Steak au Poivre – how to make the best
“At a scarred wooden table, sipping a treacly apéro served by a waitress who could have been sung into existence by Serge Gainsbourg , I did feel a rekindling of faith. And when that steak au poivre came, it did look magnificent: blood-tender meat blushing under a peppery veil, crowned by an El Dorado of frites.”Chris Newens, Dinner in l’hôpital Lariboisière, AA Gill award runner up 2019
Steak au Poivre is a genius idea – the peppercorns cut viciously through the rich meat – so it’s no surprise that there are many who claim to have thought of it.
The latest to do so, according to The Food Dictator blog, was Émile Lerch. In 1950 he wrote in La Revue Culinaire, that he had first made it in Albert Blazer’s Restaurant Albert on the Champs-Élysées. He explains it was a case of necessity being the mother of invention. He had two problems. One was a shipment of frozen beef from America which was substandard flavour-wise. The other was a crowd of American customers whose tastebuds had been anaesthetised by a surfeit of pre-dinner cocktails.
His solution was pepper, and, he added corroborating detail, he named it Steak (from the American) au Poivre (from the French) to represent the duality of the ingredients.
The letter resulted in a flurry of other chefs registering their claims, the earliest being from O.Becker, who, it is recorded in Larousse Gastronomique, made it in 1905 whilst working at Palliard’s.
O.Becker might have made it, but did he invent it? According to steak restaurateur, Francis Marie, Steak au Poivre comes from bistros in Normandy, and its original creation was to solve a very different problem. Gentlemen were finding their female dinning companions a little unbending. But pepper is supposed to be an aphrodisiac.
Perhaps that’s why Mimi Sheraton mentions it in her Seducer’s Cookbook. Along with oysters and apple-pecan tart, she advises that it should form “the first meal in your campaign. The food should be the kind ‘he basically loves – meat and potatoes and apple pie, but with a difference’”.
Steak au Poivre goes really well with caramelised shallots, creamed spinach, and wonderful wedge potatoes…. or more traditionally, chips. It’s also splendid with a fennel gratin.
Traditionally pepper is also added to the sauce, but the Saucy Dressings view is that enough is enough!
Enjoy it with a powerful Gigondas.
For much more detail about the best way to cook steak, follow this link.
Steak au Poivre
Serves – 2
- 2 steaks – fillet or rump dependent on your preference, ideally not too thick (about 5 cm/1”). If it’s too thick, the centre remains raw, and the outer surface gets a bit overdone
- 1 generous tbsp peppercorns – I use the fabulous Indonesian long pepper, Kampot is also good
- 1 banana shallot, or 6 spring onions… a stick of chopped celery also goes well if you are using Calvados
- 1 tbsp brandy, plus more to deglaze; or, of course, to be authentic, you could use Calvados
- 120 ml/½ cup crème fraîche (you can use double cream – a good plain canvas for the pepper, but we think crème fraîche gives more depth of flavour)
- Pinch of smoked or celery salt, or even chicken stock powder
- Butter and olive oil for frying
- Marinate the steaks in brandy, oil, salt and pepper for a few hours. If you have kept them in the fridge, bring them to room temperature.
- Add a knob of butter and a glug of olive oil to a small frying pan, and get it hot (nearly smoking).
- Grind the peppercorns in a pestle and mortar. Take the steaks out of the marinade (save the marinade) and press the pepper into them.
- Add the steaks. Do not fiddle with them, once in the pan leave them untouched, this allows them to form the caramel crust which tastes so good. (See, why sear). Cook for about two minutes. Then turn the steaks and cook for another two minutes. Remove the steaks and put them on a warmed plate… keep warm.
- While this is all happening peel and chop the shallot.
- Add a bit more butter to the pan, and add the shallot. When it begins to brown add the marinade, the additional brandy, and the salt. Reduce to a syrup, deglazing as you go and take off the heat.
- Add the crème fraîche. Stir well.
- Serve the steak with the sauce on top, and any additional sauce for the enjoyers to help themselves to.
Music to cook to
Following on from the quote at the beginning of this post, it has to be Serge Gainsbourg singing La Javanaise.