STEAK DIANE: An Elusive Recipe
by Tina Rosser
For years I’ve craved a good steak Diane. What, you may ask, is Steak Diane? Well, if you know what it is then you are well past your Use By date, but for the rest of you young ‘uns, Steak Diane is a mighty fine piece of meat pounded into oblivion and then sautéed quickly with butter, chives, cognac and a couple of other ingredients. It was a big deal in restaurants back in the 40’s and 50’s but is now next to impossible to find on any menu. And if you happen upon a willing chef, the version you’ll get will probably be nothing like what was being served way back when.
I first sampled Steak Diane in a restaurant outside Baltimore somewhere around 1973 or so. Wealthy boyfriend’s parents were in town which was the only reason I got near that particular restaurant. Since that singular tasting is what I measure all Steak Dianes against, perhaps I too, like those willing chefs, am all wet when it comes to how this dish is supposed to taste. For years after that one sublime tasting, I searched for a good restaurant Steak Diane. Sometimes it would appear on a menu and often it seemed that the chef just took a not so fine piece of meat and smothered it in a mixture of A-One Sauce and Worcestershire Sauce. Not okay. Once or twice I happened upon a chef who was willing to knock out his version of the dish at which point I would have to swoon and greatly appreciate something that may have been good but was NOT Steak Diane.
Then, during a dalliance with the Book of the Month Club (remember them?), I stumbled upon Pierre Franey’s 60-Minute Gourmet cookbook. And lo….there it was…a recipe for Steak Diane. So one evening I decided to try out this recipe and after getting a boatload of flak from the butcher for asking him to pound thin a lovely filet, I managed to gather the rest of the ingredients and whattayaknow! Presto Change-o! Voila! Steak Diane as I remembered it!
Fast forward about thirty years (where did the time go???) and here I am ensconced in my little Upper West Side apartment with a kitchen the size of a stick of butter and one cold winter night I get this bee in my bonnet about recreating that Pierre Franey recipe. When I moved here from Connecticut, I brought along six cookbooks….Julia didn’t make the cut, but Pierre did. So I hauled out the book and went off looking for the ingredients. And what did I discover about New York City? Butchers are rare!!!!! I went to the Korean market….all the fish you could ever eat….I went to Zabar’s…ditto on the fish along with orange juice to die for…..but not a butcher to be seen. So, home I trudged with my shallots and chives and boullion and imported mustard and little tiny bottle of cognac, and after stopping at a Mickey D’s to drown my sorrows in a truly predictable burger and fries (oh hush up….you’re going to tell me you never go slumming at Mickey D’s???) I put all my ingredients away with the intention of finding that steak in the next day or so.
But things happen. Dinner with a friend, a jaunt to Connecticut, a birthday dinner, another dinner with a friend or the kids, and on and on. So now I have shriveled parsley and chives and a mushy shallot. The cognac even went into a tea concoction to battle a cold.
Another week goes by. The temps are hovering in the sub-zero range and I decide I’m required to go out and walk for an hour after which I’m going to run into Fairway and get a nice little roasted bird which I will slice up and throw into a giant dinner salad. And as I’m walking along in Riverside Park getting frozen to death, that Steak Diane recipe hops into my frontal lobe and knocks out the chicken and salad. Into Fairway I go and gather up all the ingredients. My last stop is the butcher who nearly has a coronary when I ask him to pound a beef filet down to about a quarter inch thickness. I escape the judgement of the Fairway staff, run into a liquor store for a wee bit of cognac and get home where I roll up my sleeves and prepare everything exactly to Pierre’s specifications. Sort of.
It was good. Pounding that filet sure makes it easy to cook. Sort of like a fish fillet. Two minutes a side and it’s perfect. But it still wasn’t the Steak Diane I remember…..now elevated to epic status and perhaps not remotely achievable. I did mess with Pierre’s ingredients a bit. I had half the steak called for in the recipe but used the full amount of oil and butter, parsley and chives. I went a little shorter on the boullion, cognac, mustard and Worcestershire. With a baked potato (smothered in more butter) and a lovely salad it made for a great dinner. And I probably would have considered it perfect if not for the memory of that Steak Diane I had so long ago in a restaurant in Baltimore.
So what’s next? I’m going to keep trying until I get it right. A little less oil, a little more cognac, more shallots and less chives? Whatever it takes. And the perk? I have a terrific recipe for steak that will thrill all my carnivorous family and friends none of whom are looking for the elusive Steak Diane that I will continue to attempt. So they win, Pierre gets a workout, and maybe, just maybe, someday soon I’ll get it right.
RECIPE FOR STEAK DIANE (from Pierre Franey, 60 Minute Gourmet)
4 filet mignon, about 6 ounces each; or 4 boneless sirloins
salt and pepper
2 T olive oil
3 T butter
3 T chopped chives OR shallots
2 T cognac
3 T chopped parsley
1 teas. imported mustard
1/2 teas. Worcestershire sauce
2 teas. fresh or canned broth, preferably beef although chicken can be used.
Pound meat to 1/4″ thickness. Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper.
Heat 2 T of oil and 2 T of butter in a large skillet and when very hot, add two of the steaks. 1-1/2 minutes on one side, 30 seconds on the other (not long enough for my tastes). Transfer to a hot serving dish and then do the other two.
Remove skillet from heat and add the chives. Return skillet to stove and cook about 10 seconds. Add the cognac and stir. Add parsley, mustard and Worcestershire. Add the broth and stir. Swirl in remaining butter. Sprinkle the steaks with s and p and pour the sauce over them.
(For more about the history and technique of preparing this dish: STEAK DIANE: LOST FOODS OF NEW YORK)