The art of tableside cooking has all but vanished from restaurants. But who’s to say you can’t create that same magic at home?
Stunning, succulent, easy, elegant—these are but four words to describe that indescribable feeling of sophistication and accomplishment that this short preparation gives you. The whole thing goes straight from the skillet to your gorgeous finished plate in mere minutes. I'd suggest "romantic dinner for two," "special occasion menu," and "super-knock-your-socks-off delicious" as other catchphrases. You'll have your own.
Trust me: This is a surefire way to impress anyone with your culinary acumen, your immense sense of style, your continental élan. Show 'em you have it all. Way to go, babe!
"Tableside" preparations in elegant restaurants, often associated with the style of the middle of the last century, have drastically fallen out of fashion. Now we've got elaborately plated dinners resembling specimens from the science fair—foams and test tubes arriving on black square plates curling up at their edges. I know you know what I mean. It's not often that you see dishes like Steak au Poivre, Veal Oscar, Crêpes Suzette, and Bananas Foster prepared right at the table anymore. Why not? They're sumptuous and impressive events that once flamed up nightly in America's finest establishments. These dishes, prepared just for you, are theater. They are delicious. They are wow. You're out for dinner, and they emphasize that this is one special occasion.
Tonight you're in for dinner, but it's a special occasion. Set the table ahead of time and make it pretty. Pour a glass of wine. Light the candles, and then…crush those peppercorns! It's easy and fun—and the pepper is the key to the magic of this dish. Get a pan really hot and follow these simple steps to success every time. I love medium-rare for these steaks: brown with a bit of crust on the outside and rosy red on the inside. It won't take long to sauté them to this perfect temperature. The peppercorns, cream, and cognac combine with the pan juices to make a sauce that is so much greater than the sum of its parts. Pour this deliciousness straight from the pan all over the steaks, and when you take one bite you simply won't be able to stop yourself. It's just one of those things: 1+1=3. You'll see.
Do me a favor? In addition to sharing your photos and impressions of this recipe, I'd also love to hear your memories of birthday dinners, anniversaries, and special celebrations you've had in restaurants that do tableside preparations. If you know of any of these places that are still open and good, visit them while you can. They may not last forever. "Next" and "new" are always great, but sometimes you just can't beat that old-world atmosphere—the experience of dining at its grandest and best.
Happy cooking! Love, Alex.
LEFT: Sauté the steaks for just a few minutes to achieve a spot-on medium-rare. Once the steaks are removed from the skillet, Dijon mustard, crushed peppercorns, cream, and cognac or brandy are combined in the pan to create the sauce. BELOW: To maximize flavor, use a blend of peppercorns, including pink, green, black, and white.
STEAK AU POIVRE
Yield: 4 servings
1 tablespoon mixed cracked peppercorns
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 pound filet mignon, cut into four 4-ounce steaks
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon tasteless vegetable oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons cognac or brandy
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1.Layer one ziplock bag inside another, pour in the peppercorns, and pound with a meat tenderizer or rolling pin until coarsely crushed.
2. Combine the salt, pepper, and filet mignon in a bowl and toss until the steaks are fully seasoned on all sides. In a large, heavy skillet over high heat, melt the butter into the oil. When the foaming has subsided, add the steaks and sauté for 1 ½ minutes per side for perfect medium-rare.
3. Transfer the steaks to a serving platter, and then add the crushed peppercorns, mustard, cognac or brandy, and cream to the skillet, cooking for a minute or two until the ingredients come together to form a sauce, using a spatula to break up the bits stuck to the pan. Pour the sauce over the steaks and serve immediately.
Photo by Victoria Pearson