Sunday, November 15, 2009

An old flame? - Steak au poivre

Our friend Bryan - he of the champagne dinner fame, sometimes calls up saying, "I was thinking of opening a bottle of (insert interesting wine here), I'd like to share it with you and Madame, so what would go well with it?" This means that he would like to discuss a pairing with me, and have me cook. Of course that's not a problem. An excuse to drink something delicious, enjoy Bryan's company and have something pretty special. Friday night was no exception. The phone call (on Thursday evening) went something like, "Are you guys busy on Friday, I was thinking of opening a 2004 Clos de tart and would like to share it with you both, what would go well with it?"
The tasting notes suggested pepper and silkiness - among some herby fragrances. So what to do? Well steak au poivre came to mind. The black and pink peppercorns giving some help to the peppery nose, and the cream accentuating the silkiness of the wine. There is a slight sweetness to the dish, courtesy of the shallots (I don't know if they are classic or not, but they seemed necessary), and there you have a terrific complement.
I am not a fan of beef tenderloin, so used New York Strips instead. They turned out rather well served with pommes boulangere and a simple salad. A very good (and easy) time was had by all.
To make this dinner you have to start a bit in advance. The potatoes take about 1 1/4 hours to cook. You also have to factor in prep time.
Pommes Boulangere
2 oz. unsalted butter
2 lbs Yukon Gold (or other intermediate not waxy/not floury potatoes) peeled
1 small onion
8-10 sprigs of thyme
1 cup warmed chicken stock
Salt/pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400F. Warm the chicken stock slowly until nearly boiling. Better not to boil it because you don't want any evaporation. However adding it warmed to the potatoes makes them cook more quickly. Less danger of burning the top while still cooking them through.
Grease a gratin dish with a small amount of the butter.
Slice the potatoes thinly and evenly (about 1/4 inch thick). This is easiest done with a mandolin or V slicer. You really do want them to be of even thickness so they cook evenly. Do not rinse the potatoes. Peel and slice the onion into rings - a bit thinner than the potatoes.
Place a layer of potatoes, overlapping very slightly, in the bottom of the well greased grain dish. Cover with a scattering of the onions and 3 sprigs of thyme, a couple of good pinches of salt and a little freshly ground black pepper. repeat with 2 more layers, then finish with a layer of potatoes.
Pour the warmed stock over the potatoes, then dot with the remaining butter, season with more salt and pepper (again about 2 pinches of salt and a couple of healthy grinds of pepper).
Place the gratin onto a baking sheet and then into the oven for about an hour. It isn't terribly time sensitive, but when the top is crunchy and light brown it will be cooked. If you need to hold it until other dishes are ready, then simply turn the oven off.

Now for the steak au poivre. This is one of those dishes that looks really impressive - so much so that the natural instinct is to think it is difficult to do. It isn't! That's the beauty.

Steak au Poivre
4 12 oz ribeye steaks (off the bone)
Kosher salt
2 1/2 T cracked black pepper
2 oz butter + 1 short glug of olive oil. No need for extrav virgin. You could use safflower, etc.
2 good sized shallots (about 2 oz total) minced
1/4 cup brandy (make sure it isn't salted. Use the real thing not the supermaket flavoring)
1 cup thick cream
1 T whole pink peppercorns (optional)

make sure the steaks are removed from refrigeration about 30 minutes to 1 hour before cooking. Lightly coat them with kosher salt about 15 minutes before cooking. Meanwhile crush the black peppercorns in a pestle and mortar until you have fairly even, but still well textured pieces. You do not want dust!
Heat a large skillet on the stove, add the butter/oil and allow to become very hot - almost smoking. You may need to keep an eye on this as it can burn easily. Put the cracked black peppercorns onto a flat plate and coat both sides of each steak with them. Pressing them in as necessary.
Cook the steaks in the hot oil/butter to the desired degree of doneness. If you want them any more than medium, you will probably need to finish them for a couple of minutes in the oven, since prolonged time over the direct heat will cause the outside to become overcooked.
Once the meat is cooked, remove from the pan, tent with foil, and allow to rest while you make the sauce. Into the still hot pan, add the chopped shallots and gently sweat. They will help get the browned bits off the bottom of the pan, and add extra flavor and sweetness. Making sure that there are no open flames nearby (turn the flame off under the shallots too), add all but 1 T of the brandy. Reignite the flame under the pan, and flame the brandy. This will burn off some of the alcohol and add a slightly woody, charred flavor. It is subtle, but pretty important. When the flames have died down, add the pink peppercorns and the cream. Allow the sauce to boil for a short time to thicken. It should not separate. Finish the sauce with the remaining T of brandy, stirred in at the last minute (again, make sure that all flames are off).
Traditionally this is served with the sauce poured over the meat, but we prefer to place the sauce on the plate first and rest the meat on top. If I had been thinking, a little thyme as a garnish would have been nice.
Because this was an informa dinner, I plated the steak, but served the potatoes and a light salad family style.
Oh and yes, it did indeed complement the Clos de Tart perfectly. Even though we opened it a good hour before drinking, it was really only towards the end of the course that it showed its true potential - opening up with a surprising amount of floral notes - probably heightened by the pink peppercorns. As predicted, though, the black pepper and silky sauce was the perfect pairing.

So Bryan, what are you bringing next?

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