I don’t think you can overstate the perfect pleasure of steak au poivre. It’s one of those bistro classics we take for granted and which, because of its simplicity, is all too frequently done badly.
2 steaks of your choice*
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon whole white peppercorns
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 garlic clove, peeled and halved
Massage the steaks with olive oil. Rub the halved garlic cloves over them.
Pound the peppercorns coarsely in a mortar and pestle.
Pat the ground pepper onto the steaks and leave to macerate for an hour or so — if you have time and patience. If not, they’ll be fine, just not as peppery.
Heat a wide pan as hot as you dare and slap them in. Now: here’s the thing — every steak has its own time scale! Truly. I have tried timing things according to the great and the good of the food world to no avail, so now I swear by the following method:—
Hold out your left hand. Now with your right hand feel that fleshy bit of palm under your thumb, where it mounds. You’ll see it goes from soft and squishy to hard by your wrist. Keep touching the steaks with your finger. Soft and squishy — your steak is rare: medium — it’s medium; hard — it’s well done. This is the best ‘done-ness’ test going.
When the steaks are cooked just how you like them, set them aside on a warm plate to rest for at least five minutes. This is very important. It lets the fibres of the meat relax and the flavours develop.
* TIP: Not so much a tip, more of a thought, but the cut of steak is a very personal matter of preference. The above works with most cuts, but I wouldn’t recommend it with a thin minute steak. My favourites are either a bavette or a bone-in rib eye.