Despite my unabashed love for random holidays (real or imagined), I kind of don’t care for Valentine’s Day. Love should be celebrated more than just one day a year, especially more than a day defined by greeting-card proclamations, things you buy, or elaborate, expensive restaurant meals.
Because FACT: the best Valentine’s Day something you could ever give anyone, whether it’s a significant other, a family member, a friend or hell, even yourself (#treatyoself) is a well-cooked meal at home. And everyone deserves a delicious steak.
Cooking perfect steak at home is actually fairly easy — all you need is a cast-iron skillet, a generous sprinkling of kosher salt and an open window (unless you’ve always thought that “steakhouse” should be a candle scent. In which case, you’re going to love cooking steak at home). However, Valentine’s Day, or any other special occasion, calls for a special steak.
Steak au poivre, or steak with pepper, is a classic French dish that’s been around since the early 1900s. There are many many different versions: with black, white, green or red peppercorns or a mix, different cuts of steak (the most popular is filet mignon, but given my budget, I went with a sirloin and it was still excellent) … and then you get to the pan sauce. Brandy versus Cognac, cream or no cream, shallots, mustard — the options are endless.
I went with Cognac, since I had some leftover. Some recipes (including Julia Child’s) call for lighting up the Cognac so that the alcohol burns off. I chose not to do this, since I don’t yet have renter’s insurance (I know!) and therefore would like to avoid setting fire to all of my possessions. But if you’ve got good insurance and a fire extinguisher nearby, get lit!
Also, instead of cream, I added a combo of beef stock (a la Julia) and creme fraiche (h/t Epicurious), which offers a bit of body and a nice tang. The pan sauce was so good I wanted to put it on everything, and did end up stirring the leftovers into a skillet of sauteed mushrooms, which I HIGHLY recommend.
Whether you’re cooking for Valentine’s Day, an anniversary, or a celebration of some sort, steak au poivre is always a good idea, and a great way to show someone you care. …