It’s insane to think that Fall is nearly here. Looking back on the last 3 months, this summer has been both adventurously beautiful and extraordinarily hot. I got a taste of the West Coast for the first time in my life in Seattle, which involved a lot of time in the outdoors, and was able to enjoy a much-needed break following my time at NYU Stern. The picture above was taken at lake in the middle of Snoqualmie Pass: not pictured is me, out of breath and sunburned, very much looking forward to a big meal. Fortunately, we had a great dinner waiting for us back home of Steak au Poivre and Blue Cheese Mashed Potatoes with Roasted Garlic.
Mashed potatoes are great on their own – but add some blue cheese and roasted garlic, and you may ask yourself “How have I made it this far without these potatoes?” Ok, maybe that was just me…but trust me when I say this is a solid companion to steak. I like to use red-skinned potatoes and keep the peels, to add some character to the dish. If you want a creamier mash, opt for Yukon Gold, since you will risk overworking the mash if you try to achieve the smoother consistency with red potatoes. Can’t find blue cheese? Gorgonzola is a fantastic substitute (as I shared in my latest blog post). Click HERE to see the recipe for this irresistible side.
Steak au Poivre is French for “pepper steak”…which seems to leave a lot of room for interpretation. However, the traditional preparation involves peppercorns (naturally), heavy cream, and brandy. Any number of adjustments can be made from here. Some chefs insist on the traditional sauce trio, while others (including my favorite, Julia Childs) call for a more unique take with cognac, stock, and multicolor peppercorns. So as you can imagine, the various interpretations on this dish are indeed appreciable. Our recipe here will use only the basic, with a “lighter” sauce than some of the top hits on Google. But the key is to get a solid cut of meat. We found two reasonable cuts of filet mignon, but sirloin or strip will also get the job done.
Tom learned how to make this recipe from his mom, Virgina. As to the interpretations I referenced, there are two key differences when it comes to the sauce: where the alcohol is used either to deglaze the pan or for a flambe. Virginia’s recipe calls for the latter, which makes for a very cool photo op. An important note on cooking with open flames: things can go from cool to bad very quickly if you don’t take the right precautions, so always off the heat (especially if you’re working with a gas stove) and move the pan away from any overhead materials that may be flammable. But it’s definitely a fun party trick if you’re hosting. Click HERE for this classic take on a beloved dish.
In considering a pairing for this piece, I was tempted to go with Stravinsky’ “Firebird” or a Debussy for the all-too-obvious reason. But I wanted to give more attention to the depth of the dish’s richness and flavor, and thus felt like Dmitri Shostakovich would be a great companion. I’ve never paired anything on this site with Shostakovich, so I’ll first talk about the man himself before elucidating the musical pairing. Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich was born in Saint Petersburg in 1906, and many classical musicians have come to recognize his musical voice as an expression of the creative struggles beneath the Stalin regime. His compositions aggregate a variety of styles, from strong Russian tones to dissonant protest to haunting melodies. To illustrate this variety: perhaps his most famous work is his fifth symphony, which was received phenomenally well by the conservative tastes of the Soviet public. Yet this followed on the heels a highly divisive fourth symphony, which premiered more than two decades after its completion due to its unorthodox nature. Today, historians debate the inspirations for and meaning behind many of Shostakovich’s works. So naturally, there are many interpretations. However, one set of German “ingredients” institute some consistency – the signature “DSCH” motif: which alludes to the German spelling of his name, Dmitri SCHostakovich, as well as the German locution for D (De), E-flat (Es), C (Ce), and Ha (B natural). This parallel to the blog’s dish leads to our musical pairing, where the DSCH motif is perhaps the most discernible: String Quartet No. 8 in C minor. The quartet, composed in the summer of 1960, was an homage to the Dresden casualties of 1945; where close to half a million were killed in an Allied air raid. He wrote “In memory of victims of fascism and war.” And the first four notes you hear are the DSCH motif. I first heard the piece my freshman year at the New England Conservatory, and it had a profound effect.
The following recording is with the Borodin Quartet: an ensemble which traces it history back to the Soviet Union and had a close working relationship with Shostakovich himself. Enjoy!