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~Steak au Poivre (Peppercorn-Crusted Filet Mignon)~

6a0120a8551282970b019b0456c281970dJoe and I celebrate New Years Eve quietly.  Why?  We do enough entertaining and partying throughout the year.  By the time this holiday rolls around, we qualify for "professional party pooper status".  That, however, does not mean we don't celebrate it elegantly.  We do. 

IMG_9858We always put forethought and planning into a dinner worthy of a bottle of bubbly.  Sometimes it takes us all day to prepare (meaning it is a complicated recipe), sometimes it takes just a few minutes (meaning it is an easy recipe).  Last year it was a bit complicated, and, it was lobster. Two days ago, when Joe came home with beautiful filets mignons, I knew immediately what I would make to ring in 2014:  steak au poivre.  Good news for me this year:  it's quick and easy.

TrianglenightThe first time I ate steak au poivre was in the early 1980's.  It was in a lovely restaurant named Christophers (currently the Monterey Bay Fish Grotto), located atop Mt. Washington, overlooking downtown Pittsburgh's Golden Triangle.  The view was breathtaking and the steak was excellent.

A bit about steak au poivre (ah PWAHV-re):  Any steakhouse "worth its salt" has steak au poivre on their menu, and, it is one of the most delicious ways to enjoy a filet.  In French "au poivre" means "with pepper", and, in the case of this dish, cracked black or a blend of peppercorns form a crust on this tender, high-end, pan-seared cut of beef.  When the steak comes out of the skillet and is resting, cognac, demi-glace or cream, and sometimes shallots and/or Dijon mustard are added to the buttery "fond" ("pan drippings") to create a quick pan sauce.  In true French style, it is typically served with crispy "pommes frites" (French fried "shoestring potatoes").

IMG_9757Where did this dish originate?  Who invented it?  It's a valid question without a solid answer. The earliest origin (as per Craig Claiborn's NY Times Food Encyclopedia) suggests that peppered steak can be traced to Prince Leopold I of Germany in 1790, but, The American Culinary Cookbook says, "Food historians of solid reputation dismiss the Leopold story as fantasy."  What we do know for sure:  Steak au poivre with pan sauce has been served since the mid-19th century.  All chefs agree the same pan used to cook the steak should be used to create the sauce.  Seasoned chefs say heavy cream does not belong in the recipe, but, many home cooks and restaurants use it.  Call me "seasoned", as I do not like the unappetizing appearence of au poivre served with the odd-colored cream sauce.  Serve me the glistening demi-glace rendition.

IMG_97534  6-8-ounce, approximately 1 1/4" thick, filet mignons, as evenly sized as possible, at room temperature

3  tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon for brushing on steaks and 2 tablespoons for sauteing filets

3  tablespoon salted butter, 2 tablespoons for sauteing filets and 1 tablespoon (cubed and kept cold) for finishing sauce

3  tablespoons cracked, crushed or coarsely-ground peppercorn blend, or your favorite peppercorns (Note:  The peppercorns must be cracked, crushed or coarsely ground, not ground to a fine powder.)

3 tablespoons good-quality Cognac (1 1/2 ounces)

4  ounces demi-glace (1/2 cup), a rich, brown, strongly-flavored combination of duck and veal stock prepared with roasted bones, homemade or store-bought

2-3 tablespoons of your favorite slightly-thick, "A-1-type" steak sauce, not Worcestershire sauce (1-1 1/2 ounces) (optional)

IMG_9740~ Step 1.  Cracking, crushing or coarsely grinding peppercorns can be done one of two ways (and both are easy).  I have a wonderful pepper grinder that has "C", "M" and "F" (coarse, medium and fine) grind options.  In 3-4 minutes of grinding I've got the necessary 3 tablespoons.  If you don't have a grinder, place your peppercorns in a ziplock food storage bag.  Place the bag on a surface that can't be destroyed (like a cement garage floor or sidewalk) and whack them with the bottom of a cast-iron skillet.

IMG_9777 IMG_9771                                      ~ Step 2.   Open the filets and pat them dry in some paper towels.  Using a pastry brush, paint the top of each filet with olive oil and dip the top in the peppercorns.  

Turn each one over and do the same thing with the bottom.  Do not coat the sides of the steaks in olive oil or peppercorns.

IMG_9788~ Step 3.  In a 10" skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of butter into the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Increase the heat to medium-high. Place the seasoned filets in the skillet and saute 2 1/2-3 1/2 minutes per side, turning only once. Filets will be golden around the edges and across their tops.  At 2 1/2 minutes per side, the filets will be very rare, at 3 minutes per side they will be rare, and, at 3 1/2 minutes they will be medium-rare. 

IMG_9795~ Step 4.  Turn the heat off. Transfer the filets to a warm serving platter, leaving all of the juices in the pan. Cover the filets with aluminum foil and allow to rest, 5-6 minutes, while preparing the sauce. DO NOT cut into your steaks to test for doneness because I can tell you they are going to look underdone. Remember:  carry over heat during the rest period is going to continue to cook them, so just be patient.

IMG_9807~ Step 5.  Add the cognac to the skillet, and, using a spatula, deglaze by gently loosening all of the flavorful browned bits from the bottom of pan, about 30 seconds.  

Note:  As much fun as it is to watch chefs "flambe" things ("ignite" things to produce a flame) in restaurants and on TV, it is almost always completely unnecessary, especially in the home kitchen.  I try to avoid it whenever possible.

IMG_9831 IMG_9824~ Step 6. Add the demi-glace and optional steak sauce and simmer rapidly over medium-high heat until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 5-6 minutes. Remove from heat.  Whisk in the remaining 1 tablespoon of cold butter cubes until butter has melted into the sauce.  Serve immediately:

IMG_9877Steak au Poivre (Peppercorn-Crusted Filet Mignon:  Recipe yields 4 servings.

Special Equipment List:  adjustable grind pepper grinder, or, zip lock bag and cast-iron skillet; paper towels; pastry brush; 10" skillet, well-seasoned cast iron or nonstick; spatula; aluminum foil; small whisk 

IMG_8860Cook's Note:  Last New Year's Eve I prepared ~ Elegant & Exquisite: Butter-Poached Lobster Tails ~. You can find that recipe in Categories, 3, 11, 14 & 21.  

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014) 


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