Steak au Poivre

by formerchef on July 12, 2014

How to make Steak Au Poivre on

Like most classic dishes, steak au poivre has as many versions as there are colors in a jumbo box of crayons. Food historians think that the dish originated in the Normandy region of France in the 19th century. Lore has it that it was a favorite late night meal in bistros and bordellos due to the reported aphrodisiac qualities of pepper. By the early 1900′s the dish was popular in Paris and Monte Carlo restaurants, yet there’s no shortage of controversy there either. Several French chefs of the era laid claim to Steak au Poivre. The popularity remains today and you are likely to see a version of a pepper crusted steak with covered with a sauce made in the same pan on every American steak house menu and most French bistros.

Traditionally, Steak au Poivre is made with beef tenderloin (filet mignon) but rib eye, New York strip or sirloin steaks are also options. Lesser cuts of meat may even be improved by the complex sauce. The meat is crusted with cracked peppercorns (either all black or mixed) and then seared in a little butter and oil in a very hot pan, cooked to temperature, and removed from the pan. While resting, a pan sauce is made in the same pan used to cook the steak.

How to make Steak Au Poivre

It’s with the sauce that the recipes tend to diverge; some call for brandy (usually cognac), some wine, some butter. Shallots are often included but not always, as is a beef stock or demi-glace. The inclusion of cream (or not) is the biggest divide; most modern recipes and restaurants include it, but classic French cookbooks, The Joy of Cooking, Craig Claiborne and Julia Child do not. Some say that cream mellows the pepper flavor while others contend it disguises it. In the recipe below, I’ll give you both options.

Pepper is important. The sauce can be made using only black peppercorns, but the addition of different colors (white, green, pink) adds interest and a complexity to the flavor. Whatever you do, don’t make it with ground pepper like you’d find in a table shaker. Start with whole peppercorns and crush them either with a mallet, mortar and pestle, or a brief turn in a spice grinder or food processor.

To get the best version of Steak au Poivre, use a cast iron or stainless steel pan, not a nonstick pan. You are looking for the “Maillard reaction” when cooking your steak. This is the caramelization which occurs on the outside of meat seared in hot pan. In other words, it’s that nice brown crust you get on the outside of the meat which gives it flavor. Without proper heat, the meat will not brown properly.

How to make Steak Au Poivre


Steak au Poivre

Serving Size: Serves 2, can be scaled up


  • 2 each 8 oz steaks (Filet Mignon, Rib Eyes, Sirloin, NY Strip, etc.)
  • 2 tablespoons mixed color whole peppercorns
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallots
  • ½ cup beef stock or veal demi-glace
  • ¼ cup cognac
  • ¼ cup cream OR 2 tablespoons butter


  1. Let the steaks come to room temperature for about 30 minutes outside of the refrigerator before cooking.
  2. Crack the peppercorns by crushing them with a mortar and pestle or placing them in a clean dish towel and pressing down on them with a heavy skillet or hitting them with a mallet. They can also be put in a spice/coffee grinder (but be careful not to over grind with this option). The pepper should be cracked into tiny pieces, but not finely ground.
  3. Spread the cracked peppercorns on a plate. Pat the steaks dry, season with salt on both sides, and then press the steaks into the pepper, coating both sides.
  4. Heat a heavy bottomed sauté pan over medium heat and then add the oil and one tablespoon of butter. Add the steaks to the pan and allow them to sear on one side for 4-5 minutes. Turn the steaks over and sear the other side for 3-4 minutes. For rare, the internal temperature should be 125 -130 degrees and they will come up to medium rare while resting. To get closer to medium, remove from the pan at 135 degrees.
  5. When the steaks are done, remove them from the pan and place on a warmed plate. They will continue to cook while resting.
  6. Once you remove the steaks from the pan, keep the heat on and add the minced shallots to the pan. Stir the shallots for about a minute to cook them.
  7. Add the cognac and deglaze the pan, using a wooden spoon to scrape up the bits from the bottom of the pan. Reduce the cognac by half and then add the beef stock or veal demi-glace.
  8. Reduce the sauce again by half. At this point, depending on your preference, add either the 2 ounces of cream or the 2 tablespoons of butter to the reduction and stir briefly to emulsify the sauce. Remove from heat.
  9. Spoon the sauce over the warm steaks and serve immediately.

How to make Steak Au Poivre



All About Pepper

by formerchef on July 7, 2014

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A little bit about pepper….

You might be surprised, but pepper is the most traded and most popular spice in the world. Peppercorns are the fruit (aka drupes) of the tropical vine, Piper Nigrum. When the fruit is ripe, it turns red, but sometimes it’s picked and processed before it’s ripe which then changes the pepper.

The flavor profile of peppercorns can change like wine, depending on where the pepper is grown, when it is picked, and how it is processed. Also like wine, descriptions of the peppercorn’s favor can vary widely; floral, cedar, fruity, smoky, citrus and licorice are commonly used. Vietnam may be the world’s largest producer of pepper but the most coveted peppercorns hail from Telicherry, in India, where the spice originates.


