Sunday, April 19, 2009

Wednesdays can be Julia days after all

I have to take back what I said before about Wednesdays and Julia days being mutually exclusive. A few weeks ago, it was my turn to choose what to cook for WeDine, and I was at a loss. Before I started aimlessly flipping cookbook pages, I remembered that we have that little neglected "coming soon" list here on our blog – a perfect time to knock something off.

Steak au Poivre seemed more doable than perogies or beef wellington, especially now that I have the perfect reference for it – Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I think this steak must be one of the simplest recipes in the book. I carried the book and a little jar of my cooking Brandy with me to work, we stopped on the way to Alisha's to pick up the very few ingredients needed for the steak and the potatoes and salad we planned to have with it, and without much effort produced a truly perfect meal.

Well, the one kind of effort it did take was following Julia's words carefully. Alisha made fun of me for switching kitchen personalities when Julia's involved, and I will admit I'm a bit obsessed with trying to emulate her methods precisely. Usually I'm much more about creativity than technique in the kitchen. But I realize that when working with a few basic ingredients, it all comes down to technique, and now that I've seen what wonders Julia's methods can produce, I don't want my results to be less than they could be. It's absolutely worth the effort for sauteed potatoes that sublime. Effort and the willingness to exceed healthy levels of butter consumption.

Our steaks came out perfectly, medium-rare, juicy, with tons of pepercorn flavour even though we'd only let them stand with the rub for the minimum half an hour. This was one of the first times I'd made a steak that couldn't have been better in any way. We all agreed that we'd have to make this again for our favourite people who didn't happen to be there that night. This recipe is classic in the very best way. Mmm, brandy sauce.

I've included the recipe below, along with another one of my favourites from the book – Légumes à la Grecque. I've made this simple recipe for vegetables simmered in an aromatic broth over and over again since I got the book. Paired with crostini and soft goat cheese they make an elegant, flavourful appetizer (we served them before Christmas dinner this year) and I've made them as a side for several meals, whenever I'm craving their juicy, herby, lemony taste. I always use red and green peppers and fennel bulbs in the recipe, but
Julia includes variations for many other vegetable choices – celery, mushrooms, eggplant, etc. – and really you could use any veggies you like, adjusting the cooking time accordingly. Let me know if you try it with something else and love it – maybe I could be convinced to break my pepper-fennel habit.

So the moral is, don't be afraid to turn to Julia on a weekday. She may be the perfect companion for a Saturday spent in the kitchen with lots of wine and resolve, but she can also come through when you want the definitive version of that perfect simple meal. Speaking of which, I made her whole roast chicken a while ago and it was out of this world. And all the recipe included was chicken and butter. Butter basted on every eight minutes throughout the whole cooking time. That's the secret to heavenly chicken my friends.

Steak au Poive (Pepper Steak with Brandy Sauce)
Adapted from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking
Serves 4–6 people

2 tbsp mixed peppercorns (any mix of pink, white, green, black)

Crush the peppercorns roughly with a mortar and pestle.

2–2 1/2 lbs steak, about 1 inch thick

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

1 1/2 tbsp butter + 1 1/2 tbsp oil

Put the butter and oil in a heavy skillet just large enough to hold the steaks in one layer. Place over medium high heat unitl you see the butter foam begin to subside (this indicates the fat is hot enough to sear the meat). Saute the steak on one side for 3 to 4 minutes, and regulate the heat so the fat is always very hot but is not burning. Turn the steak and saute the other side for 3 to 4 minutes. The steak is done medium rare (à point) the moment you observe a little pearling of red juice beginning to ooze at the surface of the steak. Another test is to press the steak with your finger; it is medium rare when it just begins to take on a suggestion of resistance and spring in contrast to its soft raw state. If you have any doubts at all, cut a small incision in the steak.

Remove the steaks to a hot platter, season with salt, and keep warm for a moment while competing the sauce (we covered them in foil).

1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp minced shallots or green onions
1/2 cup beef stock
1/3 cup cognac
3 to 4 tbsp softened butter

Pour the fat out of the skillet. Add the first tablespon of butter and shallots or green onions and cook slowly for a minute. Pour in the stock 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 remaining butter a half-tablesppon at a time. Pour the sauce over the steak and serve.
Légumes à la Grecque
Court Bouillon [Aromatic Broth]
For 1 pound (about 4 cups) vegetables 2 cups water
6 tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp minced shallots or green onions

The following, tied in cheesecloth:
6 sprigs parsley including roots if available
1 small celery stalk with leaves or 1/8 tsp celery seeds
1 sprig fresh fennel or 1/8 tsp fennel seeds
1 spring fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dried thyme
12 peppercorns
6 coriander seeds

Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add sliced vegetables and simmer until tender. Then remove with a slotted spoon and serve.


Leeeeesha said...

Meg, that steak was sumptuous (as were the potatoes that I so delicately coddled for you)!

I love that our Wednesdays are evolving, and that we're now brave enough to attempt simple yet elevated dishes such as this one. Nothing scares us anymore, eh?

Hurray for Julia!

Anonymous said...

So glad Julia is working for you. By the time you master every recipe in the two books you will be an international best chef--TOP CHEF on your way now!!

Anonymous said...

Meg, I have conjured up an image of you boarding the morning bus with your dinner stash... who else would be heading off to work with a rather large cookbook and brandy stowed in your bag?
Wow, I'm not even a steak lover and now I'm craving a Julia steak lovingly cooked by Meg. Cathie