A standard on the menu of any respectable steak house is peppercorn steak, or “steak au poivre” as the French call it. There is some debate over the exact origins of this recipe (which French chef, or French king, and what era), but a thick juicy steak served with a peppercorn sauce has been popular in American homes and restaurants for at least 50 years. The steak is usually crusted with cracked black or green peppercorns, and served with a sauce with cognac, and cream or demi-glace. The following recipe uses crushed black peppercorns, brandy, beef stock, and cream. In many recipes the peppercorns are pressed into the steak before cooking. In this recipe (adapted from the Joy of Cooking, same ingredients, slightly different method), the steak is seared first, so you can get good flavorful browning without burning a bunch of peppercorns. After searing, then a peppercorn sauce is made and served over the steak.
By the way, as an experiment, we made this recipe with both boneless ribeye (a rather expensive cut) and top sirloin (half the price). The ribeye was predictably more tender (more fat marbling), but the top sirloin was also excellent. So I would say that with this sauce, you can get away with a less expensive cut of meat.
What kind of steak? Any good quality cut of steak will work, for example top sirloin, ribeye, filet mignon, porterhouse, T-bone, or New York strip. (Avoid chuck, that's best left for pot roasts.) We used inch-thick steaks, but you could go as thin as half-inch to as thick as 2-inches.
- 4 good-sized steaks (1/2 pound to a pound each, allow for 1/2 pound per person)
- 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil, canola oil, or other high smoke-point oil
- 3 Tbsp black peppercorns, cracked
- 1/4 cup finely chopped shallots or onions
- 1/4 cup cognac or other brandy
- 1 cup beef broth or stock (for gluten-free version use gluten-free stock)
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1 Sprinkle salt generously over both sides of the steaks and let them come to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
2 Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over high heat. (Use a pan that can handle high heat. Cast iron works well for this, or anodized aluminum.) When the oil begins to smoke, take the pan off the heat. Pat the steaks dry with paper towels (steaks brown better if they are patted dry first) and place in the hot pan. Return the pan to the heat and turn the heat down to medium-high. Sear, without moving the steaks, for at least 4 minutes. Try to pick up a steak with tongs, and if it comes clean, flip it and turn the heat down to medium. If it sticks to the pan, let it cook for another minute or two on that side.
For this recipe, we sear on one side on high heat, and cook on lower heat on the other side. This way you get great flavor from the seared side, and better control over how done you want your steak by cooking the other side more slowly.
3 Use the finger test for doneness or a meat thermometer. For rare, remove the meat from the pan when the inside reaches 120°F, for medium rare 125-130°F. Once the steak is done to your liking remove the meat to a baking sheet and sprinkle on a generous portion of crushed black peppercorns on both sides of each steak. Tent with aluminum foil and let the steak rest while you are preparing the sauce.
4 Make the sauce. Add the shallots and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the brandy and as it boils, deglaze the pan by scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon (helps to have one with a straight edge) to dislodge all the browned bits. Once the brandy is almost cooked away, add the beef stock and turn the heat to high. Boil the sauce down until there's a noticeable trail when you drag a wooden spoon through the center of it (4-5 minutes).
Pour in the heavy cream and resume boiling. Again, boil down until you can make that telltale trail from the wooden spoon. Turn off the heat and add the parsley and any remaining black pepper (no more than 1 Tbsp, the rest should have already been used to pepper the steaks). Taste for salt and add if needed.
Pour the sauce over the steaks right when you serve.