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Pepper-crusted steaks are meant to have a bite to them, but for some with sensitive palates, that bite may be too much. Here’s how to take the bite out of black peppercorns.
Here’s How to Take the Bite out of Black Peppercorns at Home
Pepper-crusted steak (steak au poivre) is a favorite recipe for carnivorous humans with a penchant for a red meat entrée that deliver some kick. Unfortunately, many people avoid this preparation because it’s too spicy. While reductions, sauces and appropriate side dishes can go a long way toward mellowing the piquancy, nothing tames this recipe better than preparing the peppercorns in the following manner.
Start with Quality Black Peppercorns
The savvy chef begins with quality black peppercorns, keeping in mind that not all peppercorns are created equal. Black peppercorns are the result of a complex process whereby the unripe, green berries of the pepper plant (piper nigrum) are cooked briefly and then dried to achieve the hard, shriveled, blacked appearance with which most people are familiar.
Process aside, there are many factors that influence the taste of a particular peppercorn. These include the type of soil and its mineral content and the amount of rain and sun the plant receives. Conventional wisdom suggests that the best black peppercorns are Tellicherry and Malabar pepper, which originates from India’s Malabar Coast. So how do you get the bite out of these black peppercorns?
Crack the Peppercorns
The first step in creating mellow pepper-crusted steak is to crack the peppercorns. Do not under any circumstances substitute ground pepper, brined peppercorns or water-packed peppercorns when preparing steak au poivre. Instead, pour the whole black peppercorns onto a cutting board and then, using a skillet, press down firmly on the peppercorns with a rocking motion. Continue until all of the peppercorns are cracked.
Cook the Peppercorns
The next step is the crux of taking the bite out of spicy, cracked black peppercorns. In a small skillet, heat four or five tablespoons of olive oil and add the cracked peppercorns to the oil. Cook the peppercorns over medium –low heat for about ten minutes. The cooking peppercorns will become wonderfully fragrant, although some people may find the smoke irritating.
Cool and Toss the Peppercorns with Unfiltered Olive Oil
Turn the heat off, and allow the cooked cracked peppercorns to cool completely. Once cool, strain and then toss them with a few tablespoons of a quality unfiltered olive oil. Lightly salt the mixture before applying it to the steaks.
Apply the Peppercorn Mixture to the Steak
An easy way to apply the peppercorn mixture to the steak is to lay a piece of plastic wrap twice the size of the steak on a hard surface. This way you can enjoy the flavorful effect of black peppercorns, minus the bite! The chef then places a layer of the peppercorn mixture (roughly equivalent to the size of the steak) on one half of the plastic wrap. Place the steak on the peppercorn mixture and then spoon a layer of the peppercorn mixture on top of the steak. Folding the plastic wrap over the steak, press down gently but firmly to embed the cracked peppercorns into the meat. Remove the plastic wrap.
Cook the Steak
The pepper-crusted steak is now ready to be cooked with whatever preparation the cook desires. For filets, outstanding results can be achieved by searing them in a heavy skillet first and then finishing them in a hot oven. To accomplish this, preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Place a rimmed metal cooking sheet in the oven.
When the oven is preheated, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy cast iron skillet until a wisp of smoke appears. Add the filet to the skillet and cook for three minutes without moving the filet. Using tongs, flip the filet, and cook for another three minutes.
Again using tongs, remove the filet to the baking sheet in the oven. For a medium-rare steak, cook in the oven for an additional five minutes. Be sure to let the steak rest, covered by aluminum foil, for a few minutes before serving this pepper-crusted that preserves the peppery taste without too much of the peppery punch.