The kitchen drama of flambéing is hard to beat. The ignited Cognac sends flames from skillet, a spectacle for guests and showoff cooks alike.
Steak au Poivre, the classic French dish that teams high-quality steak with loosely cracked peppercorns, is a great example. Once the steaks are cooked to perfection, the peppery coating providing a flavor-amped crust, the meat is set aside while the sauce is made; heavy whipping cream, shallots and demi-glace play an alluring role in the sauce, along with the Cognac that fuels the flambé.
With a 32-year culinary career rich in impressive credentials and experience (including acting as the chef at 2- and 3- Michelin-star restaurants) French-born Laurent Brazier knows how to coax the best texture and flavor from Steak au Poivre.
Brazier is the executive chef-owner of Bistro Papillote inside SOCO’s OC Mix in Costa Mesa, and executive chef instructor at La Cuisine Culinary Arts located within Macy’s South Coast Plaza Home Store.
He cautions not to flambé if there is a microwave built over your stove (or anything combustible above your range). Next, always add the alcohol off the heat. Return it and tip it slightly towards the flame to ignite it, extending your arm during the tilt, your head well away from danger. Once ignited, let it cook just as long as there are flames. Longer, and the taste will suffer.
My additional advice? For success and confidence, practice making the dish at least once before show time. And don’t wear anything that dangles loose when flambéing, such as a necktie or scarf. Everything needs to be tucked in and out of harm’s way.
Brazier’s Favorite Veg: Cauliflower, for its delicious versatility. Roast it, smoke it, or make a mousseline. It’s not a starch per se, but cooked and pureed, it is like mashed potatoes. Grilled Cauliflower Soup is delicious using cauliflower slabs grilled on the barbeque, and then pureed with vegetable stock and cream.
Culinary Hero: His father, Chef Maurice Brazier, who at 81 is still cooking professionally. He runs the catering department at the Anaheim White House, as well as teaching at La Cuisine Culinary Arts.
Secret Talent: A DJ for weddings before becoming a chef.
Fave Cocktail: Cuba Libre.
Brazier’s Steak au Poivre
Yield: 4 servings
Four 6-ounce filet mignons, 1 1/4-inches thick or flat iron steaks or top sirloin steaks
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 to 4 tablespoons coarsely “cracked” black pepper, see cook’s notes
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup minced shallots (3 to 4 shallots)
1/2 cup Cognac or brandy
1 1/2 cup beef demi-glace or sodium-reduced beef stock, see cook’s notes
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
Cook’s notes: To crack black peppercorns, place on parchment paper and press one side of a small, heavy saucepan on them. Preparing demi-glace is a time-consuming project at home. You can buy it. It is sold at Bristol Farms Markets, Williams Sonoma and Surfas Culinary District in Costa Mesa. If you use stock, you will need to thicken the sauce with a little cornstarch or arrowroot at the end of step #3; whisk it in and cook just long enough to thicken sauce. If cooking on an electric stove, you will probably need to ignite using a long fireplace-style match.
1. Place the filets on a board and pat them dry with paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and then press cracked black pepper evenly on both sides. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. In a large heavy-bottomed skillet, heat the oil on medium-high heat Place the steaks in the pan and do not move them once there are down. Don’t overcrowd the pan. Cook the steaks for about 3 minutes on 1 side and then for 3 minutes on the other side. At this time, the meat is rare to medium rare (about 130 degrees testing on an instant read thermometer). If you desire to cook it more, place the pan in a preheated oven for 2 to 4 minutes to get the meat medium rare to medium. Once you have cooked the steak to your liking, place them on a plate on the counter. Do not cover with foil, and let the steak rest for 5 minutes while finishing the sauce. Remove the fat from the pan; add butter to pan. Add shallots; cook over medium heat for 2 minutes.
3. Off the heat, cautiously pour in Cognac; return to heat – extending your arm, tip skillet slightly to catch the flame – be careful- it will “flambé,” meaning flame. Reduce Cognac by half in volume or until the flame goes out. Add stock or demi-glace and cream; simmer sauce for 2 minutes on low heat.
4. Add steaks back in the sauce to reheat the meat. Serve with roasted potatoes (he likes yellow fingerling potatoes) and, if desired, a side of blanched French green beans (haricot vert).
Source: Laurent Brazier, executive chef-owner of Bistro Papillote inside the OC Mix in Costa Mesa, as well as the executive chef instructor at La Cuisine Culinary Arts
HERE’S A QUICK TIP FROM MELISSA’S!
I love Giada’s Shaker Salad.
Limp greens and soggy veggies are often the fate of a made-ahead salad destined for the lunchbox. In Giada De Laurentiis’ newest cookbook, “Happy Cooking,” she provides a shaker jar strategy.
Start with a wide-mouth quart-size jar.
Giada’s Shaker Salad
Yield: 1 serving
1 tablespoon store-bought hummus
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup canned black-eyed peas, rinsed, drained
1/3 cup red seedless grapes, halved
1 celery stalk, chopped
3 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
1 cup chopped radicchio or shredded green cabbage
1 cup loosely packed chopped romaine lettuce, about 2 leaves
1 tablespoon slivered almonds
1. In small bowl, whisk hummus, juice, oil and salt. Pour dressing into bottom of a wide-mouth quart-size jar or sealable container. On top of dressing layer: peas, grapes, celery, feta, radicchio or cabbage, romaine and almonds. Seal and refrigerate up to 6 hours.
2. When ready to eat, shake the jar to coat and mix the entire salad in the dressing.
Source: adapted from “Happy Cooking” by Giada De Laurentiis (Pam Krauss Books, $35.00)