Portrait of a recipe
We are having a 1970s and Auguste Escoffier double this episode. Not only did the chef Escoffier invent the Peach Melba, which we featured for Debra Oswald’s novel The Whole Bright Year, he was also the first chef to mention the sauce a la Diane in 1907, which we are featuring here to celebrate Richard Glover’s book The Land Before Avocado.
The dish derives from the myth of Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt, and hence its designated pairing with meat.
In the 19th century sauces made “a la Diane” comprised cream, truffles and ample amounts of black pepper – the original “steak au poivre“. Culinary icon Auguste Escoffier in his Le Guide Culinare, added a hard-boiled egg white.
The recipe has altered substantially since and its many variations tends to include Worcestershire sauce and brandy or marsala.
This modern Steak Diane is believed to have originated in the United States, although this is disputed. In The Land Before Avocado, Richard says one book suggests it was introduced to Australia by a chef called Tony Clerici, and it became an extremely popular dish in the 1970s.
It was the type of dish served in exclusive restaurants and, at the time, its impeccable culinary breeding placed it well above its peers. By the end of 1970s, it had moved downmarket and was being served in the road diners between major capital cities. Alas it was soon to be surpassed in popularity on menus by the surf’n’turf and even its previous incarnation, pepper steak.
I have to admit it was one of my favourite dishes in the 1970s and when I revisited it at our dinner with Richard and Debra I remembered why. It remains delicious, despite having fallen from fashion’s grace.
4 (about 120g each, 2cm thick) beef fillet steaks
4 eschalots (French shallots) thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1.5 tbsp brandy
125ml (1/2 cup) thin cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to season
Steamed green beans and asparagus to serve (baby mushrooms optional)
Cocktail potatoes roasted
Parboil potatoes, then toss in herb butter and cook in oven 200C for 40 minutes.
Melt half the butter in a large heavy-based frying pan over high heat until foaming. Add the steaks and cook for 1-2 minutes each side for medium-rare or until cooked to your liking. Put in oven for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, reduce heat to medium. Melt the remaining butter in the pan. Add the eschalot and garlic to the pan and cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes or until eschalot softens slightly.
Toss green beans and asparagus in boiling water. Drain. Toss in pan with herb butter. Cook mushrooms.
Raise the heat to high again. Add the Worcestershire sauce, mustard and brandy to the pan and cook, scraping the bottom of the pan to dislodge any bits that have cooked onto the base, until heated through. Add the cream and bring to the boil. Cook, stirring, till cream reduces by a third.
Divide the steaks among serving plates and drizzle with sauce. Serve immediately with salted potatoes and green vegetables.
Image Credit: Gaetan Selle