22 December 2012

Steak au poivre, sauce au cognac

Steak au poivre has been Walt's birthday dinner since 1981. I wasn't there for the very first one. He was  traveling around the south of France with some friends in December that year. In Antibes, on the Mediterranean coast, he had a steak au poivre in a restaurant on his birthday and thought it was really delicious. Memorable.

Steak au poivre garni de pommes frites

A year later we were both living in Washington DC when his birthday rolled around again. I told him I'd cook dinner. He told me about the steak au poivre in Antibes. I told him that I knew how to cook that — no problem. That was what we had for his 1982 birthday dinner. And we've made steak au poivre on December 21 every year since then.

A dry rub of crushed black pepper
In most years we've made the pepper steak with a cream sauce, which was my recipe in the 1970s. Then in the '90s we watched a Jacques Pépin (a well-known French cook and TV host who has lived in America for decades) and Julia Child (the American woman who introduced French cooking methods to America in the 1960s) cooking show in which Pépin makes his version of steak au poivre not with a cream sauce but with a sauce finished with butter. That's what we made this year (last year we made the cream sauce style — both are good).

We got a big, fairly thick piece of boneless entrecôte from the drive-up butcher this week — that's the cut known in different parts of the U.S. as rib-eye, New York strip, Delmonico, or club steak. To make French pepper steak, the first thing you do is crush some peppercorns using a mortar and pestle to make what is called a mignonnette de poivre. Then you rub the coarsely ground pepper all over the steak and let it sit for a couple of hours.

Sear the peppered steak on both sides in a heavy pan over high heat

When you're ready, you just sear the steak in butter over high heat in a thick-bottomed frying pan. Then take it out and cover it with foil and a kitchen towel, or put it in a warming oven, and let it rest for 10 or 15 minutes while you make the sauce.

Dice up a shallot and toss it into the pan that the steak cooked in. Let it fry for a minute or two, and then pour a good glug of cognac (or whiskey) into the pan. You can flame it, but it's not absolutely necessary. You can also use white wine instead of cognac to make the sauce (but it won't be as good, IMHO). Let the alcohol or wine reduce a little over high heat, and then add a quarter cup of dark beef stock. Let that too reduce a little and then put in either cream or some butter cut into small pieces to melt and give the sauce a nice gloss.

Put the steak back in the pan for a minute or two and spoon some of the sauce over it. It's ready.


  1. A fine way to end the world.

  2. As the world has not ended, although it is a little soggy round here, I might get Nick to cook me that this weekend. It looks delish, especially the sauce. Were the chips home-made, too?

  3. Jean, we always use frozen frites. They give the best result. I'm convinced that the companies that sell frozen potatoes buy up all the best varieties for frites. A Belgian resident of Mareuil says you can't get good frites potatoes in Touraine. We are thinking of maybe growing some this spring (bintje or BF15 variety).

    However, I don't think we've tried making fries from fresh potatoes since we got our new friteuse last January. Have to try that. I had good luck with the King Edwards you chitted for us, and I had good luck at time or two with French Charlotte potatoes.

  4. Susan, did the world end? I guess I missed it!

  5. Ken, try Prospère potatoes - you should get plenty of good big ones for fries. You should be able to find them in the Brico, they taste excellent, you can use them for any potato dish you like including mash and they stand up well to drought. Pauline

  6. Pauline, I'll look for those, but I really think bintje are the variety to use for frying. Drought? What's that? We are floating away.

  7. Ken

    I read somewhere ( Madame Figaro or Marmiton) to substitute Porto if you don't have Cognac.
    Will have to try it someday .

  8. It's funny, I just looked through all my favorite French cookbooks (Larousse Gastronomique, Ginette Mathiot, Monique Maine, Tante Marie, etc.) and I found steak au poivre mentioned only once. It seems to have been invented by a sauce cook at Maxim's in about 1920. The one recipe I found made no mention of cognac.

    Beaver, I've seen mention of porto too but I've never tried it in steak au poivre. I like the pepper sauce made with calvados, and I've done it with white wine. The shallots are really optional. Some people stir a spoonful of Dijon mustard into the sauce at the end, along with the butter or cream.

    Pauline, I looked up the Prospère potatoes and read about them. Seems like they are worth a try. They're red! I think of red potatoes as been boilers, but these Prospères seem to be good cooked every way.

  9. Wonderful! I knew, when I went to click on the link for your blog this morning, that I would find a post about another festive Steak au poivre event.

    This morning, I am constipada (see Mitchell's blog today), so I wouldn't be able to taste it or smell it, I think, but your sauce looks fragrant and delicious.


  10. We rarely eat steak, but the sauce sounds really good. Maybe we could use it with something else like chicken or fish.

  11. Starman, I think it would be good with duck, chicken, or turkey breast. I'll have to try that.

    Judy, sorry to here about the "constipation". There's a lot of that going around right now -- head colds, I mean.

  12. I've been getting the ready-to-grind steak au poivre in its own moulin for a few years. Much faster than the mortar and pestle method (and which I don't have, anyway) and better than the already ground variety.
    I've always done the cream sauce I might try the butter sauce some time. Sounds good. I like whiskey in the sauce more than cognac. In fact, I use bourbon.
    Anyway, the picture shows an absolutely perfect steak. I'm amazed it stayed on the plate long enough to be photographed.

  13. Louis De Gouy doesn't even mention Steak Au Poivre! (The Gold Cookbook) He is my go-to for French Cooking (perhaps I should rethink??)Wah!!!
    But I think your recipe, cream or not, is absolutely in the old style...so elegant!! and simple....
    I love to read this cookbook, tho, great stories and history of food...inventive and also elegant...

  14. No estoy constipada, lol !!!!


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