Food You Can Eat: Celebrity Sunday Matinee: Anthony Bourdain’s Steak au Poivre

Australians throw their shrimps on the barbie. I throw my peppered steaks in the oven and hope for the best.

“Your body is not a temple, it's an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.” Well, amen to that, Tony.

For reasons of my own I have decided to devote my next three posts to Anthony Bourdain, whose birthday was yesterday. He is no longer with us, but he would have been 66.

I always thought that Anthony Bourdain must have been Cajun, but how wrong I was. He was born right here in Manhattan and grew up mostly in Leonia, NJ, which is not nearly as bad as it sounds. His paternal grandfather emigrated from France, and his father grew up speaking French. Little is known, at least to wikipedia, about his parents. One day Bourdain père is managing a record shop; the next he is an executive at Columbia Records. As for Mom, she was a copyeditor (some copyeditors would spell that as copy editor) at the New York Times, a job that no longer exists because the New York Times abolished their copy desk in 2017. Freed up monies to hire more 5-star talent to the Opinion section, no doubt, plus there was The Anti-Trump Campaign to wage and who knew when it would ever end? It still hasn’t, as we all know.

So Tony attended the Dwight-Englewood School (Dad must have achieved Columbia Records Executivehood at that point to afford the fees) and then went to Vassar. He enrolled in 1973 and became one of its first male students; Vassar didn’t go co-ed until 1969, although it still skews toward women: now it’s a little over 1/3 men and a little under 2/3 women, but I suppose there must be some students who identify as neither—I’m just using Vassar statistics. 

Tony only lasted a couple of years at Vassar and then went to the Culinary Institute of America, up in Hyde Park. He floated around in various restaurant jobs and on the side he wrote mysteries, did you know this? They didn’t sell very well, unfortunately, but fortunately for us he kept his day jobs. Well, his night jobs. In 1997 he became the Executive Chef at Les Halles on Park Avenue South, and by the way in the late 90s I used to go to Les Halles and there wasn’t much glamorous about it, it was part of a small national chain and this was its NYC outpost. But it was there that he began his meteoric ascent, and finally produced a best-seller, Kitchen Confidential, a memoir that also combines one of the few and I think one of the best-written accounts about what it’s like to work in a fast-paced restaurant kitchen. I say that as someone who has been in restaurant kitchens but only during slow times and I’ve never worked in one. 

For some reason I thought that Bourdain was an early Food Network star but I was wrong again. He was fairly late to the game, somewhat famously making snide insults about celebrity chefs. The Food Network [oh God, another digression] launched in 1993 as the TV Food Network and here’s a nice roundup of what it was like:

But eventually he had his own food and travel shows for which he became famous & etc., and let’s just leave it at that.

This recipe is from his Les Halles Cookbook. Steak au Poivre is, theoretically, a very simple thing to make, you pepper some steaks and cook them, but there are hundreds of recipes that detail how to do this. The great benefit of this one is it doesn’t involve a grill, as a great many of them do, so that we deeply un-American sub-humans without a grill and a yard to put it in can join in the fun.

Anthony Bourdain’s Steak au Poivre

SERVINGS 4

INGREDIENTS

4 8-ounce steaks
2 ounces olive oil
2 ounces freshly cracked peppercorns (crushed but not ground to powder!) [Tony advises.]
4 ounces sweet butter
1 ounce good Cognac
4 ounces strong, dark veal stock (something to keep in your freezer) 
[I don’t know about you, but I don’t.]
Salt and pepper

EQUIPMENT

Heavy skillet
Kitchen tongs
Wooden spoon
Serving platter

DIRECTIONS FOR STEAK

1. Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Moisten the meat very slightly with oil, then dredge each of the steaks in the crushed peppercorns to thoroughly coat. Don’t be shy with the pepper.

2. Heat the remaining oil in the skillet over high heat. Once the oil is hot, add 2 ounces, which is half of the butter. Place the steaks in the pan and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes per side.

3. Transfer the pan to the oven and cook until desired doneness, about 5 to 7 minutes for rare, 10 minutes for medium rare, and so on. Remove from the oven and remove the steaks from the pan to rest. Have I told you yet to always rest your meat after cooking? I’ve told you now. [That’s Tony talking, not me.]

DIRECTIONS FOR SAUCE

1. Return the skillet to the stovetop and carefully stir in the Cognac. As much fun as it is to create a column of flame as you add flammable material to an incredibly hot pan, it’s not really desirable or necessary — especially in a home kitchen. Unless you’re a pyromaniac, I recommend carefully adding the Cognac to the still-hot pan off the flame, stirring and scraping with the wooden spoon to get every scrap, every peppercorn, every rumor of flavor clinging to the bottom of the pan. [Here I might have to disagree about the thril of the flambé…]

2. Now place the pan on the flame again and cook it down a bit, by about half. Stir in the veal stock and reduce over medium heat until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Whisk in the remaining butter and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately with French fries or sautéed potatoes. [Go with the French fries, “frites,” and ramekins of aioli to dip the fries in—Your author.]

Note on searing: With any recipe that calls for searing meat and then using the pan to make a sauce, be careful to avoid blackening the pan; your sauce will taste burnt. Avoid by adjusting the heat to, say, medium high, so it will still sear the meat but not scorch the pan juices. But stoves and pans vary, so pay attention. [Again, Tony’s note, not mine.]

