Thursday, January 30, 2014

Steak au Poivre and Lessons Learned from a Broken Sauce

Steak au Poivre

Recently, I picked up some tri tip steaks on a trip to the supermarket. I wasn't sure how I was going to prepare them so an internet search yielded steak au poivre. The dish is French for a peppered steak with a pan sauce. I learned that a filet is commonly used but almost any cut of beef would work. The dish is also commonly flambéed with brandy or cognac. Normally, I'd be the first one to attempt a technique I've yet to try but I didn't want to take the risk of needing to make a claim against my renter's insurance policy. I found Anthony Bourdain's version which didn't require it so I took the out.

The Challenge

First, allow me to take you through the recipe and then I'll describe some issues I had.

The Source

I followed the version on but it appeared originally on page 130 to 131 of Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook by Anthony Bourdain with José de Meirelles and Philippe Lajaunie.


4 8-ounce steaks
2 ounces olive oil
2 ounces freshly cracked peppercorns, crushed
4 ounces sweet butter
1 ounce Cognac
4 ounces beef stock
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
French fries, for serving
1 tablespoon chives, finely chopped (for garnish)


1. Preheat the oven to 425° Fahrenheit. Dabble a minute amount of olive oil on each side, then dredge each steak through the crush peppercorns. Heat the remaining oil in a large oven-proof skillet over high heat. Once hot, add half the butter, then sear the steaks in the skillet on both sides, approximately 5 minutes per side but adjusting the heat so the steaks don't burn.

2. Place the skillet in the oven until desired doneness is achieved: approximately 5 to 7 minutes for rare, 10 minutes for medium-rare, etc. Once complete, remove the steaks from the pan and set aside to allow for carryover cooking while the pan sauce is prepared.

3. For the sauce, deglaze the hot pan off heat with the cognac, loosening the fond with a wooden spoon. Return to the stovetop burner and reduce the cognac by half. Reduce the heat to medium and stir in the beef stock. Simmer until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Stir in the remaining butter, then season with salt and pepper. Spoon the sauce over the steak, serve with French fries and garnish with chives.


Obviously not.

Part of the issue I have with this version is Chef Bourdain's units of measure of his ingredients because they are rather ambiguous. 2 ounces olive oil? Would that be 1/4 cup (i.e. fluid ounces)? I especially have this problem with the butter. 4 ounces is 1 stick. After I completed the dish, I did a little research and found an entry by Emma of the kitchn on possible causes a sauce breaks in addition to methods to fix a broken sauce. In this particular case, I believe the addition of butter caused it to separate because I prepared the dish again using ribeye steaks about a week later (picture below) but added small amounts of butter (1 teaspoon at a time; 1 1/3 tablespoons total) and it still separated. I advise to omit it all together.


  1. Hum, that's curious your sauce broke with the addition of butter. Typically that's what makes it a smooth, creamy sauce. I've seen chefs swirl bits of butter into the pan without stirring...I wonder if that would work? Or perhaps the heat was too high? Adding the butter off the heat may help. The dish looks delicious anyway. It's one I've always wanted to try, and now I will!

  2. Ugghh I hate when a sauce breaks! Typically what I do with the butter part of the sauce is cut it into small cubes and toss them in flour. I also make sure I keep it in the fridge before I put it in because I want it to be cold. Then I take the pan off the heat and swirl the butter in one cube at a time until I get the consistency right. The silver lining?? You were eating rib eye!

    Happy Blogging!
    Happy Valley Chow

  3. Hmmm...very interesting about the broken sauce! I'm sorry that happened to you not once but twice! Thanks for sharing this detailed post on how to make this dish and the issues you ran into. It's been very informative. Regardless of what happened with the sauce, the dish still looks delicious, especially with those fries on top (I'm such a sucker for deep fried foods!).

  4. Omit the butter?!!! What? still looks great!


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