Here at last is a mistake-free sirloin steak with a peppercorn sauce that feels like velvet in the mouth. Velvet in the mouth is important as a sensual experience, but it also means you’ve avoided the common problems associated with this dish — bitterness and an overpowering edge to the crushed peppercorns, obliterating any taste of the beef. Dana Cowin, the longtime editor of Food & Wine Magazine, gives us this terrific recipe, included in her new book, Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen. Cowin has been highly respected as editor of the magazine, but she’s now on my list of Most Admirable Human Beings since she says at the start of her book that she’s been keeping a secret — she can’t cook. She searches out some of the nation’s top chefs to help her with every mistake she makes in the kitchen. (I wish I’d had her team on hand when I put too much pepper in my Thanksgiving gravy.) This book is filled with great recipes and a million useful tips for the home cook. (Special thanks to Senior Contributor Chris Prosperi for cooking her steak au poivre for our show.)
- 1½ tablespoons black peppercorns
- 2 New York strip steaks 1-inch-thick, about ½ pound each, excess fat trimmed, at room temperature
- kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or canola
- 1/4 cup cognac
- 2 shallots small, grated to a paste
- 4 teaspoons dijon mustard
- 1/4 cup crème fraîche
- 1/4 cup lemon juice freshly squeezed
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley finely chopped
- Put the peppercorns on a small-rimmed baking sheet and crush them with a small heavy skillet; be sure not to bash them. Season each side of the steaks generously with salt, then mop up the crushed peppercorns with both sides of the steaks.
- Heat a large heavy stainless steel skillet over high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the skillet. When the oil is smoking hot, carefully place the steaks in the skillet, laying them down away from you (so that if any hot fat splatters, it splatters away from you). Let the steaks cook until the underside is nicely browned and they don't resist when you try to flip them, about 4 minutes. Turn and cook on the second side until well browned, another 3 to 4 minutes. Turn the steaks onto their fat edges and brown them until the fat is nice and crisp, about 2 minutes. Transfer the steaks to a serving dish or dinner plates and let them rest while you make the sauce.
- Pour off and discard all but a very thin layer of fat from the skillet. Take the skillet off the heat and add the Cognac. Carefully return the skillet to the heat - the alcohol should immediately burst into flames (not a bad thing!); if it doesn't, ignite the Cognac with a long match or lighter. Once the flames have subsided, lower the heat to medium, add the shallots and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until the raw shallot aroma disappears, about a minute. Whisk in the mustard, crème fraîche, lemon juice and water. Season the sauce to taste with salt, and add more water if you prefer a looser consistency. Remove from the heat.
- Whisk half the parsley into the sauce and sprinkle the steaks with the remaining parsley. Season each steak with a pinch more salt and scatter the lemon zest evenly on top. Spoon the sauce over the steaks and serve immediately.
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