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A classic method for au poivre is simple. It consists of a well coated peppercorn-encrusted filet of beef that has been seared in a cast iron pan at high heat, the drippings from that meat, a liberal portion of Cognac, and some heavy cream. Best yet, with a little prep, it comes together in just about 15 minutes.
All images and text ©Jenny DeRemer for Not Entirely Average, LLC
Classic Steak Au Poivre Sauce
Au Poivre is French. Translated literally, it means peppercorn sauce. An example of au poivre would be steak rubbed with freshly cracked black peppercorns and then added to a cast iron skillet to sear, which is called steak au poivre.
The pan sauce that is au poivre is complex in its flavor profile, but ridiculously easy to achieve with only seven ingredients, chief among them being Cognac. This recipe for Sauce Au Poivre ( recette sauce au poivre ), is a 15 minute mind blowing bite of deliciousness.
Next time you pop into a liquor store, ask to be pointed in the direction of a reasonably priced, drinkable Cognac. Because cooking with this stuff will change your life…
A classic method for au poivre is simple. It consists of a well coated peppercorn-encrusted filet of beef that has been seared in a cast iron pan at high heat, the drippings from that meat, a liberal portion of Cognac, and some heavy cream. That’s it. And it comes together in under 15 minutes. Classic Au Poivre Sauce For Steak is among those busy day recipes you NEED to add to your arsenal of awesome food.
How This Recipe Came About…
This one is easy to answer! Visiting France is a gift I have given to myself. Not for vacationing purposes, but also the culture and a bit of genealogy into my family’s Huguenot ancestors. What I fell in love with in France was the simplicity and naturalness of food preparation.
A dish I often order when visiting France is tuna au poivre or beef steak au poivre. It’s that sauce among sauces that I am after and once I taste it, I feel the urge to be rude and lick my plate…but I don’t.
I also often order the Steak Frites at Café Un Deux Trois when back in New York City because they just do it the best. An order of Steak Frites here is a succulent grilled New York strip served with French fries and sauce au poivre for $40. It’s worth every last cent in my opinion.
Learning to do this at home and perfecting it was a no brainer…
Do You Have What’s Needed For This Filet Au Poivre Recipe? Check The List!
beef tenderloins steaks
whole black peppercorns or green or a mixture
Is French Steak Au Poivre Sauce Easy Enough For The Novice Home Chef?
Homemade steakhouse steak sauce is a regular with me, and I AM ONLY a novice home chef! So yes, it’s easy. And for the fruits of my labor turning out EXQUISITE EVERY TIME, sauce au poivre is a regular go-to.
What Is The Best Cognac to Use?
I keep a a fairly inexpensive bottle of a drinkable cognac or cognac style brandy on hand just for cooking. Because the alcohol is flamed off, brands that cost less will still get me “there” but with less spend out.
E&J XO and Paul Masson XO are both widely available and are really fantastic for any recipes calling for cognac or brandy. Each are less than $15 a bottle. Also, and if you can find it, a very good French Cognac called Raynal is worth purchasing.
What Are The Best Peppercorns For Sauce Au Poivre?
The key to this dish is using coarsely cracked pepper, not pepper shaker pepper. That said, some will argue the merits of green peppercorns over black peppercorns and visa versa.
Go with whatever peppercorns you have or can easily find for purchase. Just do not use the fine black pepper from your pantry. That is the fastest way to spoil an otherwise stupendous dish.
What Is The Best Cut Of Beef For Steak Au Poivre?
For this dish, I like filet mignon steaks or a New York strip. I am sure there are chefs who use other cuts, but these are the two I prepare at home. Bottom line, buy the highest quality beef you can afford because the payback in satisfaction is ten fold.
How To Make Au Poivre Sauce?
Before I dish out this recipe, allow me to make this comment; this recipe is more a method than a recipe. Sure, ingredients equal a recipe, however the steps are equally as important as the ingredients that go into it.
- First and foremost, grab those tenderloin filets and set them on the counter AT LEAST 30 minutes before you plan to cook. Sprinkle all sides liberally with Kosher salt. Allow the beef to rest undisturbed so that the salt can work its magic.
- Next up are the peppercorns. If you have a spice grinder, hooray! Your task has just been made easy. If not, a mortar and pestle, the broad side of a meat mallet, or a rolling pin and plastic baggie will be your tools of choice. Load the peppercorns in the mortar or a plastic baggie, and crush away.
- Once the tenderloin filets ( or tuna steak for tuna au poivre ) have had their half hour, spill the crushed peppercorns into a pie plate and coat the steaks on all sides. You may have to press to evenly coat the surfaces. Looks like a ton of pepper, right? You’ll barley notice it in the end, promise…
- In a cast iron skillet over medium heat, combine the butter and olive oil until they’re melted and almost at the smoking point. Add the filets and step back. No playing with them. PUT THE TONGS DOWN! Allow the steaks to sear undisturbed for 4 minutes per side for medium rare. Up the time by 1 minute per side for medium.
- Remove the steaks to a plate and wrap with foil to keep them hot and allow the juices to redistribute. THIS IS CRUCIAL. 5 minutes at least.
- Now remove the cast iron pan from the heat. Blot the fat from the pan using a paper towel but leave the bits and the abandoned peppercorns. I make sure to hold it AWAY FROM MY CABINETS and I always try to have a helper. Add the Cognac all at once. Tilt the pan slightly. Light a long match (or fire starter) and wave it just above the surface of the Cognac in the pan. The vapors will ignite and as you swirl and swish the liquid, the alcohol will burn off. DON’T PANIC! The flames extinguish pretty quickly!
