If I was ever on Death Row, I know exactly what I would order for my last meal: A shrimp cocktail appetizer, then a Caesar Salad, followed by a New York Strip Steak cooked medium rare with potatoes gratiné and steamed broccoli. And for desert, an enormous slice of cheesecake topped with a cherry sauce.
This is by far my favorite way to enjoy a steak. Traditionally, steak au poivre is made with beef tenderloin, but I prefer to use a NY Strip, which has a little ribbon of fat along the side and consequently more flavor, in my opinon.
I had never heard of steak au poivre until I worked as the grillardin in a French bistro on the North Side of Chicago called “Un Grande Cafe”.
The cafe is still there, only now it’s called “Mon Ami Gabi”. The restaurant is owned by master chef Gabino Sotelino, who actually was one of the people who originally inspired me to leave my career as a newspaper reporter back in 1992 and enroll in culinary school after I saw him one day on PBS’s “The Great Chefs of America“. In real life, he is a very nice man who was very patient and generous to me with his knowledge.
You might think with all that peppercorn, the steak would be exceedingly spicy, but it’s really not. While it is coated with quite a bit of pepper, searing the steak in a high temperature skillet causes a flavorful brown crust to form, which causes a pungent yet complimentary flavor to the meat inside.
I served this with another traditional French dish I made every day at the bistro, potatoes gratiné. This mixture of scalloped potatoes, leeks and cream topped off with shredded Gruyere cheese and more cracked peppercorns is among my all-time favorites.
If you order steak au poivre in a French restaurant, it will almost always be served with a cognac sauce, which has a tangy, smoky flavor that really compliments the flavor of the steak.
I also was saucier at the restaurant, which had all the stations of the classical brigade of a French kitchen, although we each had more than one station. The cognac sauce is made from demi glace, a gelatin-rich brown liquid made by simmer roasted veal bones with a mirepoix and tomato paste for several hours.
I would make roast 100 lbs of veal bones every few days to make enough demi glace that would be used to make a number of different sauces. Sadly, veal bones are hard to find in the markets near my house, so I skipped the cognac sauce for this dish.
Steak Au Poivre
2 8-10 oz New York Strip Steaks
1/2 cup Whole Black Peppercorns
1 oz Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 TBS Unsalted Butter
1. In a spice mixer, crush the peppercorns until they are just cracked. Don’t pulverize them into a powder. If you don’t have a spice grinder, lay the peppercorns on a cutting board and carefully crush them using the bottom of a heavy saute pan. Set aside in a bowl.
2. Preheat the oven to 375F then put a cast iron pan over a high heat. Season the steaks on both sides with salt, then dredge them through the bowl of cracked peppercorns. Add the oil and the butter to the pan. When they begin to smoke, which should be almost instantly, place the steaks into the pan, being careful not to splash yourself with hot oil. Cook until a crust forms on the steak, about two minutes, then turn and cook until the other side is crusted. Then place the whole pan in the oven to finish, about another 4 minutes for medium rare.
I haven’t made the potatoes gratine in a while and sadly they didn’t turn out exactly the way I wanted. I forgot to salt the potatoes and then forgot to finish the gratine under the broiler, so I will remake those and post a blog about it another day.