French cuisine has a reputation for complex dishes that take a lot of skill to master and is epitomized by the style of haute cuisine that is often accompanied by high fashion and high prices. But, as we touched on with our recipe for coq au vin, a lot of the best French cooking isn’t nearly as scary as you may assume. In fact, you may be more familiar with it than you thought. For example, picture a meal of a perfectly seared steak topped with an herbed butter or creamy sauce beside a mountain of crispy shoestring-thin fries. What could be more American than that?
Why Steak Frites?
It may surprise you, but steak with fries is an incredibly popular dish in France, where it goes by another name steak frites (literally steak [and] fries in French). One reason for this popularity is the dish’s versatility. There’s no one way to make steak frites, with different regions of France giving the dish their own spin. There isn’t even a specific cut of meat that’s always used in the dish, like a porterhouse or tenderloin. That said, steak frites isn’t traditionally made with the expensive cuts of meat, like the two just named. Instead, you’d more often see cheaper cuts of steak like hanger or flank (though rump or coulotte is also commonly used now) that have been expertly prepared. You’ll most often find steak frites served rare — or saignant (bloody) in France — though you can order it more well done if you prefer.
There are three steps basic steps to making homemade fries — cutting, soaking, and frying.
Of course, the other important ingredient of steak frites is the frites, or French fries as we know them. Ironically, French fries may not even be French, but possibly Belgian in origin (though there is a fierce debate over this). The frites add an important counterpoint to this dish, giving the eater another texture and flavor. If you are making this dish for friends, you can just use store-bought fries, but if you really want to impress your dinner guests — as this series tries to do — you can make homemade fries. There are three steps basic steps to making homemade fries — cutting, soaking, and frying. Cutting and frying are pretty straightforward (which we’ll cover more in the recipe) but the soaking step may not be so clear. The reason you want to soak your fresh cut potato fries is because the soaking helps remove the starch, making the fries crispier. The longer you soak the fries, the crispier you’ll get them. It’s ideal to soak them overnight. Then, when it comes to frying, you can follow our tips on baking fries to make them a little healthier!
The All-Important Sauce
One thing that can really set a steak apart from other hunks of meat is the sauce, and if there’s one thing that the French have mastered, it’s a good sauce. To really take your steak frites to another level and make it feel like steak frites, you have to add a decadent, show-stopping sauce. Don’t get us wrong, Worcestershire and A1 sauce are very tasty, but if you’ve never had an herbed butter or a steak drizzled in a variety of Hollandaise sauce, you’re in for a real treat. In fact, if you’re planning on using a sauce with steak, a hollandaise or brown sauce (think a pan sauce) are some of the best ways to enrich the meat.
Don’t get us wrong, Worcestershire and A1 sauce are very tasty, but if you’ve never had an herbed butter or a steak drizzled in a variety of Hollandaise sauce, you’re in for a real treat.
While we’ve previously discussed how to make a pan sauce, we haven’t touched on Hollandaise, making this the perfect opportunity. Hollandaise sauce is one of the five French mother sauces that act as base categories for other sauces. Hollandaise is much like a mayonnaise in that it’s an emulsification of egg and a fat, only instead of oil (in mayo) you’re using butter as the fat. Hollandaise also includes lemon and a bit of salt, which help to cut some of the fattiness of the butter and the steak you’ll be pouring it on. Another type of sauce that pairs as well as Hollandaise (if not better according to some) is a bearnaise sauce. Very similar in ingredients to a Hollandaise sauce, a bearnaise sauce is an emulsification of butter and egg yolks but with the added factors of white wine vinegar, fresh tarragon, and, sometimes, shallots. It’s really delicious!
So, without further ado, here’s how you can make this exquisite meal to knock your guests’ socks off!
Homemade Baked Pomme Frites Recipe
- 8 Russet potatoes, cut into ¼ inch thick fries
- 2 tbsp of neutral oil, like vegetable or peanut oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- The night before, peel and cut the potatoes into ¼ inch thick pieces, either with a knife or a fry cutter tool.
- Place the fries in a large bowl of cold water, and soak overnight.
- The next day, pat the fries dry.
- Lightly oil a baking sheet and spread the fries on it.
- Season the fries liberally with salt and pepper.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Bake the fries for 5 minutes before turning them.
- Raise the heat to 425°F and return the fries to the oven.
- Bake for an additional 15 minutes or until golden brown.
- Remove from the oven and adjust seasoning if it’s needed.
