Saturday, May 14, 2011

Julia Child's Steak au Poivre

The top post that brings non-friends/family to my blog turns out to be my entry on Steak au Poivre. I actually did that version on the grill, and while it is pepper steak it doesn't have the classic cognac sauce nor is it sauteed in a pan. So this week I thought I better make what those 'Googlers' are looking for, the classic Julia Child version of Steak au Poivre. (It seems as though they most always search for both the French name of the dish along with Julia's name.)

Julian's Steak au Poivre
In thinking about the matter, I wondered if others besides Julia had published on the subject and what the exact origins of the dish were.   For that I first turned to my encyclopedia of cooking, Larousse Gastronomique, the most authoritative and comprehensive culinary publication in my kitchen. "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!"

Craig Claiborne's New York Times Food Encyclopedia contains information that suggests the origins of steak au poivre may be traced to Leopold I of Germany in 1790.   But Jean Anderson's The American Century Cookbook said "Food historians of solid reputation dismiss the Prince Leopold theory as apocryphal. Or pure fantasy. Whatever the origin, though, Steak au Poivre became the culinary tour de force of many stylish big-city American restaurants early this century."

If Google search data can be relied upon, it seems in the minds of Americans that the dish is 'owned' by Julia Child.
In her actual recipe, Julia does not specify which cut of meat to use. Rather she refers you to her Master Recipe (quoted herein) which discusses steaks in general and explains that you can't get the same cuts of steaks in the USA as you get in France. "Pan-broiled steak is very French and also a very nice method for cooking small steaks. None of the juice essences are lost, and it is easy to tell when the steak is done. A 1-inch steak takes 8 to 10 minutes to cook, and the sauce, or pan gravy, 1 to 2 minutes to prepare after the steak is on its platter... In France you would select an entrecote, romsteck, faux-filet, or bifteck. In America buy any tender, well-aged 3/4-to-1 inch steak or steaks which will fit easily into a skillet." While I personally prefer a small loin strip steak for this recipe, I had on hand a pair of fillets, so that is what I used. As my steaks were thicker than called for above, I transferred them to a 400F degree oven to finish cooking while I prepared the sauce. Larousse indicates that it has also become "standard practice to finish the sauce with cream... using whole green peppercorns."  I stuck with Julia's rendition.

Here then, is Julia's recipe for Steak au Poivre from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume One, 40th Anniversary Edition.

2 Tb of a mixture of several kinds of peppercorns, or white peppercorns
2 to 2 1/2 lbs. steak 3/4 to 1 inch thick

A hot platter

1 Tb butter
2 Tb minced shallots or green onions
1/2 cup stock or canned beef bouillon
1/3 cup cognac
3 to 4 Tb softened butter
Sauteed or fried potatoes
Fresh water cress
Place the peppercorns in a big mixing bowl and crush them roughly with a pestle or the bottom of a bottle.

Dry the steaks on paper towels. Rub and press the crush peppercorns into both sides of the meat with your fingers and the palms of your hands. Cover with waxed paper. let stand for at least half an hour; two or 3 hours are even better, so the flavor of the pepper will penetrate the meat.

Sauté the steak in hot oil and butter as described in the preceding master recipe. Remove to a hot platter, season with salt, and keep warm for a moment while completing the sauce.

Pour the fat out of the skillet. Add the butter and shallots or green onions and cook slowly for a minute. Pour in the stock or bouillon and boil down rapidly over high heat while scraping up the coagulated cooking juices. Then add the cognac and boil rapidly for a minute or two more to evaporate its alcohol. Off heat, swirl in the butter and half-tablespoon at a time. Decorate the platter with the potatoes and water cress. Pour the sauce over the steak, and serve.


  1. This looks great. I've never tried Julia's (the house favorite is Alton Brown's recipe [], which is easy and fast and never-fail, in true Alton fashion), but the complexity of flavors this one appears to bring to the plate is much more robust. Thanks, Julian!

  2. This is the recipe I have been using since about 1964, and stuck out of state without my cookbooks, was delighted to find it here!