What does the color of the pepper tell you about it?

  • Black peppercorns are the mature fruit of the pepper vine, picked when between green and yellow in color, and then cooked and dried. The flavor is aromatic and spicy with some heat. Black pepper is grown in India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Cameroon, and Indonesia as well as small production in other parts of the world.
  • Green peppercorns are most often freeze dried when the fruit is fresh is fresh to keep their color. They are also sometimes pickled or brined. Fresh green peppercorns are often used in Thai cuisine but are highly perishable. Most freeze dried green peppercorns come from Brazil. Their flavor is mild and aromatic.
  • White Peppercorns are the seed of the peppercorn with the outer husk removed. The flavor is earthier than black peppercorns. White pepper is often used to season dishes where the coloring of black pepper would stand out too much (potatoes, soups, light sauces, etc.).  Most common white pepper is grown in Indonesia and Malaysia.
  • Pink Peppercorns are the dried berry of a different plant, the Brazilian or Peruvian pepper tree. The flavor is similar to black peppercorns but not as acidic and slightly fruity. Most pink peppercorns come from South American.
  • Red Peppercorns are much less common than pink, and the two are often confused. True red peppercorns are rarely imported into the US, so if you see a recipe with “red” peppercorns, it is most likely “pink” they require. These are the same berry as the black peppercorn, allowed to ripen to a red color and then processed (freeze dried or brined) much like a green peppercorn.
  • Szechuan Peppercorns are not a true pepper, but rather the husk of the seed of the Prickly Ash tree (Zanthoxylum simulans)native to China. The heat from them is moderate but eating them can cause a tingling sensation on the tongue and lips.

Whole peppercorns will stay fresh in an airtight opaque container at room temperature for up to a year. Ground pepper only stays fresh for a few months so for the freshest flavor buy your peppercorns whole and find a good peppermill for your table.

Coming up next… the most classic dish to use whole peppercorns, Steak Au Poivre.


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Greek Pasta Salad

June 30, 2014
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It’s officially Summer! And you know what that means, right? Vine ripe tomatoes and cucumbers filling the gardens and farmer’s markets along with fresh herbs. And cold summer salads, one of my favorite things to eat. I love a traditional Greek Salad with briny olives, sweet tomatoes and earthy feta and combining those flavors with some pasta makes it a treat good enough to bring to a summer picnic and hearty enough for a Meatless Monday meal. The salad would also be a delicious accompaniment to grilled chicken, lamb kabobs or grilled fish.

This recipe could not be easier. If you can’t find tiny grape tomatoes or Sweet 100′s just dice up the sweetest tomatoes you can find. Fresh oregano is delicious, but dried will also work in a pinch.

Give it a try and let me know what you think!


Greek Pasta Salad

Yield: 6 Cups


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My First Refrigerator Pickles

June 23, 2014
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Last weekend I found myself with a couple of pounds of cucumbers from the garden, both the standard green kirby kind and those of the lemon cucumber variety. There was no way we were going to be able to eat all of them before they got soft and wrinkled, and I’d already given away several, so I decided to take my first foray into pickle making.

Not ready to get into canning, I chose to make “refrigerator pickles” which don’t require water baths, canning jars, or my irrational fear healthy respect of botulism.

After I made the pickles, I put the hastily snapped photo above on the Formerchef Facebook Page and it got such a positive response, I thought I’d share what I did for those who were interested but also new to pickling. I’m certainly no expert here, just a pickle newbie, but the results were good enough that …

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How To Make Vegetable Stock

June 17, 2014
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In previous posts we’ve talked about the basics of making any kind of homemade stock, learned how to make chicken stock and veal/beef stock and now it’s time to look at making a vegetable stock.

While vegetable stock may not have some of the “body” of a stock made with bones, it can still add significant flavor and is excellent for enhancing vegetarian dishes, soups, stews, curries and risottos. Use a light vegetable stock in the same way you would use a light chicken stock; for poaching vegetables, cooking a rice pilaf, or as an addition to a light sauce or light colored curry. Use a darker, roasted vegetable stock, for soups and vegetarian chilies and stews. Consider adding dried mushrooms to a vegetable stock to add color and enhance the flavor (mushrooms are a flavor enhancer because they contain glutamic acid, a naturally occurring version of MSG).

There …

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The Sacred Valley- A Pisco Cocktail

June 14, 2014
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My husband and I recently spent nine days in Peru, our first time to that country and our first trip to South America. This visit marked our travels to our 6th continent (someday Antarctica, someday…).

We had a fantastic time exploring the Inca ruins of the Sacred Valley, including the incomparable Machu Picchu and wandering the streets and markets of the colonial city of Cusco and the vibrant capital of Lima. We spent our time eating and drinking as much as possible of the best Peru has to offer; we ate ceviche, alpaca and even tasted guinea pig. We had a 15 course Japanese-Peruvian fusion meal to rival the best Michelin starred restaurants in the world and an fragrant, life affirming, bowl of chicken soup at a market stall which cost about $2. And we drank Pisco, lots and lots of Pisco.

What is Pisco? Besides

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