What is it about food that gives it the power to instill so many memories? Whether it sets the tone for a memorable vacation or acts as a catalyst to fire up a romantic evening, dinner, done well, is a force to be reckoned with. This easy to make stovetop steak requires no special equipment and few ingredients allowing you to spend less time cooking, and more time creating new memories. Not every vacation rental has an outdoor grill and you may not want to cook outside on a winter day - so here is another good option for a romantic meal at home or away.
I was surprised when I came home from a long business trip a few weeks ago to find a kitchen that had been very busy in my absence. We normally operate on an I-cook-you-clean model, but clearly some prep work had been done while I was gone. My lovely lady told me that she had everything prepped and ready for a steak and mushroom dinner, complete with a peppercorn cream sauce. But she had a few questions regarding the cooking part of the program.
After probing into what may have inspired her to become a pioneer of the pan, I learned she had found a recipe from Alton Brown that “sounded good and looked easy to make.” Steak au Poivre is what it was called as I remember it, and after that night, it became the esteemed way to cook a steak in our household - other than on the grill.
The beauty of this dish is that it is easy all the way around: the ingredients are simple to find, and no special cooking equipment is required. We have made this dish while traveling to vacation rentals, at friends’ houses, and even when unexpected guests show up hungry.
Start by letting your steak rest at room temperature for about a half hour before cooking. If given the choice, I would use a cast iron pan for this dish. Second choice would be a pan without a non-stick coating, but if a non-stick skillet is all you have available that will work fine too. Liberally season your steak with the salt and cracked black pepper.
Get your pan heating and add the oil to lightly coat the bottom. You want a fine layer of oil in the pan, but not excess so it is pooling up, so adjust accordingly. Allow the pan to heat the oil until it glistens, but not quite to the point of smoking. Drop the steak in the pan with a heel-to-toe motion, flopping the steak away from you to safely introduce it to the heat. The steak will adhere to the hot, oiled pan - but its flavor is developing so leave it alone and set your timer for about four minutes.
Cooking the Meat
When time is up, be ready to flip the steak. I prefer to use tongs, but a fork or spatula will work just fine. A little trick is when your steak is off the pan mid-flip, give the pan a quick swirl to redistribute a coating of oil where the steak was. This will promote even browning on the other side after the flip. Cook the steak on the other side for an additional four minutes. If you like your steak more on the rare side, turn the heat off after two minutes and let the steak relax in the hot pan. When the steak is done, after about eight minutes total, place it on a plate under a tent of foil to rest while you make the mushrooms.
The steak pan should have some brown bits sticking to the bottom that will add a bunch of flavor to the mushrooms. Pour off any leftover oil from the steak and return the pan to the stove on medium heat. Add the butter to the warm pan, and with a spoon, loosen up the brown bits. A wooden spoon works best for this. Loosen as many of the brown bits from the bottom of the pan as you can for a couple of minutes and then add your sliced mushrooms. Slowly cook the mushrooms for about four minutes swirling and scraping the brown from the pan and sharing its flavor with the mushrooms. Add a pinch of salt evenly over the mushrooms and cook for another four minutes. The salt will bring moisture out of the mushrooms and help intensify the flavor.
Making the Sauce
After about eight minutes total, take the pan completely off the heat and add the whiskey. Be careful, because if the pan is close to an open source of heat, it will ignite, flaming off the alcohol. By adding the whiskey off of the heat, the alcohol will evaporate in a couple of minutes. Add the heavy cream - up to a cup as needed so the mushrooms are well-coated, but we are not making soup, so don’t drown them. Bring the pan back to medium heat and let it simmer to reduce the volume of liquid by about a third.
The mushrooms and whiskey cream sauce should have picked up a rich brown, almost mahogany color and a silky, vibrant, savory taste that will add harmony when paired with the steak. Any juices from the rested steak can be stirred into the mushrooms just before serving. To plate, I like to spoon the mushrooms over about a third of the steak and letting the remainder of them fall whimsically off its side and onto the plate. Finish the dish with a few sprinkles of cracked black pepper over the mushrooms, if you can wait that long before digging in!
12-ounce steak - tenderloin or New York strip steaks work well
Coarsely cracked black pepper and kosher salt
1 tbsp cooking oil
1 pat butter
1 cup sliced mushrooms per person
2 ounces Pendelton Whiskey, brandy, or Cognac
1 cup heavy cream
Paul Sidoriak is a long time foodie who will try to cook just about anything outside, and on the grill. His website GrillingMontana.com showcases some of his culinary successes and failures, often from the grill. If he is not cooking on the Big Green Egg, you can probably find him fly-fishing near his home in Western Montana. He would be honored if you follow him on Facebook and Twitter.