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Pepper Steak

Contributed by: Charlie Burke

This preparation is a classic bistro dish and has many variations. In the past, the sauce tended to be heavy, containing large amounts of butter and cream. We prefer lighter-sauced preparations which complement the fish or meat being served. Traditionally, after cooking the steak, the pan is deglazed with cognac; I still do this on the rare occasions we have brandy but usually use red wine instead. If you've read other sauté recipes we've written, you will notice I place chopped shallots into the pan for a couple minutes before deglazing because they add depth to sauces. This recipe is quick and simple and relies on the use of highest quality ingredients.

There is a movement in New England toward raising grass fed beef, and it is worth seeking out sources. Naturally raised beef is also finding its way into meat markets. Use a tender cut such as strip sirloin which will remain tender and keep its juices during high heat cooking. Splurge on a good red wine such as a Pinot Noir from Oregon, serve the steak with sautéed mushrooms and a mixed salad and treat your guests to an easily prepared classic dish.

For four servings:

  • Four 8 - 10 ounce strip sirloin steaks (preferably more than 1 inch thick and trimmed of excess fat) or similar tender cuts. Do not use filet mignon which lacks necessary marbling
  • 3 tablespoons, more or less, coarsely cracked black pepper
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped shallot (substitute onion if necessary)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup red wine or 3/4 cup cognac
  • 1/2 cup beef broth or water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter (optional)

Have steaks at room temperature. Crack pepper with mortar and pestle or use a heavy pan to crack the pepper on the counter. Crack enough to lightly and evenly coat both sides of the steak. Salt steaks and press the steaks into the pepper so that it will adhere during cooking. Heat a heavy sauté pan large enough to hold the steaks without their touching over high heat. Add oil to pan and sauté steaks for 3 -4 minutes per side, depending on thickness, for medium rare. The meat will continue to cook from retained heat, so remove them before they reach your desired temperature.

An instant reading thermometer is very helpful, but do not worry about making a small slit into the thickest part of the meat to check. Place the steaks on a platter and tent with foil to keep warm while you finish the sauce. Having the meat rest for 5 - 10 minutes will keep the juices from running our when it's sliced.

Pour the fat from the pan and add the shallots, stirring so that they soften but do not brown. Add wine or cognac and the water or broth and reduce over high heat until the alcohol has evaporated and the sauce is slightly thickened. Return any juices from the steak to the pan and add butter if using. The butter enriches the flavor and balances any acidity from the wine. Plate the steaks, dividing the sauce among them and expect request is the future for this great bistro meal.

About the author:

An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice president of the New Hampshire Farmer's Market Association ( His column & recipes appear weekly in The Heart of New England's newsletter... get a free subscription by sending a blank email to: or visit

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