French Friday: Steak au Poivre
Long before French Women Don’t Get Fat hit the shelves, I was just a girl who wanted to eat cheese for dinner and rationalize it. I blabbed to anyone who would listen that I was going to start “eating like a French woman.” When asked what this would entail, I mentioned the cheese, as well as creamy things, baguettes, and, you know, French stuff. It should be noted, however, that this being before my introductions to Julia Child and MFK Fisher, I did not, in fact, have much knowledge of what a French woman would actually eat. My only reference point was the week of oysters, champagne, and fois gras my sister and I had in France the year before. This would not be unlike someone coming to our United States and deducing that Americans solely eat burritos the size of their heads, Dunkin Donuts breakfast sandwiches and fountain cokes served in 64 ounces buckets. Nevertheless, this was my plan.
As I recall, this new way of eating lasted approximately one twenty-four hour period, its apex being a dinner on the porch of my apartment with a dark-haired beauty. We ate an astonishing amount of brie and bread, followed by a steak au poivre chased with a bottle or two of red wine. There may have been a couple of lettuce leaves thrown in for good measure. Then we walked to a dive bar, drank 10,000 gin and tonics and flirted with aging cowboys and taciturn hipsters. I hadn’t quite worked out the finer points of this French thing. I think I just wanted to wear stripes, and as I mentioned, eat cheese.
Since this experiment I have learned that the French know a thing or two about portion size, quality over quantity, and flirting (namely, apparently, that they don’t do it; who knew?). But if this red blooded American girl knows anything it’s a good steak when she sees one. Thus, there is one lasting relic from this dining experience. The steak au poivre stays in the picture.
I know it seems like overkill to serve steak with a cream sauce, and this argument — in the ways of saturated fat and cholesterol levels — may have some merit. But you’re talking to a woman who likes to put blue cheese on chops. The point here is that the peppercorn crust imparts such a level of heat that the cream and brandy sauce tempers it quite nicely. I’m not saying this is what you want to eat when you get home from bikram, but over low light and glasses of rough red wine with someone you’re hoping to kiss at the end of the night, it might be just the thing.
Steak au Poivre
adapted from French: Delicious, Classic Cuisine Made Easy
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 fillet mignons or sirloin steaks
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons olive oil
3 tablespoons brandy
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
Place the peppercorns in a sturdy plastic bag. Crush with a rolling pin until medium coarse or, using the flat base of a small heavy saucepan, press down on the peppercorns rocking the pan to crush them. Put the steaks on a board and trim away an excess fat. Press the pepper onto both sides of the meat, coating it completely.
Melt the butter and oil in a heavy frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the meat and cook 3 minutes per side for medium rare. Transfer the steaks to a warmed plate and cover to keep warm.
Pour in the brandy to deglaze the pan. Allow to bubble away until reduced by half, scraping the base of the pan. Reduce heat to medium. Add cream and garlic. Simmer gently for about 4 minutes until the cream has reduced by one-third. Stir any accumulated juices from the meat into the sauce, taste and add salt, if necessary, then serve steaks topped with sauce.