This post is sponsored by Omaha Steaks. Rest assured all opinions are my own.
I have to be honest, there are a couple meals that I am an absolute sucker for, the first being veal marsala and the second, steak au poivre. Now, I do have to admit, that also means that I’m very particular about both. We will have a discussion about the marsala another day but for now, I’m all about that peppery rich sauce complementing a perfectly cooked steak. This is a dish that will wow those you cook it for, and I promise you, it’s not a complicated dish.
For those unfamiliar with the dish, “steak au poivre” in French translates to “pepper steak”. Traditionally a steak is encrusted in cracked peppercorns, served with a rich pan sauce made with cognac and cream. To be honest with you, I’m usually a purist when it comes to my steak. I usually prefer eating them unsauced with just a sprinkle of salt upon serving. But steak au poivre is my exception. When executed properly, there is no denying it is something that makes me close my eyes as I take that first bite experiencing the robust flavor of beef and the kick of peppercorns with that sauce.
Before we get to the sauce, let’s talk about the beef. Many chef’s make their steak au poivre with filet mignon, but I personally think the mellow taste of a filet gets lost in a sauce with a peppery punch. A strip steak on the other hand is robust in it’s beefy bliss. For this dish, I will be using 14oz. Private Reserve Boneless New York strips from Omaha Steaks. These strips are aged for 28 days, nicely marbled and thickly cut. Take your steak out of the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to 60 minutes prior to cooking to let them come up in temperature. Nothing kills the nice heat of a hot pan faster than an ice cold steak. Often it’s your nice sear that will suffer as a result. As for the beef, use whichever steak you love the most.
Strip steaks searing in skillet
This recipe can be made right on your stovetop but I do have to warn you if you aren’t already aware, that searing steaks often cause it to get a little smoky in your house. If you have a good vent above your stove, you will definitely want to turn it on. If feasible, I love searing steak or anything for that matter out on my grill. No smoke detectors are blaring when I take this show outside that is for sure.
There are a few things I would like to mention before getting to the recipe. Yes, at too high of a temperature pepper can burn. As mentioned before, we don’t want our pan ripping hot with smoke billowing off of it. As you see the first signs of smoke wifting off the pan, you know you’re definitely there. Another little trick is to just lightly touch the edge of the steak to the pan. If it doesn’t give you a nice sizzle, don’t even think about putting that steak in there yet. The magic of this dish comes from getting a nice peppery crust on the steak but also getting all of those delicious brown bits on the bottom of the pan after searing the steak into our sauce. That’s called the “fond” and fond means flavor and more beefy depth to the sauce.
Peppercorns. Buy the whole ones and smash them yourself. If you try to do it with a pepper mill or grinder, rarely is it able to leave the pieces of peppercorn large enough. I smash mine in a mortar and pestle, but you can also put them in a plastic bag and press down with something that has a bit of weight to it like a cast iron pan. There are a number of varieties of whole peppercorn online but sometimes it’s challenging to find more exotic ones in your local grocery store. Rest assured, your basic black peppercorns freshly smashed, will work perfectly. Just promise me you won’t try to use pre-ground pepper for this dish. It is just not the same.
While we are on the topic of peppercorns, most people press the cracked peppercorns on both sides of the steak, but I’ve seen others do it on just one side. I personally love the later method for 2 reasons. I can get a nice sear on one side of the steak and get all of those beautiful brown bits on the bottom of the pan to make my pan sauce even more flavorful, and honestly, that intense pepper flavor is going to shine through just fine with only one side of the steak being peppered. Either method is just fine.
Crushing peppercorns in a mortar and pestle
To substitute or not to substitute, to ignite or not to ignite, those are the questions. The cognac is part of what gives this dish that luxurious feel. Yes, I keep a bottle on hand for cooking that I know someone might also enjoy drinking. If you don’t want to invest in a bottle, some liquor stores sell mini bottles which would be perfect for this application. If you are looking for a substitute to use instead of cognac, try using brandy or a dry sherry. I’m a sucker for tradition however.
When making this sauce over an open flame like a gas stove or grill, there is the possibility that the alcohol might ignite and that is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, if you don’t have a microwave above your stove like I do, after you add the cognac you can intentionally light it to burn off the alcohol with a long match. Once the flames die down, you know the alcohol has burned off. It’s the taste we are looking for. You certainly aren’t trying to get a buzz off your beef.
In this recipe turn the heat off momentarily while adding the cognac if cooking over an open flame to lessen the chances of a flare up. The alcohol will burn off anyway from having the sauce bubbling away while you cook it. If you are not intentionally lighting the cognac, have a lid to your skillet ready just in case of a flare up.
Steak Au Poivre
2 boneless strip steaks
⅓ cup cognac
¾ cup heavy cream
2 tbsp whole peppercorns, coarsely crushed
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
Fresh thyme to taste or the leaves of 3-4 sprigs
1 tbsp kosher salt
3 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp olive oil, grape seed oil, ghee or vegetable oil
Remove steak from the refrigerator, salt both sides with kosher salt, then allow steak to come to room temperature prior to cooking for 30-60 minutes.
Coarsely crush whole peppercorns and after steak has the chill off of it, press the peppercorns into one side of each of the steaks. If you prefer, you may pepper both sides.
Heat cast iron or skillet of choice such as stainless over medium high heat. A skillet with a nice even heat distribution is ideal. Once the pan is heated, add the oil or ghee. It should shimmer when hot enough and just slightly begin to smoke.
If only peppering one side of the steak, start with the un-peppered side down first. Sear for 3-4 minutes each side or until internal temperature is approximately 125F or your preferred temperature. Use caution not to burn the pepper. Transfer to a warm plate, and cover while the sauce is made. Note, the internal temperature of the beef will increase upon resting a few degrees.
Add 1 tbsp butter to the pan and add shallots. Cook on medium heat until translucent. Turn off heat momentarily. Add cognac, turn heat back on and simmer until reduced by half. Add heavy cream, stir and continue to cook until sauce is thickened nicely. Upon stirring it should coat the spoon nicely. Add ½ tsp of crushed pepper to sauce.
Turn off heat and whisk in 2 tbsp butter. Serve immediately.