Serves 4

A real forgotten classic. When green and pink peppercorns became trendy and French bistros fell out of favour on the high streets, steak au poivre lost its identity. But black shouldn't ever go out of fashion, especially pepper. The important thing here is to buy a decent piece of beef - fillet, sirloin or rump - and preferably from a good pedigree. You may think you can't go wrong with fillet, but believe me you can. Because fillets fetch such a high price they are not so often hung on the carcass these days but are cut out from under the sirloin and vacuum packed so they don't lose weight. This generally means they leak blood, though; when you open the bag there's loads of it, and the result is that the meat's dry and tasteless when it's cooked.

The best way to crush your peppercorns is in a spice grinder, mortar and pestle or an old coffee grinder. If you haven't any of those, put them in a tea towel and smash with a hammer. Maybe that's why people think of steak au poivre as a guy's dish. Ideally cream shouldn't be used, just natural meat juices such as the nice concentrated veal stock restaurant kitchens have. As that's not something you're likely to have at home, I have used a little cream and stock together to thicken the sauce.

4 sirloin, or fillet, steaks weighing about 180-200g each
3tbsp coarsely crushed black peppercorns
1tbsp vegetable or corn oil
Salt
A good knob of butter
3 small shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2tbsp brandy, or Cognac
100ml beef stock
150ml double cream

Spread the crushed peppercorns on a plate. Season the steaks on both sides with salt and press one side into the peppercorns so they stick to the meat. Heat the vegetable oil in one, or two heavy-bottomed frying pans, depending on the size of your pans, and cook the steaks for 3-4 minutes on a medium heat on each side for medium rare and 5-6 minutes for medium. Remove the steaks and keep warm.

Add the butter and shallots to the pan and stir well on a low heat for a minute or so. Add the brandy and turn the heat up so it ignites then pour in the stock and cream and boil rapidly until it reduces by half and thickens.

Season if necessary and pour over the steaks. Serve with watercress salad or chips or rich, cheesey, puréed aligote potatoes

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