I used to believe that a good steak, like a perfect Spring day or Jessica Alba, was something that couldn't be improved upon. What I mean is, a steak was something to be eaten sans sauce. I was wrong. After all, not all steaks are created equal in the flavor department. Some steaks, like your rib eye or your New York strip, are bursting with beefiness, while the more tender cuts of meat, like filet or tenderloin, are a little on the flavorless side. If you're serving up some nice tenderloin, it's perfectly acceptable, maybe even necessary, to sauce it up a bit.
This is why the French invented steak au poivre. Nothing like taking a nice cut of beef, coating it in crushed peppercorns, and pouring melted butter and cognac all over it. Nothing like it except steak Diane, that is. Steak Diane is basically steak au poivre with a little Dijon mustard and some cream whisked in at the end. For those of you who are a little uneasy about making something on a weeknight that requires tossing a flammable liquid like cognac into a scorching hot pan, let me tell you, it ain't that hard. Yes it requires veal stock (and demi-glace), but you can pick that up at Whole Foods. And yes, it means having a little cognac kicking around, but is that such a bad thing? A little Courvoisier might be just what the doctor ordered on a cold winter night. It took me about half an hour to make this, start to finish (I crushed the peppercorns in a mortar and pestle while watching The Simpsons. That's called multitasking).
The recipe I made is from, who else, Anthony Bourdain.
(I halved the amounts listed below to make it for two people instead of four.)
4 8-oz steaks
2 oz olive oil
2 oz freshly cracked peppercorns (crushed, not ground into powder!)
4 oz butter (I actually used less than half of that)
1 oz good cognac
4 oz strong, dark veal stock (and a spoonful of demi-glace, if that's how you roll)
salt and pepper
1 oz Dijon mustard
1 oz heavy cream
Cook the steaks
Preheat the oven to 425. Moisten the steaks very slightly with oil, then dredged them in the peppercorns to thoroughly coat. Don't be shy with pepper. Heat the remaining oil in a skillet over high heat. Once the oil is hot, add 2 oz of butter. Place the steaks in the pan and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer the pan to the oven and cook to desired doneness, about 5-7 minutes for rare, 10 minutes for medium (If you're eating steak well-done, why are you reading this?...No, seriously, why are you still here?). Remove the pan from the oven and remove the steaks from the pan to rest.
Return the skillet to the stove top and carefully stir in the cognac. (Yes, you can start a fire with this stuff, so Monsieur Bourdain recommends adding in to the pan off the stove, then returning the pan to the fire.) Stir and scrap with a wooden spoon to get every scrap, every peppercorn every rumor of flavor clinging to the bottom of the pan. Cook down, reduce by half. Stir in the veal stock (and demi-glace) and reduce over medium heat until thick enough to coat the back of the spoon (If you've cut the recipe in half, as I did, it shouldn't take long). Whisk in the remaining butter and season with salt and pepper. Whisk in the mustard and the heavy cream. Serve immediately with French fries or sauteed potatoes.
What results is a rich, thick sauce that clings to the meat and complements the fire of all those peppercorns. In fact, the sauce was so good, we poured it over the leftover potatoes, creating a diner-style potatoes and gravy effect. Damn good eating on a weeknight. I know, I should've cleaned the rim of the plate before serving. Gordon Ramsay would have me shot for this.