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Authors: Dorie Greenspan

Around My French Table (47 page)

BOOK: Around My French Table
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But if you love beef (cooked to any degree of doneness), you'll love the way the Bistrot serves its pepper steak. Bertrand uses a fillet, or tenderloin (although the cooking method and wonderful sauce work with other cuts—I often use it with a not-too-thick rib-eye steak), presses cracked pepper all over it, pan-sears it, and makes a quick sauce of Cognac and cream. When he gave me the recipe, he wrote that the cream should be thick and that "it should come from the nearest farm." And Bertrand's cream really does come from a farm just outside of Paris.

About 1 tablespoon black peppercorns, preferably Sarawak pepper (that's what's used at Paul Bert; see Sources
[>]
), or a mix of peppercorns
4
filets mignons, 1 to 1½ inches thick, at room temperature
1
tablespoon mild oil (such as grapeseed or canola)
½
tablespoon unsalted butter
¼
cup Cognac, or other brandy (plus a splash more if desired)
½
cup heavy cream
Salt

The peppercorns need to be coarsely cracked, a job that's done quickly and easily with a mortar and pestle. Lacking that, put the peppercorns in a kitchen towel so they don't go flying about, and give them a couple of bashes with the bottom of a heavy skillet or the heel or back of a knife. Sprinkle some peppercorns on both sides of each steak, and use the palm of your hand to press them into the meat.

Put a heavy-bottomed skillet over high heat—I use a cast-iron pan—and add the oil and butter. When the butter has melted, slip in the steaks and cook them for 2 to 3 minutes for rare steaks, or a minute or so longer if you like your beef more well-done. Flip them over and give them another 2 to 3 minutes in the pan, then transfer them to a warm plate and cover them loosely with a foil tent.

Pour off all of the fat in the pan, but leave any bits of steak that have stuck to the bottom; let the pan cool for a minute or so. Now you've got a decision to make: to flame the Cognac or to just let it boil down. If you decide to flame it, pour it into the pan, stand back, and set a match to the Cognac. When the flames have subsided, stir to scrape up whatever bits of meat are in the pan. If you just want to boil the Cognac, put the pan over medium heat, pour in the Cognac, and let cook until it's almost evaporated; scrape up whatever bits of steak have stuck to the pan.

When you've reduced the Cognac, lower the heat and add the cream. Swirl the pan and let the cream bubble gently for 2 to 3 minutes. Now, Bertrand says, "Salt with care, and that's it!" And that can be it, but if you'd like just a slightly stronger flavor of Cognac, when you pull the pan from the heat, swirl in 1 more teaspoon.

Spoon the sauce over the steaks and serve immediately.

 

MAKES 4 SERVINGS

 

SERVING
Transfer the steaks to warm dinner plates, spoon over the sauce, and head for the table. At Bistrot Paul Bert, the steak comes with frites (see box), always a good idea, but other good ideas include Salty-Sweet Potato Far (
[>]
), Celery Root Puree (
[>]
), simple Broth-Braised Potatoes (
[>]
), or anything steamed and green.

 

STORING
No do-aheads here, and usually no leftovers either.

 

BONNE IDÉE
Bistrot Paul Bert's Steak à la Bourguignonne
. Steak in a red wine sauce with garlic and shallots is a bistro classic, especially if the meat is a hanger steak, a muscular, full-flavored cut that is best cooked rare. This technique and the sauce are also good with rib-eye or boneless New York strip steak and filet mignon. Season the steaks with salt and pepper (don't coat them with cracked pepper) and cook them as you would the pepper steak. When you've poured off the fat and cooled the pan, toss in 1 tablespoon unsalted butter. Put the pan over medium heat, and when the butter melts, add 1 to 2 minced garlic cloves and 1 to 2 minced shallots (this is a to-taste situation) and cook just until they soften, about 3 minutes. Pour in ⅔ cup dry red wine, turn up the heat, and let the wine boil until it has reduced by half. If any juices accumulated around the steaks while they rested, pour them into the sauce. If you'd like, when you pull the pan from the heat, swirl in 1 tablespoon cold butter, cut into bits. Spoon the sauce over the steak.

 

les frites

The kindest thing I can say about my relationship to homemade French fries is that it's complicated. When I was thirteen and burned down my parents' kitchen, it was French fries I'd been trying to make. And when I started cooking with French chefs, every time I'd ask for the best recipe
for frites,
they'd make the whole process seem so complex that my eyes would glaze over even before the first potato was peeled. But then Bertrand Auboyneau of Bistrot Paul Bert sent me his recipe for steak and
frites
, and all was revealed.

"To make good frites," he wrote, "there are two secrets: choose the good kind of potatoes and never let them sit in water."

For most of us in America, "the good kind of potatoes" is Idaho (russet). You can fry Yukon Golds or even sweet potatoes, but Idaho potatoes will get you closest to French
frites
.

As for letting them sit in water—don't! Peel the potatoes close to frying time and then pat them dry. Rinse them if you want to, but make certain that they're completely dry for the fry

Now, about that fry . . . Bertrand didn't dub his two-step frying method a secret, because it's considered standard operating procedure among ace potato fryers.