- Okay, so you’ve made culinary history!!! But you’re not done, so put that cast iron back down and turn the heat to high. Pour off any of the juices from the plate the steaks are resting on into the Cognac. Add the cream and whisk as this ensemble of genius cooking comes to a boil. It’s also rapidly thickening.
- Lower the heat SLIGHTLY and allow the mixture to reduce and to thicken, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add an additional tablespoon of Cognac to the now thickened sauce, whisk to combine, and off the heat. Add the steaks back to the pan and spoon the sauce over top. In case you don’t know it yet, you’ve just created one of the ten best things you’ll ever put in your mouth…
Use caution when igniting alcohol. At the same time, stay cool because the flame burns out very quickly. Always remove the pan from the heat source BEFORE adding the alcohol. Once the alcohol is in the pan, give a slight tilt to pool the liquid on one side, and pass either a click lighter or a long match just above the liquid. The vapors/alcohol will catch and just by swishing and swirling, those flames will be out in a matter of a minute. What’s left is liquid gold folks…
Modifying The Norm To Make It Not Entirely Average…
So, if you’re a purist and want to keep this classic and true to French methods, do nothing. If however you are hankerin’ for a challenge, grab the mortar and pestle and a branch of fresh rosemary and muddle it to release the oils. Add the branch to the cream mixture as it’s reducing, but remove before adding the steaks back to the pan. Magnifique!
Can I Make Sauce Au Poivre Without Steak?
In case this is interpreted in one of two ways, allow me to answer them both…
For sauce au poivre instead of using steak…use a tuna steak, boneless pork chops (no more than 2-inches thick), chicken breasts, or veal shank. I was fortunate enough to savor chicken au poivre in Montreal and it was fabulous, so do not discount chicken for sauce poivre.
For sauce au poivre without having to cook a steak or other protein for the pan juices…rough chop two shallots and a handful of FRESH parsley. You’ll need to build flavor whereas it would normally come from the beef. Toss them into a skillet with 2 to 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter and sauté.
Add a tablespoon of crushed peppercorns and a teaspoon of Kosher salt. Off the heat, add the Cognac and carefully ignite. Once the flames are dead, place the pan back over the heat and add the cream, bringing all to a boil. Reduce and thicken, about 5 to 6 minutes. Et voila!
Can Sauce Au Poivre Be Made Ahead?
Here’s the thing. Prep and measure your ingredients if you need to shave off the minutes. But don’t try to pre-make and re-heat a delicacy best consumed moments after making it. Just don’t.
What To Serve With Beef Au Poivre?
This sauce is classic to be paired with steak and potatoes or steak frites. Those super skinny little fries that are as narrow or more than a pencil. That’s what goes with this dish in every French bistro in Paris and it’s what is served in any of New York Cities finest steakhouses.
Classic Au Poivre Sauce For Steak
- 4 (8) ounce each beef filet mignon steaks butchered no thicker than 1 1/2-inches
- Kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons whole peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- ⅓ cup + 1 tablespoon Cognac
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream warmed
- AT LEAST 30 minutes (and up to 1 hour) before you plan to cook, remove the beef filets mignon steaks from the refrigerator. Sprinkle all sides LIBERALLY with Kosher salt. Allow the beef to rest undisturbed on the counter.
- Set a non-stick saucepan on the stove top over very low heat and warm the heavy whipping cream slowly. It needn't be hot, simply warmed.
- Use a spice grinder, mortar and pestle, or plastic baggie and a meat mallet to coarsely crush the peppercorns.
- When you are ready to begin cooking, pour the crushed peppercorns in a pie plate. Take each steak and press it into the peppercorns being sure to coat all sides.
- Place a large cast iron skillet atop the stove and add the unsalted butter followed by the olive oil. Heat until they're melted, golden brown, and almost at the smoking point. Add the filets and allow the steaks to sear undisturbed for 4 minutes per side for medium rare. Up the time by 1 minute per side for medium.
- Remove the steaks to a plate and wrap with foil to keep them hot and allow the juices to redistribute, 5 to 10 minutes.
- Remove the cast iron pan from the heat. Blot the fat from the pan using a paper towel but leave the browned bits and the abandoned peppercorns. Hold the AWAY FROM YOUR OVERHEAD CABINETS. Add the Cognac all at once. Tilt the pan slightly. Light a long match (or click lighter) and wave it just above the surface of the Cognac. The vapors in the alcohol will ignite. Hold the pan as you swirl and swish the liquid. The flames will extinguish once the alcohol has burned off. NOTE: SEE MY VIDEO DEMONSTRATION IN THIS POST FOR HOW TO INGNITE THE COGNAC
- Replace the cast iron to the heat and turn the heat to high. Pour off any of the juices from the steaks into the Cognac. Add the warmed heavy cream and whisk as the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat slightly and thicken the mixture, about 5 or 6 minutes.
- Add an additional tablespoon of Cognac to the now thickened sauce, whisk to combine, and off the heat. Add the steaks back to the pan and spoon the sauce over top. Serve immediately.
The nutrition value can vary depending on what product(s) you use. The information below is an estimate. Always use a calorie counter you are familiar with.
Please note that table salt and iodized salt are NOT substitutions for Kosher salt. Do not deviate unless otherwise specified.
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