Monkeygland, au poivre, Marchand de vin, Diane, bearnaise, Cafe de Paris … they’re all classic sauces for a steak, and they all complement a well-aged, perfectly cooked steak in wonderfully different ways.
Marchand de Vin is a classic red wine reduction for red meats and involves good basic stocks which are then built on. It’s not for a quick home supper when there’s little time, unless you’ve made your stock ahead and regfrigerated or frozen it. There are some pretty good commercial stocks available these days but even the best ones are not going to have the depth of flavour of a top-rank chef’s basic brown stock. But you can do a fair approximation and not feel embarrassed.
If you have the time to make a basic demi-glace, first make a brown stock: Roast bones (beef, veal) in an oven for an hour, then add chopped onions, celery, carrots and leeks and roast for a half-hour more. Transfer to a large pot, add cold water and herbs and reduce for three or four hours to get a rich stock. The time depends on the quantity – it needs to be reduced by about three-quarters. The bones give it a lusciously gelatinous texture and add to its weight.
Then make sauce Espagnole (brown sauce) – a mirepoix of chopped onions, celery, carrots, sautéed, then combined with a little flour and cooked in clarified butter until nutty but not burnt, to which is added your brown stock and tomato puree, then bay leaf, parsley stems and thyme and simmered for close to an hour, gently. Remove herbs, strain.
To make a demi-glace, you need equal parts of brown stock and brown sauce, simmered with thyme, bay leaf and parsley, until reduced by half, then strained.
As if all that wasn’t enough hard work, you’ve still got to make your sauce Marchand de Vin. I know it’s easier to buy a ready-made sauce at Pick n Pay, Daisy, but this is the stuff of the great French sauces and this amount of effort is a pretty good illustration of why it’s worth saving up to go to a seriously fine restaurant once in a while, and why chefs at that level make such exquisite sauces. While on the subject, this is also why a sauce is the best way to assess a chef’s skills. If you’re served a so-so sauce in a restaurant that claims to offer fine cuisine, or which charges high prices, you may be spending your hard-earned dosh in the wrong restaurants.
For a Marchand de Vin, the classic French red wine sauce, red wine is reduced with shallots (you can substitute onions, but the flavour is harsher), then added to a goodly quantity of demi-glace, salted to taste and simmered until you have a fine sauce, strained and spooned onto your rare or medium rare steak.
Bordelaise, another red wine classic, is made by reducing demi-glace with bone marrow, red wine, shallots and butter.
Diane, meanwhile, is not so much a sauce as a preparation for a filet mignon, which is a cut of beef tenderloin from the thinner end of the fillet. The pan juices in which you’ve just cooked your fillet or other steak are reduced quickly with shallots, garlic, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, mushrooms, brandy and then cream, and because your steak is already cooked, you have to work quickly, so have your ingredients ready beforehand. In posh restaurants, when Diane was still in fashion, the steak with its sauce poured over would be flambéed with brandy at the table.
For another French classic, the glorious Bearnaise, the starting point is not a demi-glace or its derivatives, but another ‘mother’ sauce, Hollandaise. Egg yolks and clarified butter are emulsified (and can quickly curdle in which event you’ve lost the battle) with shallot, peppercorns, tarragon, chervil, white wine and white wine vinegar, with tarragon being the prime flavour if you’ve got it right. It’s spooned on a piping hot steak to seep into it to become a marvel of fine cuisine.
Perhaps the king of preparations for a French-style steak, though – for me, anyway – is a slice of beurre de Café de Paris (butter) placed on top of a steak, to insinuate itself into it as it melts. It’s made with a long list of herbs, clarified butter, anchovy fillets, mustard, capers, shallots, garlic, Madeira (or sherry), brandy, spices, lemon, even orange, blended until very fine and then chilled and rolled into a tube so that slices can be cut off.
Which brings us to a steak sauce which once was commonplace in any South Afrcan restaurant serving steak, whether a family steakhouse or a posh grill room – monkeygkand, which never has had any part of a monkey in it.
Monkeygland is a local classic and really should be brought out of mothballs and celebrated. It suits the South African national palate, which is not generally as refined as the French palate – we like strong flavours, and monkeygland has them in spades. It’s made with onion, garlic, tomatoes, tomato sauce, chutney, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, red wine, brown sugar and Tabasco, and it is not strained as its thick, chunky consistency is desired. How South African is that? Basically everything in the kitchen cupboard goes in.
Having said all of the above, the recipe that follows is going to seem extraordinarily easy, becase it involves no basic stocks, no demi-gace, and can be made within two minutes of your steak being cooked. Why do I sense a thousand home chefs punching their fists in the air…
Rib eye steak with brandy cream sauce
1 x 300g rib eye steak per person
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 Tbs fresh rosemary needles, very finely chopped
500g portabellini mushrooms
3 Tbs brandy
250ml (1 cup) dry white wine
100 ml fresh cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Butter for frying
This is my brandy cream sauce for steak, any steak, and it’s made simply by deglazing the pan in which you have fried your steak with brandy, then dry white wine, reducing this down and adding cream, and then reducing that down. I fried rib eye steaks in rosemary and garlic butter the other day and served them with brandy cream sauce. I used an iron griddle, which remains piping hot and is a wonderful tool for cooking a steak.
Simmer finely chopped garlic in butter with rosemary for the flavours to develop. Fry the steaks over a fairly high heat in this butter, and do not be tempted to turn them until you judge (with your eye, Daisy) that the juices have started to bleed through the top of the steak. Then turn and cook until either rare or medium rare, which dies not take long at all. Wrap steak in foil and keep warm while you make the sauce.
Deglaze the pan with white wine and pour into a saucepan, through a sieve. Do this a couple of times to get as much flavour off the griddle as you can. Deglaze with brandy and pour this into the saucepan, then do the same with cream. Reduce the sauce briskly, then lower heat to a simmer until the sauce is of a suitable consistency. Not too thick. Pour it over the steak or alongside, with mushrooms as a perfect side dish.
Cook portabellini mushrooms in butter and rosemary with white wine, and reduce until they brown. Add a little cream and simmer for five minutes.
First published in Weekend Argus June 2012