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The first time I had Steak Diane was years ago at a fancy restaurant. Popular back in the ’50s and ’60s, when and where it actually came about is unknown.
New York City is probably the best candidate for the source of Steak Diane, but which restaurant was the birthplace would be difficult to identify.
The top culinary trend of that time was dishes that could be flamboyantly prepared tableside. I remember being really impressed with the theatrical antics arising from the flambéing of the cognac that was used to make the sauce.
Flambéing isn’t just for show. Igniting alcohol in any recipe will intensify the flavor of your finished sauce through caramelization, similar to what takes place when searing meat on the grill or in a hot sauté pan. Caramelization requires temperatures in excess of 300 degrees. By igniting it, you are assured the necessary degree of heat is being generated.
If you just poured the alcohol into the pan and then reduced it without flaming it, the liquid would never go beyond the boiling point, and you wouldn’t be enjoying that extra dimension of flavor.
Don’t forget the Caesar salad
Before serving Steak Diane as the main event, a classic Caesar salad was also prepared tableside. A large table was wheeled out with a large wooden salad bowl and all the ingredients spread out on a tablecloth. The server would mash peeled garlic cloves against the sides of the bowl using a spoon, and then remove any remaining bits of garlic, leaving just the garlic oil on the sides of the bowl to season the salad. He would then repeat the process using anchovies, but leaving any pieces in the bowl.
Dry mustard, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, pepper and egg yolks would then be added and whisked, followed by slowly drizzling in the olive oil and mixing until a creamy mayonnaise-type dressing formed. Lettuce, croutons and Parmesan cheese were added and tossed. Let the party begin.
Preparing Steak Diane at home
You don’t have to go to a fancy restaurant to enjoy this fabulous dish, as it can easily be made at home. I prefer using strip steaks pounded down to about a half inch thick, if needed. If you prefer, tenderloin also work well.
I would suggest you confine the “flaming” part of it to your stovetop, instead of exposing your guests to the “show” at tableside. Just have all your ingredients lined up on the counter beside the stove and they can enjoy watching your culinary skills flamboyantly prepare their entree from afar.
Classic Steak Diane
2 (8-12 oz.) strip steaks
Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 large shallot, minced
2 oz. cognac or brandy
1/2 cup veal or beef stock
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsps. cold butter
Chopped chives, as needed
Brush the steaks on both sides with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Heat a heavy-bottomed 12-inch skillet over high heat and add enough oil to cover the bottom. When the oil just starts to smoke, add the steaks and sear until the first side is browned, about 2 minutes. Flip and sear the other side. Remove the steaks and cover with foil or place in a 200-degree oven to keep warm.
Add more oil to the pan, if necessary, and sauté the onions. Remove the pan from the heat and add the cognac. Either tilt the pan so the flame ignites the alcohol or use a match. When the flames subsides, add the stock and mustard, bring to a boil, and then simmer until reduced by at least half. Whisk in the Worcestershire sauce and then the butter. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper, if needed.
Add the steaks back to the skillet and cook briefly on each side to heat up and become coated with the sauce. Sprinkle with the chives and serve. Makes 2 servings.
Steak Strips Diane
Tender sirloin steak strips are browned in butter and then combined with mushrooms and an easy wine sauce from the drippings.
2 lbs. sirloin steak, cut into 1/4-inch wide strips
Salt to taste
1/4 tsp. dry mustard
1/2 tsp. lemon pepper
4 Tbsps. butter, divided
4 oz. sliced mushrooms
3 Tbsps. white wine
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Sprinkle steak strips with salt, dry mustard and lemon pepper. In a large skillet, melt 3 Tbsps. of butter. Brown steak strips in two batches. Remove to a warm platter and keep warm. Brown mushrooms and remove to the platter.
To the drippings, add remaining butter, wine and Worcestershire sauce. Cook, stirring, until hot. Pour sauce over the steak strips. Serve with hot cooked rice. Makes 4 servings.
Classic Caesar Salad
1 large head romaine lettuce
1 cup olive oil
3 cups croutons (unseasoned)
2 large cloves garlic
8 anchovy filets
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. dry mustard
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp. coarse ground salt
2 egg yolks from large eggs (at room temperature)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded or shaved
Trim the romaine lettuce of bruised or browned leaves, and then cut into 1-1/2 inch pieces. Wash and drain lettuce, pat dry and refrigerate for 30 minutes to crisp the leaves.
Place peeled garlic cloves in a large wooden salad bowl and mash the cloves against the sides of the bowl with the back of a wooden spoon. Rub the pieces against the bowl until they begin to disintegrate. Remove most of the mashed garlic from the bowl and discard (oil from the garlic will remain in the bowl and flavor the salad).
Add the anchovies and repeat the procedure used with the garlic, but leave the anchovy pieces in the bowl; add the dry mustard, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, pepper and egg yolks. Blend well. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, mixing with a wire whisk until a creamy mayonnaise-type dressing forms. Add the lettuce, croutons, Parmesan cheese and salt. Toss everything together and serve directly.
Norm Harding is a cooking columnist for the Beacon. To send him recipes, e-mail him at email@example.com.