Classic French Cooking - Easy as Steak

Julia Child is one of my heroes. Along with James Beard. They made classic French cuisine accessible to the American public. Still, unless you're a genuine Francophile, classic French cooking stuns most Americans. By that I mean the classic French dishes epitomized by such 19th century giants as Auguste Escoffier, and in the 20th century by Paul Bocuse and Fernand Point. These gastronomes took French cooking to its classic heights. But how many of us have the time or the inclination to prepare duck a' l'orange or a beef Richelieu with foie gras (goose liver pate) and truffles (rare mushrooms found by pigs attracted to the thing)? This mystique has, in some cases, prevented us from actually preparing a classic French meal.

It's like the fancy-dan wines with appellations and chateaus and hard-to-pronounced names. Fortunately, all French cuisine is not so arduous. The fabled country cooking of Brittany, for example, has great simplicity yet produces great dishes. Nothing can beat a basic grilled chicken (Poulet Grille) with a butter sauce. In the south of France you have the famed cassoulet, a mix of beans, pork, duck, lamb and everything in between. A hardy repast for hardy souls, and not fancy at all. Even classic French cuisine can be found at this level.

There are some classic French dishes that take no time at all and transfer you to heaven with flavor. When James Beard published his first cookbook in 1940 Hors d'Oeuvre and Canapes, one for the first recipes he included was mushrooms stuffed with Roquefort cheese, a very simple dish That's right, to most Americans, stuffed mushrooms, at the time, were totally alien. The recipe that follows below is in that vein. It's French, has a highfalutin French name, but its easy. Today, steak au poivre vert is cooked in firehouses between shifts. You wanna impress your friends with a classic French meal? Just whip this up. Add some pommes frites (French fries) and steamed vegetables, a nice Bordeaux wine, and you got it made. Especially for you young single guys and gals trying to impress someone of interest. Go at it, kiddies. They'll be amazed at your dexterity with French cooking.

Steak au poivre vert calls for green peppercorns (vert means green in French). They can be found in almost any supermarket these days, in jars packed in brine or canned. If canned, just rinse and drain. If in brine, no need to rinse. If you can't find or don't want to use green peppercorns, regular black peppercorns can be used. In that case, the dish is just plain steak au poivre.


2 tablespoons green peppercorn (either canned or packed in brine - see above)
1 1/2 pounds boneless beef round, top-round steak, or sirloin, 3/4-inch thick, trimmed of fat;
or 4 boneless shell steaks, about 10 ounces each
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
Salt to taste

1. Crush the peppercorns in a mortar with a pestle or place them in a plastic bag with a rolling pin. Moisten surface of steak lightly with water, and press pepper into both sides of meat with heel of hand and fingers.
2. Melt the butter in a large heavy frying pan or skillet over high heat (I prefer cast-iron). Add meat and quickly saute on both sides, turning once or twice. The outside should be browned, but the inside should be slightly pink and rare.
3. Season with salt, and serve sliced thinly against the grain.
Yield: 4 servings.

Note: If you want to fancify the dish even more, once the meat is done, remove to a warm platter, add another tablespoon of butter to the pan, add some chopped onions or shallots, and cook until golden. Add 1/2 cup dry white wine and cook until wine is reduced to a tablespoon or so. Add 1/2 cup heavy cream and cook about another minute. Then you can pour this sauce over the steak. Another variation is to use 2 tablespoons brandy or cognac and 1/2 cup beef bouillon in lie of the wine and cream. Either way, you can't go wrong.

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