Lamb au Pink Peppercorn Poivre
Some people are talented spoofers. They spoof old books, they spoof old movies, they spoof old politicians. I’m not that funny. I spoof old recipes.
This is a monochrome take on the French classic steak au poivre, a filet crusted in smashed angry black pepper, seared, and served with a sauce of Cognac, and shallots, and cream. Delicious. But strident. This version is more delicate. The lamb is cooked pink as the peppercorns themselves, and the heat of the pink peppercorn, as well as the texture, is more delicate, collapsing into the cream and Cognac like a woman collapsing in a tub after a long day at the office.
There is a tenderness to the dish—both the meat and the spice. And the hue is inimitable. La vie en rose!
Lamb au Pink Peppercorn Poivre
- 3/4 pound lamb loin, cut into 2 steaks
- 2 tablespoons pink peppercorns, coarsely ground and divided
- 1 to 2 tablespoons light olive oil
- 1/4 cup Cognac
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon butter, cold
Crust the lamb with salt and half the pink peppercorns.
Heat a sauté pan over medium to medium-high heat. Add the oil, and then sear the lamb, cooking only about 4 to 5 minutes per side, for medium rare to medium.
Remove the lamb to a plate to rest. Take the pan off the heat, and add the Cognac (stand back!). Return to the heat and simmer to reduce by half.
Add the cream and the rest of the ground pink peppercorns. Add any juices that meat has released on the plate, and simmer to thicken. At the last second, add the cold butter, swirling the pan to gloss the sauce.
Cut thick slices of the lamb loin, and serve the sauce around it.
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So long as I’ve had a spoon in my right hand and a fork in my left, Morocco has meant fire. Not just because my Mémé, with her fiery red hair, was born many decades ago in Casablanca (where, photos inform me, her hair was decidedly brown). But because everything that my French-Moroccan family put on my plate had spice, sass, and heat. In Morocco, spice doesn’t only mean chili, although the harissa with which I was anointed is certainly baptism by fire. It means smoky cumin, sweet cinnamon, and allspice. Like my family, Moroccan food is complicated, unruly, exotic, and feisty as hell.
Merguez is a Moroccan sausage that my family, when they left France and moved to America, had to recreate from scratch, because truth be told, there is not exactly a large Moroccan market here in the States. Here you don’t find merguez at every sausage counter as you do in France, and even in other parts of Europe. Even after Morocco ceased being a French protectorate, Moroccan food continues to pervade French restaurants and markets by the sheer force of immigration and cultural proximity.
Pink Peppercorn Tuna Tartare
Last week, I may have intimated (and knowingly) that pink peppercorns are a meek relative of the black peppercorn. But, the truth is, pink peppercorns are not peppercorns at all. They are in fact the dried berries of the Baies rose plant, which my sources tell me are grown in Madagascar and imported through France. You’ll often find them in a mixed blend of peppercorns, including black, white, and green. But, beware: they are toxic in large quantities. I love this secret ingredient! So full of danger and mystery. We are definitely living on the edge after March’s month of chamomile.
As I mentioned last week, their texture is that of a hollow Easter Egg: a quick crack and they’re in smithereens. Their flavor is more aromatically peppery than truly spicy. In both flavor and texture, they are softer than the black peppercorn.
Veal Stew Foresière
No one can name a dish like the French. My favorite moments of culinary school were spent sitting, listening to why Creme Dubarry was named after a countess, or which heroic feat inspired what battle-slain chicken. The names of dishes christened regally after landed aristocracy and great victory imbue a sense of grandeur, of pride, even of haughtiness, that accompany such church-mice affairs as cauliflower soup and lowly beef stews.
Forestière is one such name that always reproduces scenes of French legend and lore in my mind as I stand puttering about the stove. Forestière means forestry, or the forester. My stepfather Alain grew up in Normandy, and he always told me high tales of chasing hares through the forest with his dog, getting lost between wooden pillars under a canopy of leaves, and sitting down to a Normandy apple with some bread and Normandy butter on an arched, awaiting root. So whenever I make any dish forestière—a traditional flavoring combination of mushrooms and cream, and most often ham—I am reminded of a beautiful country, hearty, natural, even medieval, where wild boars bristled through the woody stumps and their tame cousins dug for truffles. I find it beautiful, and evocative.
Pink Peppercorn and Parmesan Gougères
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Pink peppercorns, which I discovered as poivre rose in cooking school, aren’t really peppercorns at all. Shakespeare may have said a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but poivre rose is really a misnomer. Pepper is hard, and spicy. It makes you sneeze; it is boisterous and strident. But pink peppercorns are like hot, bright birthday balloons, freeze-dried and hollow, that crunch and crumble at the slightest pressure. They are not spicy so much as feisty, like a natural Pop Rock with just a hint of peppery spice—more subtle and delicate, in flavor and texture, than the peppercorns in your pepper mill.
The black peppercorn is the father figure: strong, set in his ways, inveterately hot-tempered. The pink peppercorn is his delicate daughter: beautiful, subtle, refined, unexpected, vivacious, and surprising. Yet, the Pink Lady doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Provençal Calamari Salad
This is a recipe of unsung heroes: calamari (calamars in French) and tarragon. I can still remember my first encounter with the thing that is calamari. It was in a spooky old cliffside restaurant near Woodstock in upstate New York. Up until that point, my only knowledge of squid was the sculpture of the giant one in the whale room at the Museum of Natural History. The crispy rings and tendrils were a revelation: crunchy, salty, chewy, briny, and even sweet in that delicate and tender way peculiar to seafood. That was twenty-one years ago, and I’ve eaten calamari at least once a week since.
Calamari is all you could every ask for: It’s cheap, it cooks in seconds, and it goes with anything, a Proteus that assumes and absorbs the flavors, and even sometimes the hue, of whatever you are cooking. And yet, for all their virtues, their ease, their inexpensiveness, they are still evocative of expensive seafood dinners, and generally bring an ooh or ahh from expectant eaters.
Apple Celeriac Remoulade
I’m continuously surprised that what seems outlandishly exotic in one region is a quotidian afterthought in the next. Think of fennel in Italy and France, and its recent revelation here in the States. And celeriac, or celery root, is one of the humblest, earthiest, and most common ingredients in France, only to be elevated by nostalgic chefs at their Paris corner restaurants.
Celeriac has the texture of something between an apple, yuca, and jicama—tender, crisp, and decidedly root-vegetable in its heartiness. Its taste is fragrant celery, more like celery seed or celery salt than the leafy-headed green tops peeking up from the vegetable bin. It’s crunchy, moist, and grassy for its pallor. Most of all, it is fresh.