Citizens, according to French steak specialist Francis Marie, steak au poivre originated in the 19th century in the bistros of Normandy. There, noted figures took their female companions for late suppers where pepper’s supposed aphrodisiac properties assuredly proved most useful.
As noted on Cooksinfo:
Émile Lerch, in 1950 in La Revue Culinaire magazine, staked his claim to being the inventor of Steak au Poivre,stating that he first made it in 1930. The Restaurant Albert was owned by Albert Blazer, who would go on to head Maxim’s later.
He said he had received a shipment of frozen beef from America that looked great, but lacked flavour. At the time, the restaurant was full of Americans who had ruined their taste buds by indulging on too many cocktails before dinner.
He came up with the peppercorn idea to give the meat some taste, and to make sure the customers with their deadened taste buds could taste it period! He deliberately, he said, called it “Steak au poivre” to indicate its dual origin, American beef and French cooking.
A flurry of letters to the magazine began. Tassard Pierre wrote in saying that it was he who made it first, in 1919 or 1920. He said he made it for Brits who had had too much alcohol before dinner.
Other chefs wrote in claiming to have created it: M. Deveau of the Hotel Royal Monceau in Paris (in the 1920s), O. Becker of the Paillard restaurant in Paris in 1905, Gaston Comte at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo (1910.) Comte also said it was for drunk American customers.
“The origins of steak “au poivre”, a steak coated with crushed peppercorns or served with a peppercorn sauce, are controversial. Chefs who claim to have created this dish include E. Lerch in 1930, when he was chef at the Restaurant Albert on the Champs-Elysees; and M. Deveau in about 1920, at Maxim’s.
However, M.G. Comte certifies that steak “au poivre” was already established as a specialty of the Hotel de Paris at Monte Carlo in 1910, and O. Becker states that he prepared it in 1905 at Palliard’s!” – Larousse Gastronomique. New York: Clarkson Potter. 2001. Page 1142.
My version of the classic recipe is very closely based on one co-created by Julia Child and Jacques Pepin. I uniquely add a green peppercorns mash to the butter in the finishing sauce to add an extra peppery zing to the final dish as well as a bit of demiglace and Calvados, the Apple brandy of Normandy in memory of the spicy origins of this classic recipe! 🙂
Battle on – The Generalissimo
One 1-pound thick-cut, well-marbled NY strip steak, ideally Prime grade
2 tablespoons mixed whole peppercorns, including black, white, dried green and pink
Large flake sea salt
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
For the pan sauce:
2 tablespoons minced shallots
2 tablespoons Calvados (preferred) or Cognac
⅓ cup beef stock or dark chicken stock
1 tablespoon beef demiglace
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons soft green peppercorns, mashed
For the garnish:
Chopped flat-leaf parsley
1. Trim the steak of any excess fat. Cut the meat into 2 pieces and crush the peppercorns using the bottom of a heavy skillet.
2. Sprinkle salt to taste on the top and bottom of the steaks, then press each side of each steak into the cracked peppercorns, encrusting the steaks lightly or heavily, as you prefer. TFD prefers heavily.
3. Heat the oil and the butter in a heavy saute or frying pan over high heat. When the pan is quite hot, add the peppered steaks.
Fry for about 1 ½ to 2 minutes, until the undersides are well seared. Turn the meat and cook the second side for about a minute. Press with a finger to test for the slight springiness that indicates rare. Cook to the desired doneness and transfer to a warm platter.
Make the pan sauce:
4. Return the pan with the drippings to medium heat. Add the shallots and saute briefly, stirring with a spoon to scrape the bottom of the skillet.
Lean away from the stove (averting your face) and carefully pour the Calvados into the pan. Tilt the edge of the pan slightly over the burner flame, to ignite the alcohol or light it with a match. The Calvados will flame for a few seconds as the alcohol burns off.
When the flames die down, cook for a few moments more and then add the stock. Bring the liquid back to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens, about 1 minute. Taste and adjust the seasoning as desired.
Finally, add the soft butter and the mashed green peppercorns, tilting the pan until the butter melts and is incorporated with the pan juices.
5. Pour the poivre sauce over the steaks. Sprinkle liberally with chopped parsley and garnish each plate with sprigs of parsley or watercress.
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