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Pepper Steak (steak au poivre)
By Charlie Burke

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This preparation is a classic bistro dish and has many variations. In the past,
the sauce tended to be heavy, containing large amounts of butter and cream.
We prefer lighter -sauced preparations which complement the fish or meat
being served. Traditionally, after cooking the steak, the pan is deglazed with
cognac; I still do this on the rare occasions we have brandy but usually use red
wine instead.

If you’ve read other sauté recipes we’ve written, you will notice I place
chopped shallots into the pan for a couple minutes before deglazing because
they add depth to sauces.

There is a movement in New England toward raising grass fed beef, and it is
worth seeking out sources. Naturally raised beef is also finding its way into
meat markets. Use a tender cut such as strip sirloin which will remain tender
and keep its juices during high heat cooking. Splurge on a good red wine such
as a Pinot Noir from Oregon, serve the steak with sautéed mushrooms and a
mixed salad and treat your guests toan easily prepared classic dish.

For four servings:

Four 8 – 10 ounce strip sirloin steaks (preferably more than 1 inch thick and
trimmed of excess fat) or similar tender cuts. Do not use filet mignon which
lacks necessary marbling
3 tablespoons, more or less, coarsely cracked black pepper
Kosher or sea salt
2 tablespoons chopped shallot (substitute onion if
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup red wine or ¾ cup cognac
½ cup beef broth or water
1 ½  tablespoons butter (optional)

Have steaks at room temperature. Crack pepper with mortar and pestle or use
a heavy pan to crack the pepper on the counter. Crack enough to lightly and
evenly coat both sides of the steak. Salt steaks and press the steaks into the
pepper so that it will adhere during cooking. Heat a heavy sauté pan large
enough to hold the steaks without their touching over high heat. Add oil to
pan and sauté steaks for 3 -4 minutes per side, depending on thickness, for
medium rare. The meat will continue to cook from retained heat, so remove
them before they reach your desired temperature.  

An instant reading thermometer is very helpful, but do not worry about
making a small slit into the thickest part of the meat to check. Place the steaks
on a platter and tent with foil to keep warm while you finish the sauce. Having
the meat rest for 5 – 10 minutes will keep the juices from running our when
it’s sliced.

Pour the fat from the pan and add the shallots, stirring so that they soften but
do not brown. Add wine or cognac and the water or broth and reduce over
high heat until the alcohol has evaporated and the sauce is slightly thickened.

Return any juices from the steak to the pan and add butter if using. The butter
enriches the flavor and balances any acidity from the wine. Plate the steaks,
dividing the sauce among them and expect request is the future for this great
bistro meal.

About the author
An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice president of
the New Hampshire Farmer’s Market Association ( and helps
run the Sanbornton Farmers' Market. Along with his wife, Joanne, he grows
certified organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather Hill Farm in Sanbornton,
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