off. Cook for a few moments more and then add the stock. Bring the liquid back to the boil, and cook about 1 minute to thicken the sauce, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasoning. Finally, add the soft butter, swirling the pan until it melts and incorporates with the juices.
When blended, pour the sauce over the steaks. Sprinkle liberally with chopped parsley and garnish each plate with sprigs of parsley or watercress.