Steak au Poivre

While backpacking through the heart of Great Britain in 1995, I stumbled (almost literally) across an attorney named Christopher Coveny. Touched by my struggle under the burden of what he aptly termed a "cargo carrier," Chris invited me to recuperate at Ash House, his home in Alton, Staffordshire. It was my 61st birthday, which we celebrated over dinner with a bottle or two of superb South African clarets and his version of Steak au Poivre.

The bewigged barrister (I had requested he don his court costume) set the fry pan on the fire. Then--lacking a pepper mill or a mortar and pestle--he placed a tea towel on the hardwood floor. Atop that he sprinkled a handful of peppercorns, folded over the cloth, grabbed a rather large maul and began pounding the towel. Upon lifting an edge to discover that the procedure had failed, he attacked again--this time with the sizzling frying pan!

As bizarre and comical as this pepper-pulverizing process might sound, it actually proved quite effective. Still, when I next reached a town of suitable size--one with a proper housewares shop--I sent him a wooden pepper pot and the following recipe.

Traditionally, pepper is pressed into the steak before it is cooked. This causes the pepper to become acrid. I prefer the following method and trust that you will too.

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2 New York strip or top sirloin steaks, cut
" thick          2tsp coarse ground  black pepper

½tsp each dry mustard and tarragon       ¼ cup beef broth       1oz Cognac      1T sour cream

¼tsp kosher salt

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Sprinkle the bottom of a heavy skillet with kosher salt. (This will prevent steaks from sticking.) Heat the pan over high flame until very hot and salt turns brown. Add steaks and cook 2 min per side for rare, 3 min per side for medium rare. Remove to warm serving platter or plates and keep warm.

Lower heat to med. Mix pepper with mustard and tarragon. Add to pan and rapidly stir to prevent scorching. Cook for 30 sec. (Make sure the extractor fan is set on high, or cook outdoors--there is much smoke.) Pour in broth, which will instantly reduce by half. Add Cognac and tilt to ignite. As soon as flame dies, remove pan from heat and rapidly stir in sour cream (add a bit more broth if too thick and dry). Spoon sauce over steaks and serve. (Serves 2)

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