In the first step, the potatoes are fried in oil at a relatively low temperature, 325 degrees F, so that they cook almost completely (they should be the potato equivalent of al dente pasta) but don't color—in other words, they're blanched in the oil. Blanch the potatoes, drain them very well, and allow them to cool. You can do this up to a few hours before you're ready to give them their final fry.

The second step should be done at serving time: heat the oil to 375 degrees F and fry the (dry) blanched potatoes until they are cooked through, beautifully browned, and crisp.

"After that," wrote Bertrand, "put them in a bowl with paper to dry them, add salt, and serve."

And here's my two cents: 1) Make sure you're using a type of oil that can stand the heat of frying: peanut or canola oil will work well; and 2) Don't crowd the pot—fry in small batches, so that the temperature of the oil remains as constant as possible.

Voila! It's not much of a recipe, I know, but follow it, and your
frites
will be
splendide.

Café Salle Pleyel Hamburger

W
HEN MY FRIEND HÉLÈNE SAMUEL,
who created the stunning café in Paris's newly renovated Salle Pleyel concert hall, decided to put a hamburger on the menu, she gave it a lot of thought. She knew she was playing with an American icon, and she wanted to honor it, but she also wanted to make it understandable—and appealing—to her French diners, almost all of whom, on hearing the word
hamburger,
would think "McDonald's." In the end, what she and her chef for that opening year, Sonia Ezgulian, came up with was a hamburger that any red-blooded American would be happy to sit down to and any French gourmet would be happy to claim for his country. It's got the sesame seed bun and the dill pickles, but it's also got a very French seasoning blend: capers, cornichons, tarragon, and sun-dried tomatoes (who needs ketchup?); a red onion marmalade; and, standing in for the American cheese, some shards of Parmesan—neither French nor American, but just perfect with beef. At home, I often serve the burger with my own quick-pickled cucumbers (
[>]
).

It didn't take long for the burger to become the café's bestseller and a media darling. Hélène had started a craze so widespread that it ended up as a page-one style story in the
New York Times,
and one of Hélène's comments was chosen as the paper's "Quotation of the Day." Asked why the hamburger was so popular in Paris, she said: "It has the taste of the forbidden, the illicit—the subversive, even." She might just as easily have said, "Because it's so delicious," but that wouldn't have been nearly as quotable.

FOR THE ONION MARMALADE
1
medium red onion, finely chopped
1
cup water
1
teaspoon ground coriander
1
tablespoon unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
 
 
FOR THE BURGERS
About ⅓ cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped or sliced
¼
cup drained capers
6
cornichons
¼
cup fresh tarragon leaves
½
cup fresh parsley leaves

pounds ground beef, preferably sirloin, or a mix of sirloin and chuck, at room temperature
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1
tablespoon grapeseed oil or peanut oil
2
ounces Parmesan, cut into ribbons with a vegetable peeler (to make about ½ cup)
 
 
FOR SERVING
4
sesame seed hamburger buns, toasted
2
dill pickles, cut lengthwise into ribbons with a vegetable peeler
Ketchup (very optional)

TO MAKE THE ONION MARMALADE:
In a small saucepan, stir together the onion and water. Add the coriander and butter, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring regularly, for about 20 minutes, or until the mixture is soft and jammy; you'll have about
⅓ cup marmalade. Scrape the marmalade into a bowl, cover with plastic, and set aside. (
You can make the marmalade up to 2 days ahead and keep it tightly covered in the refrigerator;bring to room temperature before using.)

TO MAKE THE BURGERS:
Using a mini food processor and the pulse button, chop the tomatoes, capers, cornichons, tarragon, and parsley. (Or chop the ingredients by hand, using a large chef's knife.) Put the beef in a large bowl, scrape the tomato mixture over it, and season with salt and pepper (there may be enough salt from the capers and cornichons). Using your hands, mix everything together lightly, then shape the mixture into 4 patties, about ¾ inch thick.

Choose a large heavy-bottomed skillet (cast-iron is great here), pour in the oil, and put it over medium heat. When the oil is really hot, slip in the burgers. (Alternatively, you can cook them in a grill pan or on a grill—do that, and you won't need the oil.) Cook the hamburgers for 2 minutes on a side if you want them rare (the French preference), 3 minutes if you want them medium-rare. You can cook them longer if that's the way you like your burgers, but there isn't much fat in these burgers, so they may get a little dry if you go beyond medium-rare. Transfer to a platter and immediately top them with the cheese.

Spread the bottoms of the buns with a little onion marmalade and divide the dill pickles among them. Put the burgers on the pickles and close up the sandwiches. Serve with ketchup, if you like.

 

MAKES 4 SERVINGS

 

SERVING
At Café Salle Pleyel, Heinz ketchup was served with the hamburgers, but only on request and, as it turned out, only rarely—with its onion jam, pickles, and great flavor, the burgers didn't need much of anything else.

 

STORING
You can make the onion marmalade a couple of days ahead and keep it covered and chilled; ditto the sun-dried tomato mixture.

 

BOOK: Around My French Table
10.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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