This dinner was so good, I actually had to go lie down afterward. Not because I was so full, just because I had to process what had just happened.
The meal in questions: steak au poivre, gratin dauphinois and sauteed spinach; everything but the spinach courtesy of Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook. It may not seem like a meal one would begrudgingly enjoy, but you would too if you were as intensely irritated by Anthony Bourdain as I am. At least, by his television appearances.
Does anyone really think he’s coming up with all those bon mots – witticisms that amuse him at least as much, if not more than, those around him – on the fly? I, for one, do not. I imagine that he has a notebook, a moleskine like the cool kids, with which he sits between tapings, coming up with his crack comebacks and jotting them down for deployment at the appropriate time.* Also: I don’t care what weird shit you’re willing to put in your mouth, it’s no excuse for being insufferable.
But I got the book, because you can be an insufferable good chef (qualities that often go together, if the cast of Top Chef is any example) and it looked good. And I picked these recipes because they are classics; it’s been a few weeks since a good old-fashioned, full-on Smackdown; and my arteries have been feeling excessively open and airy lately.
*I know I’ve probably espoused this theory before, and I will do it again. Speak truth to power, I say.
I also got to use my new toy, the mandoline. I now understand why people don’t use the hand guards; it does go much faster without it, unless you include the time spent waiting in triage for stitches after you slice one of your knuckles into a 1/8 inch julienne. Not that I did that. I used the hand guard like a good little minion, because of a scarring experience I had several summers ago:
Friend, using new mandoline: “…it’s really great, it cuts down on prep time, and…”
Me: “Isn’t there usually a hand guard?”
Friend: “…yes, but it’s not really a…” *SLICE* AAUGH BLOOD ON THE ZUCCHINI
Friend should really have gone to the ER, but just wrapped his hand in a kitchen towel instead and soldiered on. But that’s not the scarring part. At some point in the evening, Friend went to make himself a drink, reaching into the ice bucket in the freezer with his mandolined hand. Later, when I went to get a drink, BLOODY ICE.
Friend, I’m sure that at some point you will read this. Know that although the BLOODY ICE was an ordeal, I look back often at the actual moment of hand-slicing with deep, deep amusement, and laugh to myself. Sometimes out loud. (Schadenfreude is a strong family trait, as anyone who’s married into the family can attest. I have the strength to accept what I cannot change, and I will laugh at you when you fall down the stairs.)
So I used the hand guard. One cautionary tale is enough.
After simmering the perfect 1/4 inch rounds of yukon gold in cream steeped with garlic, rosemary and thyme, I transferred them to a baking dish, smothered them with emmenthaler, and threw them in the oven.
I will confess that according to the strict instructions, I was supposed to use gruyere. Unfortunately, the smell of gruyere makes me want to hurl, so I thought a small bending of the rules would not be out of place. I did penance for the swap, though: I had to stand over the stove, searing steak, while the finished dish of potatoes sat cooling slightly, and I had to do it without picking ANY of the fantastically yummy crusty cheesy bits off the top. Because that would have been mean. I may be weak-willed, but I’m not mean. (Except toward Tyler Florence. Oh, and Rocco DiSpirito. Remind me to tell you about the time I gave him the finger in person!)
Speaking of steak…
I bought a prime aged sirloin big enough to feed 6, or me and Brian. Anthony points out that this dish is often made with sirloin, although at Les Halles they make it with an obscure cut called pavé. Of course they do. Thank you for pointing out my inadequacy before I even begin, Tony.
I know the peppercorns should be a little more crushed than they appear in the photo. Believe me, I went to town on those bad boys with a rolling pin, and had to keep adding additional plastic bags as the beating went on so the little bastards wouldn’t pop out of the holes that kept appearing in the successive bags and roll away across the counter and onto the floor, where the dogs would eat them and then promptly throw them up on some upholstered, difficult to clean item.* The other half of the meat had the more crushed peppercorns, you just can’t tell because of the blurriness my astonishing depth of field.
*NEVER on the damn tile. Is it so hard?
After searing off the meat, I made the quick sauce with cognac and some demi-glace. And before you get all impressed, I bought the demi-glace at some fancy-pants specialty grocer, I didn’t make it myself.
I want to one day. That is, I wanted to before stupid Anthony Bourdain, who berated me in the book for not keeping veal stock and demi-glace in my freezer at all times. You know what? I’ve never eaten bull testicles either and I never will and I bought my demi-glace at the store but I’m still a good person. Goddamit. Also: your written berations? (Is that a word? Either it is, or the WordPress editor is too confused to offer a suggestion.*) Not nearly as cute as you think they are. Roughly 70% less cute, if I had to try and pinpoint. As one who plies an entire blog full of quasi-mocking written schtick, I know whereof I speak.
The cognac came from the liquor store around the corner. I don’t know what I’m going to do with the rest of that bottle of Hennessey; I guess take it along the next time I decide to roll with my posse in my sensible 2005 Honda Accord.
*Oop, the editor just decided to pipe up and suggest “aberration.” Nice try, editor.
After the sauce was enriched with butter, the steak had rested and the gratin cooled enough to eat, we sat down to frankly overflowing plates of food because we are horrific gluttons.
I would normally post another photo of the plated dish here, but the one at the top is the only one with which I’m happy enough to post. If you want to see it again, go ahead and scroll up for a minute, like I’m about to do because dang it looked good. I’ll wait.
(I really did just do it.)
There’s not really much I can tell you about this dish that those of you who’ve had well-prepared steak au poivre or gratin dauphinios – let’s face it, the spinach was just for show – don’t already know. Tender steak with a strong beefy flavor, crunchy pops of black pepper, decadent sauce. Densely stacked potatoes that are beyond flavorful from the aromatics-steeped cream, with those willpower-bending crusty cheesy tops.
The steak recipe is solid, pretty much what I imagined it’d be. The gratin recipe? Basic, I’m sure, but it produces some fucking BANANAS goddamn potatoes. Creamy yet toothsome, beguilingly rich, perfectly seasoned with just enough ooze…it’s all I can do to not throw the dish back in the oven to re-heat, and the only thing stopping me is that I don’t think I would wake up in the morning if I were to eat more now. I would have been perfectly happy eating nothing but those potatoes for dinner. I might tomorrow night. Hell, it’s a Friday. Live it up!
And yes, after we’d both eaten our fill I filched some of the crusty top from the remaining potatoes as a prize for having not filched it earlier. And? Totally worth it.
I’ll give it to you this time, Bourdain. THIS TIME.