What hamburgers are to Americans, steak frites are to the French. Walk into almost any bistro or cafe, and you’ll find steak frites (or steak au poivre with a side of French fries) on the menu.
A plate of steak and fries make for a warm meal that can be made quickly, something any city-goer can appreciate. Steak frites is such a characteristic French meal that just making it brings on a wave of nostalgia and longing for Paris.
Steak Frites was originally created to satisfy blue-collar workers in Paris. These workers craved a warm meal, but the meal also needed to be prepared quickly to accommodate the workers’ lunch break.
That’s how steak frites has become a staple on French menus. I’ve enjoyed the dish more than I can count whenever I’ve visited Paris.
Steak au Poivre
One of the more memorable steak frites I’ve ordered came out of the kitchen with a smoking sprig of thyme on it. I remember thinking, “Oh shoot, did they burn the steak?”
Of course they didn’t. The French just love a good presentation and that hot steak sure got my attention.
The steak itself was simply seasoned, relying mostly on tasty peppercorns (or poivre) for its flavor. It’s the way many steaks in Paris are prepared, and it’s why the steak is appropriately referred to as steak au poivre.
The key to getting the most out of the peppercorns is to decorate the steak with them at least an hour beforehand. A generous sprinkle of salt on the steak, along with some slightly crushed peppercorns are all you need to do to prep the steak. Then, you just let the steak rest for an hour or two and, finally, it’s time to grill!
In the States, I cook and order my steak medium rare. When I order steak frites in France, I ask for it to be cooked “à point,” which is pronounced ah-pwah. I like my steak pink in the center.
Other variations include saignant (pronounced sayan), which is very bloody, or bien cuit (pronounced bien-quee), which is well done. In general, however, the French will either cook your steak really rare or very well-done, and more often than not, when they see you are an American, they’ll cook it well-done for you.
If you’re like me and can’t quite stomach a very bloody steak, a safe bet is to ask your waiter for something more akin to “entre à point et bien cuit.” This would translate to something in between medium-rare and well-done.
Frites, of course, are French fries, and they’re a must-have when in France. I love French fries and I absolutely adore the real deal in France.
Even though we typically have steak with mashed potatoes in America, I can’t imagine a better combination than steak frites. Steak and fries really are a match in heaven.
The trick to making crisp fries at home is to make sure your potatoes are completely dry and your oil hot. If the oil isn’t hot enough, the fries will just sit there in the oil and become soggy. When I do make fries at home, I always use a non-flavored oil like vegetable oil or grapeseed oil.
Both vegetable oil and grapeseed oil heat up very well and they won’t leave any residual flavor on the fries.
I’ve never been a big ketchup fan. The only time I’ll ever eat it is if I’m having a hot dog. I much prefer a sauce like aioli.
In Paris, I’ll often ask for la mayonnaise with my steak frites, pronounced mah-yohn-nehz. At home, I’ll make a fancier version of mayonnaise called aioli. Aioli is a Provencal garlic sauce that is very much like mayonnaise in texture, but packed with garlic flavor.
The aioli makes for a great dipping sauce for the steak frites. I like to drizzle a little aioli on the actual steak, and then I’ll serve some aioli on the side for the fries.
If you’re looking for a French classic that will transport you to a Parisian bistro in no time, look no further than steak frites!
Classic pan-broiled steak flavored with peppercorns and served with a side of French fries and aioli sauce.
for the steak
- 2 steak (sirloin, rib, round) 5 oz. each (150 grams each)
- 2 tsp peppercorns (10 grams), slightly crushed
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter (14 grams)
- salt for seasoning
for the fries
- 1 large russet potato peeled and cut into matchsticks
- vegetable oil for frying
- salt to taste
- aioli recipe
Pat dry your steaks before generously sprinkle both sides of each steak with salt. Press about 1/4 tsp of peppercorns into each side of steak, evenly distributing the peppercorns. Set aside for at least 1 hour.
Heat a cast iron pan over high heat. Add the butter, and once melted, lower the heat to medium-high. Place the steaks in the pan and grill each side for approximately 2.5 minutes, for a medium-rare steak. It's okay if the peppercorns are coming off, as their flavor will have already been imparted in the steaks. Remove the steaks from the pan and cover with foil. Let them rest while you make the fries.
Heat about 1 inch of oil in a medium pan over medium-high heat. Make sure your potato sticks are completely dry. To test the oil, dip the bottom of a fry in the oil. If it immediately starts bubbling, then the oil is ready. Turn the temperature of the stove down to medium-low and gently transfer the potato sticks into the oil. Cook the fries for about 5 minutes, or until they're golden and crisp. Transfer the fries to a plate fitted with a paper towel once they're ready.
A 1-inch thick steak typically needs 8-10 minutes total to cook. General guidelines for cooking steak are: If you want a rare steak, cook each side for 2 1/2 minutes. If you want a medium steak, cook each side for 4 minutes. If you want a well-done steak, cook each side for 6 minutes. Once done, immediately transfer the steaks to a warm plate.
For the aioli recipe, please visit: http://monpetitfour.com/aioli
Shop for this Recipe: