The Literate Chef

Posts Tagged ‘Steak au Poivre’

Luigi the Barber

In General Articles on July 28, 2013 at 11:20 AM

That bastion of the male world, the Barber Shop, with its candy-striped pole, leather strop and copies of the Police Gazette lying around for your perusal as you wait for your favorite barber to call you next, may have for the most part disappeared; but the art of conversation between a man and his barber (for want of a gender-neutral term) has not. For the past 30 or more years I have had my hair cut by Luigi, who with his brother Enzo, runs “The Isaia Hairstyling Salon” in the Riverdale section of The Bronx.

Luigi (Louie) and Enzo emigrated with their parents from a town near Salerno in the Campania region of Italy when they were children. They started life in America in the Belmont section of the Bronx, also known as Arthur Avenue. When Louie was a stylist working at Vidal Sassoon in Manhattan, he was known as Bernard. That name stayed with him for a time after he left, but eventually he became Louie once again, as the brothers’ own business began to flourish, back in Da Bronx.

When my hair used to grow more quickly, I’d schedule a visit to Louie about once every 4 or 5 weeks. These days visits are usually 8 to 10 weeks apart, and it’s not because I’m letting my hair grow longer, there’s just less of it to cut. So I figure that Louie and I have had at least 250 conversations over the years. We’ve discussed politics, sports, the economy, crime, religion, family and the changes in the neighborhood. But every visit has included a conversation on our two favorite topics, movies (principally Italian Cinema) and food.

Louie enjoys cooking and sometimes, when he knows I am coming in for a haircut, he surprises me, as he recently did, with something he whipped-up the previous night. On our most recent visit to our hometown New York, which included a haircut from Louie, the surprise was Mussels Marinara, not with linguine, nor tagliatelle nor penne or some of the more fashionable cuts of macaroni, but with good, old-fashioned, comforting, spaghetti. It was delicious and Grammy and I devoured it that night when we returned to Falmouth.

The other day,  I made a visit to The Clam Man, our local fishmonger, and as luck would have it, they had a batch of big, black, shiny mussels. With an eye to preparing Louie’s mussels and spaghetti, I bought 2 dozen of the bivalves. Remembering what Louie had told me about his three special additives: brandy (I used Martell Cognac, which I use for my Steak au Poivre), jalapeño pepper and Knorr’s Caldo con Sabor de Camarón and guessed at the proportions. I don’t think it was exactly the same as Louie’s version, but it was delicious.

So here it is folks, the real deal, Mussels Marinara with Spaghetti alla Luigi.


Steak au Poivre

In Beef, Meat, Recipes on May 23, 2011 at 7:26 AM

(Adapted from the New York Times Cookbook by Craig Claiborne)

This dish cooks very quickly, in less than 15 minutes and requires constant attention; therefore it makes sense to have all of the ingredients measured out and readily at hand before beginning to cook. DON’T FORGET THE MATCHES – PREFERABLY LONG FIREPLACE MATCHES.Use a heavy, cast iron frying pan for up to three steaks; cooking four will most likely require two pans, making it necessary to divide the other ingredients accordingly. This preparation also produces a lot of smoke so be forewarned.

Have Everything Ready


•    1 boneless shell steak per person, each about 1¼ inch thick, excess fat trimmed
•    Freshly ground black pepper
•    Kosher salt
•    1 pat of unsalted butter per steak + 1 extra pat for the sauce
•    Tabasco Sauce
•    Worcestershire Sauce
•    2 Tablespoons of ReaLemon juice per steak
•    ¼ cup of cognac (for 1 to 3 shell steaks; increase to 1/3 cup if preparing 4 steaks)
•    1/3 cup of heavy cream (for 1 to 3 shell steaks; increase to 1/2 cup if preparing 4 steaks)


The following instructions are for medium rare steaks. If the steaks are of a different thickness than 1¼ inches, or are to be served other than medium rare, cooking time should be adjusted accordingly.

1.    At least 30 minutes prior to cooking, remove the steaks from the refrigerator and pat them dry with paper towels to remove any moisture. Pepper them liberally with freshly ground black pepper.  Softly press the pepper into the steaks with a wooden mallet or spoon and let them sit at room temperature until ready to cook.
2.    Heat the cast iron frying pan on high for 2 minutes.
3.    Lightly cover the bottom of the pan with kosher salt and heat for another full minute.
4.    Add the steaks to the pan and sear for 2 minutes on each side.


Searing the Steaks

5.    Lower heat to medium, continue cooking the steaks for an additional 6 minutes for medium rare (4 minutes for rare), turning them in approximate one-minute intervals.
6.    After the 10 minutes, (or 8 minutes for rare) place one pat of butter on each steak, spread the butter around with a fork in order to melt it into the steaks. After 30 seconds, turn the steaks and cook for another 30 seconds. By this point the steaks will have cooked for about 11 minutes (9 minutes for rare).
7.    Sprinkle each steak with 4 shakes each of Tabasco Sauce and Worcestershire Sauce turn the Steaks and repeat the process. Add 2 tablespoons of the ReaLemon juice per steak and continue cooking and turning the steaks for no more than 1 minute.
8.    Shut the heat, add the cognac and let sit for about 5 seconds; stand back and ignite the cognac with the fireplace match. (Note: This will produce a high blast of flame, so be sure that no curtains, towels, rags or other combustibles are nearby and if you have the vent fan on, shut it first). When the flame subsides, turn the heat to high again and turn the steaks once or twice to coat them well with the sauce, transfer the steaks to warmed plates and shut the heat. By this point the steaks will have been cooked for 13 minutes (for rare steaks, about 11 minutes).

Flambe with Cognac

9.    Add the cream to the pan, turn the heat to medium and scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spatula. Add one pat of butter; continue stirring, scraping, and cooking the sauce until it bubbles and turns a medium to dark caramel color.

How the cream should look

10. When the sauce thickens to the point of coating the back of a spoon, remove it from the heat and pour equally over each steak.

The Finished Product

Serve at once. Great accompaniments include Broccoli Florets or Asparagus sautéed in garlic and oil, a loaf of crusty French bread to sop up the remaining sauce and a bottle of fine Bordeaux, such as a Saint-Emilion.

See Related Article

Steak! It’s What’s for Dinner!

In General Articles on May 23, 2011 at 7:01 AM

I don’t think I had ever tasted French cuisine until I was stationed at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi Mississippi. No, even though the Air Force is reputed to eat better than the Army, Navy and Marines, French cooking was not in the repertoire of the mess hall sergeant and his cooks at Keesler; that treat was to be experienced in the city of New Orleans, which lies 90 miles to the west of Biloxi and was our escape destination whenever we had the money and a 48 hour pass.

New Orleans in the 1960s was divine, especially after a couple of weeks cooped up on the base. Waiting to be discovered were such renowned restaurants as Antoine’s, Brennan’s and Galatoire’s, along with Dixieland Jazz, Hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s, Jambalaya at The Court of the Two Sisters, and Beignets at Café du Monde, which tasted particularly delicious accompanied by an espresso at four in the morning.

Steak au Poivre (with Pepper), Oysters Rockefeller and Banana’s Foster, comprised my introduction to French style cooking in New Orleans. I was used to having steak at home, cooked in the oven by Big Mike; although usually rare on the inside, it was grey on the outside, chewy and not all that interesting. Steak served with a delicious sauce was a revelation.

Several years later, I learned to prepare it myself after first following the recipe in The New York Times Cookbook, authored by Craig Claiborne. Subsequently, after many additions, deductions and consultations with other home cooks, I perfected what was then my recipe. It was a staple in our family until 1986, when I had a eureka moment.

During the summer of 1986, my wife and I took our two daughters to Quebec City for a week’s vacation. It was my fourth visit to that beautiful city and my wife’s second. Quebec City has a distinctively European atmosphere. For the girls, it was their first trip outside of the country and would serve as a foretaste of what they would later see and experience in Europe. We stayed at the Chateau Frontenac in a suite overlooking, and high above, the St. Lawrence River. After each day of sightseeing in the city, or taking side trips to Chute Montmorency, the Shrine of Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré, the foothills of the Laurentian Mountains, or the Ile d’ Orleans, we strolled the streets of the city, perused the menus in the windows and chose a restaurant for dinner.

For each of the first six nights, we selected a different restaurant in which to eat. My wife, our older daughter and I ordered varied meals in each, but our younger daughter, who was 9 at the time, ordered the same thing every single night…Steak au Poivre! That was the only French dish that she knew and clearly loved, so to her way of thinking, why experiment and wind up with something yucky?

On our last night, having pretty much exhausted the restaurants that were most appealing to us, we asked the ‘Steak au Poivre girl’ which restaurant had the best. Unhesitatingly, she proudly selected one and that’s where we went. The sauce on the Steak au Poivre was different from what I had been making for the previous 18 or so years, it had cream in it! That was my epiphany. Cream was not in Craig Claiborne’s original recipe, with which I had started and from which I had adapted mine. To my palate it was what had been missing.

This recipe for Steak au Poivre has been served to family and friends for almost 25 years and I am happy to share it with you. From beef, we move on to ‘the original white meat’ chicken at: Chicken Scarpiello; Everybody Makes it Differently!

%d bloggers like this: