By Jenna Rozelle
The French generally address basal hungers directly and without shame, so I happily follow their lead. “Au Poivre” means “prepared with a generous amount of cracked pepper”, in this case, cracked into a creamy, cognac sauce to be mopped up with forkfuls of seared venison. This sauce, though (as much as the venison might catch your eye, this dish is really about the sauce) is just as plate-licking-good with beef, lamb, elk, bison, duck, goose, sandhill crane to name a few -they all transform into their best selves when spooned over with sauce au poivre, and it comes together lightning fast so it’s a heavy lifter to add to your repertoire. Bon vivant Josh Conley says he wants a glass of Armagnac with this, while writer and gourmand, Chris Dombrowski suggests we have “a simple table wine from Provence, like the Mas de Gourgonnier that Jeffrey Foucault showed me years ago, will knock the first bite into the stratosphere.” They’ve never led me wrong. Serve with french fries or crispy roast potatoes like Nigella Lawson’s Salt and Vinegar Potatoes and a bright, green salad.
- 4 venison tenderloin or backstrap steaks
- Kosher salt
- 1 small shallot, minced
- 2 tablespoons whole peppercorns, ideally more than one color
- 1 tablespoon high heat oil
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 1/3 cup Cognac, brandy, sherry or whiskey
- 1 cup venison or beef stock
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
1. Take your steaks out of the fridge and out of their wrapping, salt both sides generously and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
2. Mince your shallot and crack your whole peppercorns, either in a mortar and pestle, or in a folded kitchen towel, cracked with a heavy pan or rolling pin. You want them very coarsely cracked, not ground to dust.
3. Press a light coating of the cracked peppercorns onto one side of each steak, and set the rest aside for the sauce.
4. Heat a large skillet over medium-high and add the oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter, swirl the pan to mix, and heat till just starting to smoke.
5. Add your steaks and, for medium-rare, sear 2-3 minutes per side to get a nice, brown crust and the internal temperature to read 130F, then transfer to a plate to rest.
6. Turn down the heat to medium and add 1 tablespoon of butter and your shallot to cook until soft and starting to brown, about 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the flame to add your cognac, return to heat, and simmer another couple of minutes until reduced by about half, scraping the browned bits loose from the bottom of the pan.
7. Raise the heat, slightly, to medium-high, add the stock and cracked peppercorns, and simmer vigorously for a few minutes to reduce and start to thicken. Turn the heat back to medium-low, add cream and remaining butter, and stir until the sauce thickens enough that your spoon leaves a trail across the pan when dragged through, just a minute or two.
8. Spoon a pool of the sauce onto plates and set the steaks in it, drizzling a little more sauce over top. Devour.
For more, read Five Questions and Three Recipes with Jenna Rozelle.