Dish 14: Simple Steak au Poivre

Contents Intro Prepping the Dish Cooking the Dish Overall Impressions Final Word Recipe Intro
Yesterday was a milestone birthday for me and I wanted to celebrate in style with a dinner fit for the occasion, which made this dinner my second “fixed” dish. Steak au Poivre is one of my all-time favorite dishes because of the starring role pepper plays in the dish. I was able to find a very attractive recipe from David Tannis of the New York Times Cooking crew. I say attractive because there weren’t a lot of ingredients and they were mostly kitchen staples – the exception to that being Sichuan peppercorns, which were already in my pantry. The directions were also brief and I saw no difficult spots.

One key deviation from the recipe as posted: the tenderloin would be replaced by strip steak. I have no problem with tenderloin at all, but strip steak has always been a special cut of meat for me dating back to my high school years.
Prepping the Dish
Whenever my Dad makes strip steak, he’ll put a small cooling rack over a 9×9 baking dish and dry age the steaks in the fridge. He usually ages them for longer than the 30-ish hours mine would age, but I seldom have good steak in the apartment and this was a step worth taking!
One day out, the aging begins.
Fast-forward to yesterday (and ignore the irony of that phrase), I wanted zero stress making this dish so I took my time getting all the ingredients ready. Luckily for me, the most time consuming part of the prep was grinding up the two types of peppercorns in the mortar and pestle. With that out of the way, the shallots took no time, and measuring out the three liquids (chicken broth, bourbon, and heavy cream) was as easy and simple as it sounds. The original recipe called for crème fraîch and my purchase of heavy cream was an accident. Too lazy to go to the store to correct my mistake, and seeing the first online article I could find say this mistake wouldn’t be a catastrophic one, I rolled with that wave, which turned out to be the one moment of adversity in prepping the dish.
Almost all the ingredients present and accounted for.Peppercorns – two ways.Cooking the Dish
This would be my first time cooking anything in cast iron (more on that in the next section), and I was excited to try this somewhat romantic way of cooking. I wanted to keep my goals for cooking with cast iron very simple so my one goal was to not burn myself by accidentally gripping the handle without a potholder or dish towel. I’m pleased to report that goal was met!

After two minutes were up and it was time to flip the steaks, I was skeptical if they’d be well browned as the recipe’s directions suggested they’d be. When I flipped the first one, it looked like something you’d pay $35-45 for in a restaurant and my worries were put to rest.
Off and running.
When the steaks were removed, the last of the butter was added and the shallots were introduced to start the base of the sauce. These seemingly took no time to brown thanks to the cast iron. I was pleasantly surprised to see lots of yummy peppercorns floating once I added the chicken broth and knew that boded well for the sauce’s prospects. Once the sauce came up to a simmer, the bourbon was added and it was time to let the dish simmer. If I was completely in charge of making this meal, this would’ve been an ideal time to clean some of the prep dishes and/or get ready for plating. Luckily for me, I had a most competent and capable sous chef who tackled all of that while making the two sides for the meal.

After everything had reduced, the heavy cream was added, the steaks were reintroduced, turned once, with sauce spooned over them the entire time, before being plated.
Warming up before plating.Overall Impressions
After what happened last week, I dipped my finger to take a taste of the sauce. I was immediately pleased with the taste and knew all would be well. Katie’s sides easily made this one of the more colorful and nutritionally balanced meals to date. The salad was great, and the potatoes were perfect.

As for the steak, it ended up being cooked rare, which I’d suspected after removing it from the cast iron and giving it a poke with my finger. Upon feeling how squishy it still was, I should’ve put each side back on for another minute. I take responsibility for recognizing that and not acting upon what I was seeing, however, the recipe could’ve been more helpful in two ways.

Instead of saying “until smoking,” it would’ve been nice if the recipe said approximately how long it would take the cast iron to heat up. My suspicious is it wasn’t hot enough when I put the steaks on. As mentioned earlier, I’d never cooked with cast iron before, and while I could’ve (and probably should’ve) looked up how long it would take to heat up, having more guidance would’ve been nice. 

I was also very surprised to see no degree of time and doneness offered. Maybe this is something obvious if you’ve cooked with cast iron before, but not having any indication of how long to cook each side for rare, medium-rare, etc., or at least an indication of what doneness two minutes each side would yield struck me as an unusual oversight. Again, additional research could’ve been done on my part beforehand to answer these questions, but a good recipe – especially one with “Simple” in the title – shouldn’t require cross-referencing.

Don’t let all of this mislead you: even though the steak was more underdone than I would’ve liked, it was still both delicious and impressive. Giving credit where credit is due, the balance of black peppercorns to Sichuan peppercorns was perfect! Sichuan peppercorns are much sweeter than black peppercorns, but they also leave your mouth numb and tingly if you have too many. This recipe really allowed their brightness to shine through. Even Katie, who’s not a spicy food fan, didn’t have a problem with this.

Although it was rare, the steak was completely edible, and as Katie rightly pointed out, better to undercook it to rare than overcook it to medium-well. When I reheat it, I’ll do so in a hot skillet and test it for doneness along the way.

The sauce really was delicious and deserved to be poured in a shallow bowl and served with good bread or heaped in great quantities over the steak. It had notes of the peppers, richness from the cream, mildness from the shallots, and the little bit of bourbon gave it its trademark backbone. This sauce is worthy of being served alongside many other dishes – beef or otherwise – and I will be creating a standalone entry in my recipe book ensuring this one is part of many future dishes. 
Final Word
It’s tough to say if my steak ended up rare because my cast iron skillet wasn’t hot enough when I put the steaks on, or whether they were rare because two minutes on each side wasn’t a long enough cook time for my desired medium-rare. Rare is okay, though, because you can always cook the leftovers a little more to get the desired doneness.

That aside, this dish is every bit as elegant and delicious as you expect with steak au poivre. The sauce is outstanding and leaves you wanting a bowl of it for personal consumption. The real star of the show is the poivre. In this regard, the recipe finds the perfect ratio of common black peppercorns to uncommon Sichuan peppercorns. This is a dish most worthy of a celebratory meal and I chose very well for my birthday dinner!
Time: 30 minutes Yields: 2
Ingredients 2 strip steaks, 6 ounces each, 1 inch thick Salt 1 tablespoon coarsely crushed black pepper 1 teaspoon coarsely crushed Sichuan pepper 2 tablespoons unsalted butter 2 large shallots, finely diced 1 ½ cups rich beef or chicken broth 1 tablespoon Cognac or bourbon ¼ cup heavy cream Directions Put steaks in a shallow dish and season well on both sides with salt. Sprinkle black pepper and Sichuan pepper evenly over steaks. Press pepper into both sides with hands and leave for 10 minutes. Put a large cast iron skillet over high heat. When surface is nearly smoking, swirl 1 tablespoon butter in the pan and add steaks. Adjust heat as necessary to keep steaks sizzling briskly. Cook for 2 minutes on first side; seared side should be nicely browned. Flip and cook for 2 minutes more. Transfer steaks to a warm platter. Make the sauce: Add 1 tablespoon butter to the pan. Add shallots and sauté for a minute or so, stirring, until they begin to brown. Add broth and bring to a brisk simmer. Add Cognac and continue to simmer until reduced by half, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in cream and cook until sauce is lightly thickened. Return steaks to pan to warm, spooning sauce over them and turning once. Arrange steaks on platter or individual plates, top with more sauce, and serve immediately.

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