Monday, March 28, 2011

Steak au poivre over mixed mashed potatoes and beets with caramelized onions and feta

Steak au poivre. Lovely tender hunks of beef liberally coated with cracked peppercorns and bathed in a buttery cognac pan sauce, as made by a Frenchie.


This is the second recipe I've made from Anthony Bourdain's excellent cookbook of dishes from his New York City bistro, Les Halles. The first was a wonderful rich and creamy cassoulet, although I did sort of merge that recipe with a couple of other recipes (but I'm sure it would have been great on its own, too). I think I'll try his roast chicken next.

This side is an absolute favorite in my house: earthy slow-roasted beets paired with sweet caramelized onions, toasted pine nuts, and creamy feta in a Dijon vinaigrette. I never imagined something as banal as the common beet could be this completely delicious (my fellow users obviously agree, as it has a perfect rating of four forks and 99% of the reviewers would make it again. Quite impressive, little beet.) If you're not a habitual beet-eater (shame on you), do note that this will turn your... stuff... very dark red. So before you assume you're bleeding internally after your coffee the following morning and rush to the emergency room, try to keep that in mind.

I know it'll offend mashed potato purists, but I like to use a variety of potatoes in my mash. Not only does it taste more interesting, it also broadens the spectrum of nutrients you're ingesting. Hooray!

Cooked beets are really, really hard to take pictures of.
2 steaks of your choice, although filets are traditional
~ 2 tbsp of peppercorns, crushed but not ground all the way into powder; you want some big chunks as well as some powdery bits
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp good cognac, I used Hennessey VS
1/4 cup strong dark stock or demi-glace (this might require a trip to a specialty food store like Williams-Sonoma or an upscale supermarket, where I found this little gem on the shelf with the rest of the broth), reconstituted according to the package directions

1 regular ol' potato, peeled and cubed
1 sweet potato or yam, peeled and cubed
splash of milk
pat or two of butter

2 medium beets, greens removed (and used for something else! Frittata?)
1/2 a medium onion, finely sliced
small handful of pine nuts
small handful of feta, crumbled
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
~ 2 tbsp good extra-virgin olive oil (I like to use the good stuff for raw applications like salad dressings)

The beets require an hour to roast, so to make this on a weeknight you'll want to get them going right after you get home. Just set the oven to 350, wrap each beet in foil (skin and all), place them on a baking sheet (don't skip this, they tend to leak) and pop them in the oven for about an hour while you feed and hug and kiss your animals and change into after-school clothes.

At that point, remove them to your board and crank the oven up to 425 degrees if you have fairly thick steaks. If they're on the thinner side, I'd just do them on the stove top since they will cook quickly. Once they're cool enough to handle, rub the skin off of each beet using a paper towel. It should come off very easily. Slice them in halves from root to tip and then into little wedges. Look at how pretty your fingers are now. Yes, it will wash off with mild scrubbing.

Get a pot of water boiling for your potatoes. I like to cut my potatoes into even-sized chunks so they're all finished cooking at the same time. When you can easily insert a knife into them, drain into a colander and then dump them back into the hot pot. Mash, adding kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, and butter to taste and as much milk as needed to achieve the consistency you like. Pop the lid on to keep them warm and set aside.

In a heavy-bottomed skillet, heat a tablespoon or two of extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat and begin to caramelize your onions with a pinch of kosher salt. You don't want them to brown quickly and get crunchy as if you were searing them, you want them to slooowly become translucent and then dark golden. It should take around 15 minutes. Stir occasionally, but you can largely ignore them. Add the pine nuts in the last minute or two so they become toasted.

In a large bowl whisk together the cider vinegar and Dijon, then add the extra-virgin olive oil in a slow stream to form an emulsion. Toss in your beets, onions, and pine nuts, season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, and mix thoroughly. Then add the feta and stir gently to combine (otherwise it just becomes a pasty pink mess. A delicious pasty pink mess, but it's just prettier this way).

Steak time. Moisten the steaks with a teensy bit of olive oil and thoroughly coat on all sides with peppercorns (you'll add salt by way of the pan sauce at the end). It'll seem like way too much pepper but really pack it on, it turns out fantastic. Heat a heavy-bottomed oven-safe skillet (I used the same one in which I caramelized my onions, without bothering to clean it in between) on medium-high heat with a drizzle of olive oil and half of the butter. When the foam subsides, sear the steaks for a minute or two on each side. Now, if your steaks are thick, pop them into the oven for a couple of minutes to finish to your desired level of doneness (I use this method to gauge the state of my meat). Otherwise, let them finish on the stove, then set them aside to rest. Off the heat, add your cognac to the pan (nobody likes a kitchen fire) and scrape up all of the stuck-on bits with a wooden spoon. Put the pan back on a medium flame, add the demi-glace and allow to cook down and thicken for a minute. Stir in the rest of the butter and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Serve my favorite beets next to a mound of potatoes topped with your beautiful pepper steaks, drizzled with the pan sauce.

Serves 2, takes an hour for the beets to bake but other than that, about 45 minutes.

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