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Steak au Poivre

by elyn_ryn

I serve Steak au Poivre often to guests. If you aren’t familiar with it, steak au Poivre is a French pepper sauce made with lots of coarse ground black peppers and Cognac. Most of the time, it is served over pan-fried filet mignon. This recipe works well whether you pan-fry or grill the steaks.

Au Poivre Ingredients

It only takes a handful of ingredients to make au Poivre. The base is made with butter, black pepper, and finely-minced shallots. It helps to cook the ingredients in a large skillet, preferably a cast-iron pan. However, if you do not have one, this recipe will work in a nonstick pan.

If you do not have shallots, you can substitute sweet onions in their place.

Cook the butter and pepper for a few seconds.

Carefully Add the Cognac

When the shallots are sufficiently wilted, add the Cognac. Be careful because Cognac is very high in alcohol and can ignite and flame in the pan. Many chefs allow the Cognac to flame in commercial kitchens. However, for a home kitchen, you can avoid a flame by slowly pouring a little Cognac into the side of the pan and letting it sizzle. Then add a little more around the outside perimeter of the pan. Repeat until all the Cognac is in the pan. Keep your hand away from the middle of the pan in case the Cognac flames. Either way, have a lid nearby in case you need to smother a flame.

Let the Cognac reduce as shown in the pan above. It does not take very long to reduce in a hot pan.

When Cognac flames in a pan, it burns off the alcohol. By pouring a little Cognac and letting it sizzle, you can achieve the same end result. After battling two-foot flames in the kitchen a few times, I started adding the alcohol slowly, letting it react with the hot pan. This method produces a pleasant-tasting sauce. On the other hand, if you try to cool the pan completely and then add the Cognac, the result can leave a harsh alcohol taste in the au Poivre.

Adding the Broth

Add the broth to the hot pan and simmer it for a few minutes until the sauce reduces. Use a spoon to scrape across the pan to tell if the sauce has reduced enough to add the cream. When the broth is first added to the pan, the scrape fills with liquid immediately (above left photo). After cooking for a few minutes, the scrape remains visible for a little while (above right photo).

After the broth has reduced sufficiently, the scrape across the pan closes slowly, allowing you to scrape all the way across without filling in (above photo). At this point, the sauce is ready for the cream.

Adding the Cream

After pouring in the cream, simmer the sauce for a few minutes until it reduces and thickens. To determine when it is ready, use the same scrape test. In the beginning, the scrape immediately fills as you pull the spoon across the pan (above right photo).

After cooking the sauce for a few minutes, the scrape stays open for only half of the pan (above left photo). Soon after, with additional simmering, the scrape stays open longer (above right photo).

When the sauce is finally ready, the scrape is wide and stays open all the way across the pan, closing very slowly. The sauce is now ready to serve.

Making Sauce Ahead of Time

The au Poivre can be made ahead of time if you plan to grill the steaks. To refresh it after it cools, add a little more cream and heat it. If you pan-fry the steaks in the skillet, add the au Poivre ingredients to the drippings and cook it. The recipe has instructions for grilling steaks. Look in the recipe notes for instructions for pan-frying steaks.

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Steak au Poivre
Recipe for filet mignon with French pepper sauce
Votes: 1
Rating: 5
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Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Au Poivre
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Au Poivre
Votes: 1
Rating: 5
You:
Rate this recipe!
Instructions
Au Poivre
  1. Melt butter in a large skillet. Add the pepper and shallots and cook on medium heat to wilt the shallots.
  2. Slowly pour the Cognac into the side of the skillet. Stir. Be careful because Cognac will flame if the pan is too hot. Have a lid nearby in case you need to smother a flame.
  3. Cook the cognac until it reduces and most of it evaporates.
  4. Add the broth. Stir. Simmer until it reduces into a thick liquid. Using a wooden spoon, scrape it across the bottom of the pan while the sauce simmers. If the wooden spoon makes a scraped path that stays open across the pan for a couple of seconds, the sauce is ready for the cream. If the broth immediately runs back over the scrape, simmer it longer. Perform the scrape test periodically until the sauce has thickened, and you can scrape a distinctive path across the pan.
  5. Add the cream and stir. Simmer until the cream has thickened and has a brown appearance. Use the same scrape test to pull a path through the cream to determine if it is ready. If the sauce should get too thick, add a little more cream. The sauce can be made before the steaks. Cover it and then reheat it with a little more cream just before serving.
Steaks
  1. Set the steaks out of the refrigerator and let them come to room temperature. This will take about 20-30 minutes. Generously salt and pepper on both sides of the steaks.
  2. For outdoor charcoal-grilled steaks, set the grill temp to 400 degrees. (See the notes below for stovetop grilling.)
  3. Cook each steak for about 6 minutes on each side. Then check the internal temperature with a thermometer probe. Rare 115 degrees F. (46) Medium rare 125 degrees F. (52 C) Medium 135 degrees F. (57 C) Medium well 145 degrees F. (63 C) Well done 160 degrees F. (71 C) If the steaks need more time to reach the correct internal temp, move them to the outer edge of the grill to finish cooking. Recheck their internal temperature every 1-2 minutes so they don't overcook. The steaks will continue to cook after you remove them from the grill. The temperatures listed above take the continued cooking into account.
  4. Remove the steaks at the correct temperature for the doneness you desire. Place them on a platter and cover them. Let them rest for 5 minutes. Place them on dinner plates and spoon au Poivre over them. Serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

Pan Cooking Steaks

  1. Set the steaks out of the refrigerator and let them come to room temperature. This will take about 20-30 minutes. It is best to use thinner steaks for pan cooking.
  2. Pat the steaks dry with paper towels if necessary so they don't splatter when they go into the pan.
  3. Generously salt and pepper on both sides of the steaks.
  4. Use a large cast-iron pan.  Add a couple of tablespoons of high-heat oil such as peanut, canola, or sunflower oil. Heat the pan at medium-high until it is very hot.
  5. Using tongs, place the steaks into the hot pan.  Make sure the pan is big enough so they aren't crowded.
  6. If necessary cover the pan with a screen to reduce splattering.
  7. Cook the steaks for 3-4 minutes on the first side.
  8. Flip the steaks and cook them for 4 more minutes.  Start checking the internal temperature at this point.  Use these cooking times:
    Rare 115 degrees F. (46)
    Medium rare 125 degrees F. (52 C)
    Medium 135 degrees F. (57 C)
    Medium well 145 degrees F. (63 C)
    Well done 160 degrees F. (71 C)
    The steaks will continue to cook after you remove them from the pan. The temperatures listed above take the continued cooking into account. If necessary to prevent over-browning, flip the steaks again.
  9. Remove the cooked steaks to a platter and cover them.  Let them sit for 5 minutes.
  10. Add the au Poivre to the top of each steak.

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