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Steak Au Poivre-I've got the cognac, but I'm afraid to use it

Plainly, I'm way too clumsy and amateurish in the kitchen to be lighting cognac on fire without wetting myself. Does anybody have a recommendation on making steak au poivre without lighting the cognac? Can I just add it at the end immediately before pouring the sauce onto steaks, or will that kill the flavor?


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  1. I made steak au poivre last weekend (for the first time!) and didn't flame the cognac, just poured it into the sauce at the end...came out great!

    1 Reply
    1. re: sunflwrsdh

      Thanks so much! Glad it turned out well! I think's what I'll do as well. Did you give it significant time in the pan or did you pour it into the cream just before plating?

      1. Here's what I did, "pour off fat from skillet, then add shallots and half of butter (2 tablespoons) to skillet and cook over moderately low heat, stirring and scraping brown bits, until shallots are well-browned all over, 3 to 5 minutes. Add Cognac (use caution, it may ignite)...(mine didn't, I just poured it in very slowly) and boil, stirring occasionally until reduced by half, 3 to 5 minutes. Add cream and any meat juices accumulated on platter and boil sauce, stirring occasionally until reduced by half, 3 to 5 minutes. Add remaining two tablespoons butter, and cook over low heat, swirling skillet until butter is incorporated. " The recipe is from Epicurious.com.....don't know how to do a link, but I just did a search on Epicurious for Steak au Poivre, and this is what I got. Came out great!! Good luck with yours.

        1 Reply
        1. re: sunflwrsdh

          I would add that, in view of the fact that your appropriately squeamish about the flambe thing, when it comes time to incorporate the congnac, remove the pan from the burner to an area where it will not be exposed to open flame or radiant heat. Add the cognac, then return the pan to the burner - being careful to hold it firmly with a horizontal orientation to the burner surface. Then proceed as normal. Keep a lid large enough to completely cove pan close at hand so that in the even of a mishap you can just pop the lid on the pan to extinguish any unwanted flame.
          And ALWAYS measure out the amount of cognac (or any alcoholic ingredient) before adding it to your other ingredients. NEVER pour from a bottle over a pan while it's on a hot burner or otherwise exposed to open flame or radiant heat.

        2. I never bother igniting it anymore and Cognac's one of my favourite booze additions so I use it often. If there's too much fat in the pan I get rid of some of it and then saute the shallots or whatever I'm using. Then I deglaze with the Cognac and let it bubble away a bit to cook off the raw alcohol taste. The pan's pretty hot at that point. Alcohol (or most of it) evaporates at a surprisingly low heat (180F/82C - maybe lower). If the contents of the pan are bubbling they're at 212F/100C so why bother flaming? I always have good results.

          1. I've never flambeed the cognac in steak au poivre, I just use it to deglaze the pan, let it cook a few seconds, then add heavy cream and reduce it by about half.

            1. The firs thing to recognize is that cognac does not have that much alcohol in it. We are not talking about vodka or Molotov cocktails here. Many people associate flambeing with the initial poof that is the result of the combustion of the vaporized alcohol, but this quickly dissipates and the flames are much lower so the key is to prevent that initial poof from causing any problems. Use common sense things: since this is your first time don't use too much since you can always do it twice. Don't pour it from the bottle. Don't put your arms face cloths over the pot. Basically don't do anything over the pot that you wouldn't do over a stove burner or grill. Lastly don't get to close to the flame as you are lighting it. This is easily fixed with a long match or one of those long lighters. Or my solution since i don't have either of those is a gripping a match in a long pliers.

              It doesn't really matter to tell you truth if you flame it or not, but you should try it anyway. The more different things you try the more confident you will be a as chef, which will empower you to try even more exciting things. Besides it i kind of beautiful. I love turning the lights off and watching the clean blue flame of the cognac dance in the pan. It is a bit of a romantic moment for me and my meal.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Will S.

                Good advice in general, but I'm not sure what to make of your first comment. Cognac has exactly the same amount of alcohol as standard vodka, 40% (80 proof). Yes, there are some extra-high-alcohol versions of vodka, but there are extra-strong cognacs as well (google "cask strength cognac" for some examples).

                1. re: Will S.

                  Yes, as per Bob B, cognac is pretty high in alcohol. As you point out, you should never pour it directly from the bottle . . . Julia Child had some horror story about someone doing this.

                  You have a point . . . I used to ignite whatever spirit I was using . . . these things can be kind of a rite of passage that make you bolder . . . Then I realized it wasn't necessary (well except for certain instances I s'pose), and stopped bothering with it . . . moving on in this way is something of a rite of passage, or a progression, too.

                2. Some background, which someone may find useful, about this dish.

                  Pan-frying beef steaks and deglazing with savory liquids is old and venerable. Escoffier's compendium from 1900-era France lists scores of variations, though not this one. In the Larousse Gastronomique it first appears in the 1988 edition, which suggests cognac and white wine, cooked down in the pan and finished with concentrated meat stock and sweet butter. By that time, people also sometimes added cream. I saw the cream version spread in popularity in US restaurants over the last few decades, but it makes a particular kind of steak dish, a "creamed" dish -- more so when the liquor is a sweeter one like Cognac. You might try it with just Cognac, or Cognac and white wine.

                  A more classic, stunningly savory variation I've used at home was suggested in midcentury US cookbooks. Trim steaks (like "New York" strips) lean; press into each side a teaspoon or two of freshly coarsely ground or cracked black peppercorns.* Leave them to sit a while, then pan-fry briskly with a little fat. Watch out for pepper smoke, it's irritating. Salt while frying. When just cooked (pressing down on the steaks, they start to firm up), remove them to plates. Add some _Bourbon_ or _rye_ whisky to the pan, and stir over heat to collect the pan residue and cook down the liquid somewhat, then pour it over the steaks. This is a "dry," non-creamed version and the whisky flavor is a remarkably good complement to the meat and spice. (One guest pronounced it the best steak he'd ever had.)

                  * Freshly broken peppercorns are essential for flavor. You can crack them in quantity by encloding in a folded paper plate and then further protection, like a towel; then pounding with a metal hammer. Not over a fine wooden surface, or you'll get peppercorn-shaped dents.