A French bistro classic, steak au poivre is easy to make at home

I don’t often cook red meat at home, but if someone ever asks for a steak, I obey. This week, a request for steak au poivre, a well-marbled French bistro-style strip steak — or filet, if you fancy — with a crust of freshly cracked black peppercorns took me back to my decade in France, where every bistro at the Corner serves a version of steak fries. It’s a quick, one-pan meal and only requires a few crucial steps to make at home. Try to buy local, sustainably harvested meat whenever possible. Alaska abounds with options including locally raised, grass-fed, and hormone-free beef/cattle.

I called a friend of his classically trained French chef in LA for some tips. Christophe insisted that the steak “must not be cold; let it sit outside of the fridge for at least 30 minutes and up to an hour, depending on how warm your kitchen is.” Second, he said that after crushing the peppercorns, you can throw in a fine-mesh sieve and shake out the powdery dust from the crushing , which prevents the peppercorns from sticking properly to the steak. Crusting just one side seems to work better, allowing the non-crusted side to finish cooking without burning the pepper too much and leaving a bitter taste. Traditionally, the steak is flambéed, but many find that a bit daunting so you can just let the alcohol boil off before adding the cream and broth. Sometimes when I make this for both carnivores and pescetarians, I make an extra sauce and serve it with seared scallops or fish, or over steamed rice or pasta. Serve the steak with hot homemade fries, pasta, a light green salad, or simply stir in some hardy veggies like frisee, escarole or spinach or kale just before serving. Good Appetite. – Kim Sunee

pepper steak

1 well-marbled 16-ounce boneless steak, such as New York strip or ribeye, about 1½ inches thick

Fine or kosher salt

2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns or combined black and white peppercorns

1 tablespoon vegetable oil, such as grapeseed oil or avocado

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 to 3 tablespoons (1 small) chopped shallot

1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce (optional)

2 tablespoons cognac (or bourbon or red wine)

½ cup low-sodium beef broth (or chicken broth)

½ cup cream or crème fraiche

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

• Remove steak from refrigerator at least 30 minutes to an hour before cooking. If the kitchen is hot, 30 minutes should be fine. Lightly sprinkle the top and bottom of the steak with salt; set aside on a plate lined with kitchen paper. Crush peppercorns with a mortar and pestle, using a rolling pin, or the bottom of a heavy skillet – wrap the peppercorns in a towel to keep them from rolling away while crushing. They should be ground coarsely, not finely. Place peppercorns in a fine-mesh sieve and shake the sieve to remove all dust. Spread crushed peppercorns on a flat plate and press one side of the steak firmly into the peppercorns to form an even crust. Set steak aside, peppercorn side up; Save any remaining peppercorns to add to the sauce later.

• Prepare your ingredients: Gather a tablespoon measuring spoon, vegetable oil and butter. Chop the shallot and add to a small bowl with soy sauce, if using; Soy sauce adds an extra layer of umami to the sauce, but it’s not critical. Have cognac, cream, beef broth, and Dijon ready.

• Place a large cast iron or stainless steel skillet over medium-high heat; add oil. Press the peppercorns firmly into the steak again with the heel of your hand. When the pan is hot but not smoking, add the steak, peppercorn side down, and cook until the peppercorns are well-roasted, about three minutes. Adjust the heat if you start to cook or burn too quickly. Turn steaks carefully, trying not to shake off the peppercorn crust. Add butter and once the butter melts, baste the steaks with a spoon to pour butter and any breakaway peppercorns over the steak. Cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes – time will vary depending on thickness of steaks – and cook until an instant read thermometer reads 125 degrees, for medium rare. Place the steak on a warm platter while you finish the sauce.

• Use a spoon to remove all but a tablespoon of fat from the pan, but keep the crispy bits. Add shallots, soy sauce if using, and any reserved peppercorns. Carefully add cognac, pour near the pan and watch for any flare-ups. Either light carefully with a match and flambé, reduce the heat and shake the pan or Just let the alcohol boil off for about a minute. Add broth and scrape any chunks off the bottom of the pan. Stir in the cream and simmer on low for a few minutes, until the sauce thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Stir in the mustard. Taste and flavor by adding more cream or mustard. Slice steaks, pour sauce over steaks and serve immediately.

Note: If serving with spinach or frisée, add to the pan sauce just before serving.

Leave a Comment