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10 Comments

    • Yes! She was one of the early “stars.” She was Mrs. Rudy Giuliani at the time (née Kofnovec) and had a long career in broadcast–I wouldn’t call it journalism, but she produced and hosted morning TV shows and was kind of a natural fit. She moved in with Rudy when he was still technically married to his first wife, who was also a distant cousin (hell, I married my distant cousin on Downton Abbey; “the heart wants what it wants,” as Woody Allen so famously put it to explain his relationship to his ex-wife’s adopted daughter Soon-Yi, it happens). What woman could resist Rudy’s manly appeal? Believe it or not, before the drinking and the various pills and Dollar Store hair dye took hold, Rudy Giuliani was pretty hot.

      But you know the old saying, when a man marries his mistress he creates a job vacancy, and sure enough New York was riveted by the news that while Ru-DEEE! was still in Gracie Mansion, the Mayor’s residence, he held a press conference to announce that he was kicking Donna to the curb. He told us before he told her, she was more than a little angry, and had to be removed from Gracie Mansion. Ru-DEEE! moved on with Judi Stish, who was going by the name of Judith Nathan (Nathan was her second husband) whom he had met at Club Macanudo, a bar in Manhattan. That marriage, too, ended acrimoniously, Ru-DEEE! is unlucky in love.

      • And then your favorite Governor’s SO got a show to inflict her Kwanzaa Cake on the world, and Bourdain rightfully gave the cake and her with all of the scorn they deserved.

        • Ah, yes, Sandra Lee. I have absolutely no doubt that Quid Pro Quomo had a lot to do with her getting the gig for which she was hilariously unqualified and subjected her to years of ridicule. Imagine you’re CNN with a large presence in New York. You can go along and hire some nobody the Governor is shacking up with, and what the hell, throw the Governor’s brother in there for good measure, and reap all kinds of state carveouts and handouts. OR, you can pretend to be a serious network like the CBS news division in its heyday and walk away quietly and never mention that any kind of overtures came at you from some small upstate city. We know which path CNN took. Farewell, CNN+, we hardly knew ye.

  1. I thought they were prawns?

    Anyway, it is “Totally Gaydies Weekend” on my favourite radio station. This is the song playing right now:

    Which doesn’t make sense because the song is from 1991.

    #DoBetter BOOM 97.3

      • A classic. Today is Gay Pride here in New York, or more specifically the day the largest of the various parades are held. I didn’t go, what with my Tingling Leg(s) and all, but they had a beautiful day for it, it’s hot and sunny here, perfect weather for the marchers and the float-passengers to flaunt their barely there Pride-themed outfits.

        This year

        Activist TS Madison, “Saturday Night Live” star Punkie Johnson, NCAA swimmer Schuyler Bailar, activist Dominique Morgan, and lawyer Chase Strangio will serve as Grand Marshals for this year.

        I’ve never heard of any of these people, but I am an elderly shut-in. I’m sure they’re all lovely people but they seem a little D-list. The organizers must have their reasons. Planned Parenthood is going to go/went first, which, the overturning of Roe v. Wade seems a strange cause for same-sex couples to rally around, the risk of unwanted pregnancies being so small, but make no mistake, we gay folks are not stupid, and this is only the beginning. There’s almost 50 years of case law and Supreme Court rulings based around Roe and once you remove that foundation all bets are off.

    • That’s a famous tagline from the Australian Tourism Board, which ran ads featuring Paul “Crocodile Dundee” Hogan in the 1980s. It showed Crocodile Dundee throwing shrimp on the barbie, although why an American would take a 24-hour flight to attend a barbecue was never really explained. Did you not have them in Canadaland? Maybe Commonwealth countries were spared.

      Did I ever tell you (all) that when I went through my German Phase I used to go to London a lot and Time Out magazine was my bible. Every issue had a quiz on the last page, or maybe on the back cover, and if you could tick off enough boxes to amass thirty points Australia would let you move there. I want to say that this was during Australia’s “White Australia” policy but I can’t remember if they explicitly asked the quiz-taker if they were white. They probably did. You got points for being a woman, I don’t know why, I guess 30+ years ago there was a gender imbalance, maybe too many young men coming in to work and sending money home. This is happening now in the US along the southern border. You got points for being a college grad, and for being in the healthcare field, and I forget what else. Today I don’t think the Australians really want any more immigrants, but at the time, while the Australians were throwing shrimp on the barbie, they had a somewhat open-door policy as long as you met certain criteria.

  2. Vice and maybe CNN are both having food travel shows where I’m like “don’t fucking try to copy Bourdain, he was lightning in a bottle and you’ll fucking fail” but no one listens to me.

    Stanley Tucci does amazing as a food travel tv personality for Italy, but he’s not trying to be Bourdain and I don’t know how good he’d be in other regions. I am still pissed off season 2 of his show was only 4 fucking episodes.

    • No kidding about the four episodes.

      The reality of these shows is that the on-camera guy only shows up long after the staff and crew has done all of the work scouting locations, recruiting chefs, and outlining all of the shows. That’s where most of the work is, and it’s not super complicated or expensive. Networks just need to make the commitment to let good people do the advance work and then let the host work their magic.

      But CNN execs are too stupid to let this happen.

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