A FRENCH CLASSIC: THE STEAK AU POIVRE




Steak au poivre or pepper steak



A “mignon” dish:
Le steak au poivre (in English, steak with pepper) is a dish that counts among the staples of the French bistro cusine. In fact, one should rather say steak aux poivres or steak with peppers (plural) as the recipe commands to use a combination of different peppercorns coarsely cracked, known as mignonette, generally black and white pepper. Since the steak generally comes from the beef filet mignon*, this is why I call it a mignon (i.e. cute) dish.
In the recipe proposed, I take some (minor) liberties with the classic recipe and I avoid the most common mistake made when cooking a steak au poivre.
First liberty, I didn’t use filet mignon, but bistro filet, a much cheapest cut, almost as tender and tasteful as the filet mignon.
My second liberty was the mignonette: I went a bit out of the box and used a combination of peppers: white pepper, pink pepper, Szechuan pepper, Guinea pepper, long pepper, Timut pepper (for its grapefruit taste), and also some coriander seeds… A spicy but also very flavorful mix.
Dont't burn the pepper
Last but not least, the mistake. For long, the usage is, or rather was, to rub the steak with the crushed peppercorns and to sear it with those corns. This was what was taught in culinary school till a couple of decades ago and this is also the recipe you found in some old cooking books, including some legendary ones as Julia Child’s ones. Not surprising as she was an apprentice cook at the Cordon Bleu in Paris. Since then, cooking has learned a lot from science, and from chemistry in particular. Thus, it has been proven that, when exposed too long to high temperatures, the essential oils contained in the peppercorns burn, which results in a bitter taste. A quick math shows the problem: the essential oils start to burn and deteriorate after 45/60 seconds at high temperature. Since you need around 2 minutes to sear a steak on both sides, plus probably an additional two minutes to rest in the hot pan, the pepper is exposed to high temperature for around 4 minutes, much beyond the burning limit. The second disadvantage in my opinion is that, given that the steak is quasi-entirely covered by peppercorns, those are seared, and burned (see above) before the meat itself is seared and has a chance to benefit from the Maillard reaction. This is why, now, most of the French chefs recommend, in case of high temperature searing or grilling, to add the pepper at the end of, or after, the cooking. This applies to steak au poivre, but also to all dishes requiring a high temperature cooking. That said, it is also recognized that toasting and torrefying the peppercorns beyond their burning point contributes to enhance their flavors. This short toasting just allows to release all the pepper aromas of the essential oil contained in the corns, without burning it.
* or fillet mignon, I never know if we should double the “L” in English whereas there is only one in French





Levels of difficulty
Cost
Preparation time
Cooking time
n
$$
1 hour
150 minutes
(incl. 2 hours for the celeriac)


Ingredients
2 servings

Instructions

§  1 bistro fillet
§  around 1/2 cup of mixed black pepper and white pepper, plus other optional pepper; here: Szechuan pepper, pink peppercorns, Timut pepper, Guinea pepper, long pepper, and also coriander
§  1 shallot clove, thinly chopped
§  2 tsp of grape or neutral oil
§  2 tbsp. of butter
§  1 tbsp. of flour
§  2 tbsp. of crème fraiche (or heavy cream)
§  1 shot of Cognac
§  1 glass of red wine
§  salt

§  First torrefy the peppercorns for around 30 to 45 seconds maximum
§  Then roughly crush the toasted corns with a glass or in a mortar and spread them on a plate
§  Sear the steak trims in a mix of neutral oil and butter till they start to caramelize
§  Add the shallots and stir the whole together till the shallots start to become translucent
§  Add the Cognac and flambé it
§  Add 75% of the red wine and let it bubble so that it loses its alcohol (you can flambé it too)
§  Let reduce on low/medium temperature
§  Rub the steak, at room temperature, with fleur de sel (salt)
§  Sear it in a hot pan, with grapeseed or another neutral oil, around 1 minute on each side or to get a Maillard reaction and a nice brown color
§  Remove the pan out of the burner, add the butter and baste the steak for a couple of minutes, on each side, with the melting butter
§  Place the steak on a grid, let it rest a few minutes
§  Meanwhile, deglaze the steak pan with the rest of the red wine and add it to the sauce
§  Add the flour to the sauce to thicken it
§  Out of the burner, add the crème fraiche to the sauce, stir it up till obtaining a silky texture, and keep warm
§  Coat the steak with the peppercorns, on each side, pressing with your hand so that the peppercorns stick to the steak
§  Serve the steak with the sauce on it or on the side
§  It is traditionally served with mashed potatoes, but any other sides will make the job. For instance, I like to serve it with carrots as the combination of the carrot sweetness and the pepper heat is just phenomenal.


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