23 December 2009

French pepper steak — Steak au poivre

This is the recipe for Walt's birthday Steak au poivre, French pepper steak. I've been making it for about 30 years. I don't usually use a precise recipe, but I described how I make it, with pictures, in this 2006 blog post.

The steaks "marinating" in coarse black pepper and the
bottle of marc de Touraine — a local brandy —made by a
neighbor, which we used to make the pepper-cream sauce.

Here's a recipe for Steak au poivre in French that I got off the Internet. It describes what I do and has the advantage of giving precise amounts for the ingredients. Use it as a guide. This is my adaptation/translation, with American measurements:
French Steak au poivre

4 steaks, ¾" to 1" thick, 6 to 8 oz. each
2 Tbsp. coarsely ground pepper
2 fl. oz. cognac
3 fl. oz. dry white wine
6 fl. oz. reduced veal or chicken stock
4 fl. oz. heavy cream
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
salt and freshly ground pepper

Pour a tablespoon of vegetable oil onto a plate and add a pinch of salt. On another plate, put the coarsely ground pepper.

Dip each steak in the oil and then in the pepper so that the pepper sticks to the meat. Let the steaks rest for an hour or even two if you have time.

Set a heavy skillet over high heat and put in a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of vegetable oil. When the butter is lightly browned, put the pepper-coated steaks in the pan and sear them for two to four minutes on each side so that they will be done the way you like them (rare, medium, etc.). Take the steaks out of the pan, put them on a plate, and cover them with foil to rest (in a warm oven or other warm place).

While the steaks are resting, pour the fat out of the skillet and put it back on high heat. Pour in the cognac and stir it around to deglaze the pan. Add the white wine and boil it until it is reduced by half. Add the cream and let that reduce by half as well, and then add the concentrated veal or chicken stock.

As soon as the sauce boils again, take the pan off the heat and stir in the Dijon mustard. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.

Add to the sauce any juices released by the steaks, stir well, and then pour the sauce over the steaks — or put them back in the pan, on low heat, to cook a little more, turning them to coat them completley in the sauce.
Serve these steaks with French-fried or sauteed potatoes, French bread, red wine, and a green salad dressed with vinaigrette. The sauce is delicous with French fries.

Sear the steaks in a heavy, very hot pan.

I've made this pepper steak recipe using cognac, armagnac, calvados, or other brandies at different times. Bourbon whiskey would also be good. You make the sauce with white wine alone, no brandy, but the flavor will be different.

The steak is good with either coarse black or white pepper (called mignonnette in French), and it's also good with coarsely chopped green peppercorns. Use as little or as much pepper as you see fit.

A sauce made with cream, pepper, wine, and brandy.

Julia Child makes her pepper sauce with a little sauteed shallot in it. That would be good too. In a recipe in one of her books, she puts in brandy but no white wine, and in another she puts in white wine but no brandy. Jacques Pépin makes a pepper steak sauce with butter instead of cream, but otherwise it's basically the same thing.

Strictly speaking, the veal or chicken stock is optional, as is the mustard, but both add good flavor. A dark, concentrated stock will give the sauce a darker color too. To me, the most important ingredients are the steaks, pepper, salt, white wine, and cream. The brandy or whiskey can also really enhance the flavor.


  1. Nice blog !!! How many Americans living in France and writing blogs...I've just started mine: Argentinian living and cooking in Paris...
    Good luck!!!!

  2. Simple and sophisticated at the same time - it looks delicious. And there's something so old-fashioned and wholesome about using an ingredient that was a gift from a neighbour.
    I've just fought my way round the supermarket for the few things we need for our Christmas dinner. It was an every-man-for-himself war zone. Awful. Can't wait for the serenity of our little French home again. Not long now......

  3. I went to SuperU in Saint-Aignan to get some things this morning. It was a zoo. There were a lot of people there I've never seen before. And the supermarket had hired a whole "sécurité" force, working inside the store and in the parking lot.

  4. I, too am headed to the supermarché... no choice but to leave it to today.

    I'm making a Christmas Pound Cake, with chopped cherries and nuts. I wanted to use the mini bundt pans I got for Noël last year, with a variety of designs.

    I decided to look around for a new basic pound cake recipe, because my mom's is just too big. You wouldn't believe how huge the disparity is with pound cake recipes! If it calls for 6 eggs, you usually don't use baking powder. If it calls for 3 eggs, it usually does use baking powder. But, whether 6 eggs or 3 eggs, I've seen everything from 1 cup to 2 cups to 3 cups of flour! Then, of course, there are two different approaches to beating the eggs (whole, warmed, or separated, with beaten egg whites). In the end, I'm going with Dorie Greenspan's recipe from Julia Child's Baking With Julia. It includes milk, which most don't. Who knows what I'll end up with! If anyone has any input for me, I'd love to read it :)

    Jean, enjoy your time in your little French home!

    Ken, the sauce looked MARVELOUS.

    Nadège, if you're out there, enjoy Hawaii!


  5. Judy, the pound cake -- Quatre-quarts -- recipe in one of my favorite books calls for:

    125 g de farine
    125 g de sucre
    125 g de beurre
    2 gros oeufs (ou 3 moyens)
    1 citron

    If you want the rest of the recipe, let me know.

  6. Ken,
    Other than Sue's Roman spring Lamb dish, I find there is nothing better than a Pepper Steak with a good bottle of Shiraz.
    Here there is a TV ad with NZ actor Sam Neill which has the tag "feed the man meat".
    How true.
    One more sleep before the 25th here.

  7. I say yummy yum yum! Happy Christmas. I can't wait to hear about the goose.

  8. Easy French Food24 December, 2009 09:20

    Hi Ken and all - I've tried to make this twice but both times I was overwhelmed by by the pepper and felt like I'd wasted some nice steaks. From the looks of your photos you're using thicker steaks and less pepper, so maybe I should give it another go. After Christmas though because I'm with all of you - there is a madness in the air at the grocery store. I think I'll sit tight with what provisions we do have or send my darling one to the store. Joyeuses Fêtes!

  9. Hello Easy French Food, Good luck with the pepper steak. Use less pepper if you find it overwhelming.

    I don't like the fact that on your site you are advertising, for example, Pruneaux d'Agen for $9.00 for a half pound when I can buy 2.2 pounds -- that's a kilo -- at the supermarket in Saint-Aignan for 2.50 euros. That's quite a mark-up on your price. Besides, so many of the prunes sold in France nowadays come from California that I think Americans should just buy California prunes. They are just as good.

    Thanks for your comment, but I'd rather not have links to sites advertising products for sale in these comments. I've removed the link.

  10. Kim - Easy French Food24 December, 2009 10:21

    Hi Ken,

    No problem. I understand. Those prices are of course not mine, they belong to the people selling the products. I have advertising on my site, which is basically a full time job for me, because that way I get paid for my work.

    Kind Regards, Kim

  11. Wonderful recipe, Ken, for the steak au poivre. I'm going to try it over the holidays. The meat looks like a filet mignon but I think a New York cut would also work.

  12. Hi Gabby, and Merry Christmas. The beef we bought is called boeuf à fondue. It would be good for a Fondue Bourguignonne. Our butcher didn't have rumsteak the day we went in. I think a NY strip steak would be really good as steak au poivre.


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