S for Steak

To begin, I should mention that this website’s title is an homage to Orson Welles and his last major, completed film, F for Fake.

And there was this and, my all-time favorite... this.

For years, now, I have asked myself and my friends this question, “If you could have a dinner party with 5 other people – alive or dead – who would you invite?” Only one of my friends, Chris, has ever answered this question deftly and with confidence. He immediately replied that he would invite five evil dictators from different eras and parts of the world. This both impressed and irritated me. First, what a great answer and what an interesting dinner party! But you see I am STILL unable to answer that question. I simply can't do it. After all these years I can only say, and I know without pause, I want Orson Welles at my dinner party. He was brilliant, irreverent, meticulous, creative, hysterical, dark, beautiful, rejected, embraced, thirsty and hungry. He was truly and completely an artist. In more ways than one Orson Welles was larger than life. I’m so jealous of Rita Hayworth.

F for Fake is Welles’ self-reflexive, wistful meditation on fakery, forgery, swindling and art – and more importantly, the very definition of those words. The film focuses, according to Josh Vasquez from Slant Magazine, "on three hoaxers, Elmyr, the gentlemanly forger and "old emperor of the hoax," Elmyr's biographer Clifford Irving, himself later caught in the act of faking a partnership with Howard Hughes to produce the reclusive multi-millionaire's life story, and Welles himself - the ringmaster - and the man who once convinced people that Martians had invaded New Jersey."

One of the many conversations F for Fake tackles and the one I find the most compelling is: What is art and who defines it? For example, Elmyr could effortlessly, and I mean EFFORTLESSLY, reproduce the paintings of Van Gogh, Matisse and Picasso to the degree that no expert on Earth could tell his fakes apart from the real thing. To this day there are probably more than a few Elmyr’s hanging in our most celebrated museums throughout the world parading as authentic. Why is that not art? I believe that art is something larger than any one author. I also believe, as trite as it may sound, that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.

Really, I could discuss F for Fake ad nauseam but that’s not what this platform is for. So, on that note, I would like to share with you a recipe that the aforementioned Chris, a talented artist both in the kitchen and in the studio, has deliciously “recreated” from a collaboration of two of his favorite chefs - Julia Child and Jacques Pepin - that I am now shamelessly reprinting for you.

I have a singular place in my heart for this dish as Chris has made it for me on countless birthdays, special occasions and also on evenings when he just thought I needed some food prepared with a little love. 

And my guess is Orson Welles would like this dish as well. Honestly, it's hard to imagine the man ever met a steak he didn't like. Hell, I could even serve it at my dinner party. 

Steak au Poivre
(by Julia Child and Jacques Pépin
from Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home)

Makes two 6 to 7 ounce steaks

1 thick-cut well-marbled strip steak, about 1 pound total weight, and 1 1/2 inches thick
2 tablespoons mixed whole peppercorns, including black, white, green, Szechuan and Jamaican (whole allspice)
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon butter

For the pan sauce
2 tablespoons minced shallots
2 tablespoons cognac (or bourbon or red wine)
1/2 cup flavorful dark stock
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
Chopped parsley

Trim the steak of all the surrounding fat and cartilage. Cut the meat into 2 pieces and crush the peppercorns using the bottom of a heavy skillet.

Sprinkle salt to taste on the top and bottom of the steaks; then press each side into the cracked peppercorns, encrusting the steaks lightly or heavily, as you prefer.

Heat the oil and the butter in a heavy sauté or frying pan over high heat. When the pan is quite hot, lay the peppered steaks in. Fry for about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, until the undersides are well seared. Turn the meat and cook the second side for about a minute. Press with a finger to test for the slight springiness that indicates rare. Cook to desired doneness and remove to a warm platter.

Making the pan sauce
Add the shallots to the pan and sauté briefly, stirring with a spoon to scrape up the drippings. Lean away from the stove (averting your face) and pour the cognac into the pan; tilt the edge of the pan slightly, over the burner flame, to ignite the alcohol. The cognac will flame for a few seconds as the alcohol burns off; cook for a few moments more and then add the stock. Bring the liquid back to the boil, and cook about 1 minute to thicken the sauce, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasoning. Finally, add the soft butter, swirling the pan until it melts and incorporates with the juices.

When blended, pour the sauce over the steaks. Sprinkle liberally with chopped parsley and garnish each plate with sprigs of parsley or watercress.

"If you try to probe, I'll lie to you.” - Orson Welles in a 1962 interview

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