- If the other parts of the steak frites aren’t ready, set aside.
- Once you’re almost ready to serve, flip the fries again and return them to the oven at 425°F.
- Bake for a final 5 minutes to make them crispy and hot.
- Serve as a heaping pile beside your steak.
Homemade Bearnaise Sauce Recipe
- 2 sticks of butter (or ¾ cup of clarified butter)
- ¼ cup of white wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp of fresh tarragon leaves, finely chopped
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 shallot, diced
- ¼ fresh cracked black peppercorns
- 1 tsp of lemon juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Melt the butter in a saucepan over low.
- As the butter melts, white milk solids should float on the surface. Skim these off gently, leaving only the butter.
- Once you’ve skimmed off all the milk solids, ladle the clarified butter into a separate bowl or container for storage.
- In a separate pan, combine the white wine vinegar, the diced shallot, the cracked black peppercorns, and chopped tarragon in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium. Bring the heat to low and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes, until the liquid has reduced by half.
- Fill another saucepan about ¾s of the way with water and bring it to a boil before lowering to a simmer.
- Place the tarragon-shallot mixture in a metal mixing bowl along with the 2 egg yolks. Whisk to thoroughly combine.
- Place the metal mixing bowl over the simmering water so that the bowl isn’t touching the water, but gently resting on top. This technique is called a bain-marie or double boiler and is useful for melting chocolate or cooking sauces you don’t want to overheat or overcook.
- Whisk the yolk mixture as it thickens and about doubles in size, again around 5 to 7 minutes, removing from the saucepan every so often to ensure the yolk mixture doesn’t overcook and begin to scramble.
- Slowly add the clarified butter and whisk as the butter and yolk emulsifies and combines.
- Add the teaspoon of lemon juice and stir in thoroughly.
- Taste and adjust for seasoning and texture. If the sauce is too thick, add a tiny bit of hot water, for example. If it’s too thin, whisk more.
- It’s best to serve this immediately or before it cools. You can store it in the fridge, but you’ll have to reheat it in another bain-marie.
Note — There’s another trick you can use to make the sauce without a bain-marie is with an immersion or stick blender. Simply put the yolk mixture ingredients in a hard-plastic cup or mixing bowl and begin to blend them, moving the immersion blender up and down slowly. As you blend, pour in hot clarified butter and continue to blend. This should cause the same emulsification as the whisking. If the sauce stays too thin, you’ll likely need to create a bain-marie and whisk it that way to reheat everything.
Steak Frites Recipe
- 1 ½ lbs of preferably hanger or flank steak (any cut will be delicious if you cook it right)
- 1 tbsp of neutral oil, likely vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp of butter
- 2 tsp of kosher salt
- 2 tsp of fresh cracked black pepper
- The frites from above
- The bearnaise sauce from above
- At least an hour up to the day before, remove the steak from the fridge, pat it dry with paper towels, and season both sides liberally with the kosher salt and fresh black pepper (using around 1 teaspoon of both per side, but you can use more or less based on preference).
- Return to the fridge until cooking time. Use this time to prepare the other components of the dish.
- Remove from the fridge around 15 to 20 minutes prior to cooking to allow it to get up to room temperature. A cold steak will ensure the center doesn’t get cooked with a sear.
- Heat 1 to 2 tablespoons of neutral oil over medium to high heat until it begins to shimmer in the pan.
- Gently lay the steak in the pan and sear for about 3 minutes per side.
- Once you’ve seared both sides, lower the temperature to about medium or even medium-low and add ½ a tablespoon of butter to the pan.
- Baste the topside of the steak with the melted butter for about a minute before flipping the steak, adding the other ½ tablespoon of butter and repeating on this side.
- Remove the steak from heat and place it on a cutting board. Cover with foil and allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes depending on how thick the steak is. The thicker it is, the longer you should let it rest. This allows juices to resettle in the meat, preventing dry, tough, flavorless steak.
- While the steak is resting, finish up any other components of the dish, like reheating the frites the final time or adjusting your sauce. You have time, letting the steak rest is important.
- Once the steak has rested enough, remove the foil and slice the steak into ¼ inch-thick slices and portion them out on each plate.
- Drizzle a healthy amount of bearnaise sauce over the steaks and serve with a heaping amount of frites.
Note — Instead of one big steak, you can buy the equivalent weight in smaller steaks and give everyone their own steak. The advantage of this is it allows everyone to have the steak cooked at a different doneness, though it’ll likely be more expensive and more work for you.