Dish of the Week: Steak au Poivre

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski
This steak is crusted with peppercorn, then topped with a quick pan sauce.
From classic comfort foods to regional standouts and desserts, we'll be sharing a new recipe with you each week. See the complete list of recipes at the end of this post.

This week, we're covering the modern French beef dish, steak au poivre.

Literally meaning "pepper steak," this steak is crusted with coarse, barely crushed peppercorns before being seared and smothered in a pan sauce made with wine, cognac, and/or cream. Best served medium-rare for ultimate succulence, the dish is traditionally made using tender cuts of beef like filet mignon.

The origin of the dish is unclear, with French chefs laying claim to the dish as far back as 1905. There are even theories that trace the origins back to Leopold I of Germany in 1790 (though this is often refuted, as any good theory is). But our favorite theory? Some say the dish was popularized in the 19th century, when notable figures would take their female companions to French bistros to dine on the steak because of pepper's natual aphrodisiac qualities. Ooh la la.

Whatever its beginnings, the steak has made it big in today's fine dining scene. The rich, fatty meat is contrasted by the piquant, woodsy peppercorns, which form a caramelized crust when seared in a hot pan with oil or butter. As the steak rests, a quick pan sauce is made using cognac, red wine, or bourbon and often shallots, butter, mustard, peppercorns and cream.

This simple recipe, slightly adapted from Saveur, uses a splash of cognac, rich beef stock, and heavy cream to make a velvety light brown sauce to coat the filet. Add a touch of minced shallot or chopped fresh tarragon for extra flair.

Steak au Poivre

3 tbsp black peppercorns
4 6-oz beef filets, about 1½" thick
Kosher salt
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/3 cup cognac
1 cup beef stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
Optional: diced shallot (about 1 large), 1-2 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon


Wrap peppercorns in a clean dish towel. Use the bottom of a heavy skillet to coarsely crush (peppercorns should be cracked, not ground). Transfer to a plate then roll the filets in it so that they are evenly coated. Season liberally with salt on both sides.

Heat butter and oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter turns golden and shimmering, gently add the filets to the pan. Sear until well browned on both sides, about 4 minutes per side for medium rare. Transfer steaks to four warmed plates and loosely tent with foil to keep warm.

Optional: Add the shallots to the pan and cook, stirring and scraping the bottom, until softened, about 2 minutes.

Off the heat, add the cognac to the pan, then carefully ignite with a long-handled match. (Keep lid handy so flame can be extinguished if necessary.) Shake the pan, allowing alcohol to burn off, about 1 minute, then return to heat and add stock. Cook until mixture is reduced by half, about 4 minutes. Add cream (and tarragon, if using) and cook, stirring occasionally, until thick, about 3-5 minutes. Season with salt to taste and pour over steaks.

Serve with mixed greens or roasted asparagus and whipped potatoes or crisp pomme frites.

See more Dishes of the Week:
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Dish of the Week: Argentine Chimichurri
Dish of the Week: Flourless Chocolate Cake
Dish of the Week: New England Clam Chowder
Dish of the Week: Beef Stroganoff
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Dish of the Week: Chicken Tikka Masala
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Dish of the Week: Chicken and Chorizo Empanadas
Dish of the Week: Potato Kugel
Dish of the Week: Korean Fried Chicken
Dish of the Week: Wiener Schnitzel
Dish of the Week: Mexican Chilaquiles
Dish of the Week: Falafel
Dish of the Week: Fish and Chips
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Not sure about that theory of notables dining in bistros in the 1800's; did you not watch Downton Abbey, and recall the dining-in-restaurant scene

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