I have often used Szechuan peppercorns in cooking and regretted it afterwards because their intense heat tends to stay with you. It wasn't until I went to Bar Shu in Soho, a restaurant specialising in Szechuan cooking, that I learnt to enjoy the sensual heat that these innocent little peppercorns give off.
Steak au poivre is, of course, a classic French dish that doesn't often find its way on to restaurant menus these days. I don't know why because it's a bloody good dish and I'm going to give it a little Asian twist here – instead of using wild mushrooms, which aren't in season right now, I'm going to use a selection of Asian mushrooms that are readily available, fresh and dried, in supermarkets and Asian stores.
I've opted for my favourite steak here, butcher's steak or onglet, as it's known in France. It is next to the flank or bavette and hangs just below the kidneys, which gives it a really special flavour. It's called butcher's steak because it was the butcher's treat. You will need to ask your butcher to save these for you as there are only two per animal and you can normally get two to three portions out of each. If this fails, then use flank steak, rump, sirloin or rib.
4 butcher's steaks, each weighing about 200-250g
1tbsp Szechuan peppercorns, lightly crushed
1-2tbsp sesame oil
2 large shallots, peeled, halved and finely chopped
1tbsp grated fresh root ginger
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
250g fresh mushrooms like shiitake, inoki, black fungus, king oyster, etc, or dried & reconstituted
2tbsp rice wine
1tbsp soy sauce
200ml beef stock
1tbsp chopped coriander
Trim the mushrooms and cut them into even- sized pieces. Gently cook the shallots, ginger and garlic in a tablespoon of the sesame oil for a minute or so then add the mushrooms. Continue cooking for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally and add the rice wine, soy and stock, bring to the boil and simmer very gently for 10 minutes. Dilute the cornflour in a little water and stir in enough to just thicken it, then simmer for another 2-3 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat a large, heavy-based frying pan or two with the remaining sesame oil. Season the steaks with salt, and pepper them fairly heavily. Cook for about 3-4 minutes on each side, keeping them rare, then remove from the pan and leave to rest on a plate for a minute or so.
Pour any juices from the steak into the sauce then slice the steak 4 or 5 times on the bias. Spoon the mushrooms and sauce on to warmed plates and lay the steak on top.