This dish has become our go-to “make me feel fancy” meal.
We say that quote like Gob Bluth from Arrested Development, from the episode where he’s wearing Stan Sitwell’s dress eyebrows and tells Michael, “They make me feel fancy…”. If you get that reference, please let me know so I don’t feel like a rambling Arrested Development fangirl.
We came across steak au poivre a few years ago as an adventurous date night meal we could make together. I must give the boy credit for finding it. As per usual, I believe he was scouring the dungeons of Reddit and came across a post about how easy and delicious it was, so our meal plan was set. Like much French cuisine, its beauty comes from its simplicity: very few, quality ingredients come together to create something utterly mouthwatering, with butter and cream, naturally.
Like the boy often reminds me, the best meal he’s ever had was at a restaurant on the streets of Paris, and the menu item he chose simply said “Beef and Potatoes” (en Francais, of course). And it was reportedly incredible.
It’s remarkably simple and rewarding. You roll a fresh, tender cut of filet mignon into a bed of very coarsely crushed peppercorns (crushed – not cracked – use this opportunity to take out some stress on peppercorns wrapped in a dishtowel and beat them with a mallet), and sear it in a buttered skillet. It creates a crusty, savory, beautifully spiced outer layer. Inside, the meat is a tender medium rare, oozing with the undeniably satisfying juices of fresh beef.
The real winner of this meal, however, is the sauce. THAT SAUCE. What’s left in the skillet after steak has cooked are bits of butter and cracked peppercorn, melded together with the remnants of the savory fillet. How do we pry those gorgeous flavors from their stronghold and force it into creamy submission? Cognac. Or brandy, for those of us who live life on a budget. Toss in sweet, diced shallots to loosen the fond on the base of the skillet and caramelize a bit, then turn off the heat and put on your sunglasses, because it’s time to pour in the liquor.
Truth be told, there is still a slight scorch mark on our ceiling above the stove where we learned the first go round that playing with fire and alcohol is in fact dangerous. Exhilarating to watch, but dangerous. Nevertheless, once the brandy cooks down, you’re left with the most intense, concentrated soupy concoction of savory flavors, whisked with a respectable amount of heavy cream to lighten it and make it all the more addicting.
Drizzle a bit over the prepared steaks and reserve the rest for dipping a crusty bread in, or for smothering over fluffy, buttery mashed potatoes. I kid you not, I could drink this sauce whole from a mug, with a spoon like soup, from a bowl like a cat, or whatever other shame-inducing way of sauce consumption there might be. It is THAT good.
This is a genuinely easy, no fuss dish that will impress yourself and anyone else you may be feeding it it to. Because quality cuts of filet mignon don’t fall off of trees, we save splurging on this dish for more special occasions (anniversaries, birthdays, Game of Thrones finales, sale at the meat counter… the important stuff). Our only caution is to be aware that the meat will cook quickly while it sears, and if you lag a bit in removing it from the heat, you’ll lose the medium rare finish that takes this dish from a home-cooked meal to something you’d expect from a restaurant kitchen.
So go. Splurge on yourself a bit, pour some red wine, turn on the Hot Club of Detroit station on Pandora, find someone you like, grab a fire extinguisher just in case, and enjoy an evening playing in your kitchen. With this, you’ll create something that will cause you to contemplate quitting your day job to live out the life of Remi in Ratatouille as the unassuming but brilliant up-and-coming chef. Minus the whole rodent thing.
Steak au Poivre
- 2 8-10 oz cuts of filet mignon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons whole peppercorns
- 1 finely diced shallot (about 1/3 cup)
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/2 cup Cognac or Brandy
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- Take the steaks out of the fridge and let sit for about 30 – 45 minutes before cooking. Place the peppercorns in a plastic bag or wrap in a thin dishtowel and beat with a meat tenderizer (or some other hard object, like the bottom of a skillet) until the corns coarsely break up. Sprinkle salt evenly over the cuts of meat. Place the crushed corns in a shallow dish and roll each uncooked steak in the peppercorns, roughly covering all sides.
- Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet over just below high heat until heated through. Add two tablespoons of butter and swirl to cover the bottom of the skillet. Place the steaks in and cook on each side for 3-4 minutes. Cook longer if you'd like your steak medium well to well. Remove steaks from the skillet and cover in a light foil tent to keep warm and let rest.
- Turn the heat in the skillet to medium and add the shallots and rest of the butter. Stir until the shallots tenderize and release moisture. Turn the heat off (and maybe grab a pan lid just in case) and add the brandy, standing a step or two away from the stove. Let the flame die down and the alcohol burn off, then stir and let simmer for about 3 minutes. Add the cream and whisk until well incorporated. Serve the sauce drizzled over the steaks, and reserve any leftovers for dipping bread in or drizzling over potatoes.
- For the salt, I used freshly cracked sea salt. If you're using table salt, I'd advise using less than a teaspoon since it tends to be more concentrated.
- Also, any heavy-bottomed skillet should work well for this recipe. Some people say cast-iron is better, but we've used alternatives and have always had success.