Published March 1, 2006.
Black peppercorns bring a welcome flavor boost--but also a punishing blast of heat--to this mild-tasting cut. Could we lose the pain without giving up the flavor?
Filet mignon is ultra-tender, but it has only mild beefy flavor. Chefs often compensate by wrapping the delicate meat in bacon or puff pastry, serving it with rich wine sauces or flavored butter, or giving it a crust of cracked black peppercorns. We decided to pursue the peppercorn approach and found several problems to solve: The peppercorns tend to fall off in the pan, interfere with the meat's browning, and--when used in sufficient quantity to create a real crust--deliver punishing pungency.
We wanted a steak that offered a peppery crust with each bite, but we didn't want the meat's flavor to be totally overwhelmed by the peppercorns.
Our first step was to mellow the peppercorns' heat by gently simmering them in olive oil. We then created a well-browned and attractive pepper crust using a two-step process: First, we rubbed the raw steaks with a paste of the cooked cracked peppercorns, salt, and oil, then we pressed the paste into each steak through a sheet of plastic wrap. We let the steaks sit, covered, for an hour before cooking. The paste not only added flavor to the meat but drew out the meat's own beefy flavor. While the steaks sat wrapped and covered in paste, we had plenty of time to simmer a rich reduction sauce--though a flavored butter also made an excellent accompaniment.list of recipes