Pepper steak, also referred to as steak au poivre in French, is a classic entree of French cuisine. This dish consists of a cut of tender cut of beef covered with a layer of peppercorns and topped with a cognac sauce. You can make pepper steak that remains tender and juicy by adhering to a few culinary techniques. Methods such allowing the steal to rest, exposing it to high heat, and topping it with a hot sauce increases the tenderness.
Select a tender cut of beef such as a filet mignon or rib-eye. Choose a thick steak that is between 1- and 2-inches thick. Thicker steaks do not dry out during the cooking process as thin cuts do.
Place your steak on a plate and allow it to rest at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes. This allows your steak to warm so that it does not shrink and toughen when heated.
Season the steak with sea salt on each side to tenderize it for 10 to 15 minutes before cooking. Rinse the salt off and pat the steak dry with paper towels.
Coat each side of the steak with a layer of crushed peppercorns to create the pepper steak flavor.
Heat 2 tbsp. of olive oil in a skillet over high heat. Cooking a pepper steak over high heat allows the outside to sear while the inside stays tender and juicy.
Place the pepper steak in the skillet. Cook the steak for three to four minutes on each side to reach a rare to medium-rare temperature of 120 to 125 degrees F. Rare and medium-rare temperatures provide a tender consistency compared with medium and well temperatures that result in a dried out and chewier texture.
Remove the pepper steak from the skillet and place it on a plate to rest. Cover the plate with aluminum foil to lock in the moisture and heat of the steak.
Bring 1 tbsp. of cognac to a boil in the skillet on medium heat. Scrape the glaze off the skillet using a spatula or spoon. Raise the heat to high and add 1/4 cup of beef stock. Boil the mixture for about five minutes. Stir in 1 tbsp. of heavy cream or creme fraiche and reduce the heat to medium.
Reduce the heat to low. Place the steak back in the pan and coat both sides in the sauce. Remove the steak and plate it. Pour the sauce over the steak for added flavor and a juicy texture.