My plans to cook a good dinner on weeknights are always getting sabotaged, mostly by laziness.
It is all too easy to order in, or to drop by the hawker centre nearby to do a takeaway. Cooking after work is sometimes too much to contemplate.
But I want to eat well, so I have been doing prep work in the morning or the night before.
Having food defrosting in the fridge and ingredients ready for the pan can sometimes stem the flood of excuses that leads me to the hawker centre.
I have found that you can make a steak dinner in 30 minutes or less.
The meal is not fancy, but the steak is paired with an easy-to-make classic cream and cognac sauce spiced with green peppercorns.
I recently started cooking with the peppercorns after buying some that were grown in Kampot, Cambodia, from Hong Spices (hongspices. com), run by Singaporean Lai Poon Piau.
I used them in a Thai green curry and made steak sauce with them.
The sauce was so rewarding that this meal has become a staple. I vary the vegetables I have with it - steamed asparagus spears, sugar snap peas or broccoli, or a spinach salad.
Fresh Kampot peppercorns are not always available, but you can get Thai ones at Tekka Market or from Thai grocery shops in Golden Mile Complex. Both are great places to buy vegetables and herbs for dinner too.
There is hardly any prep work to be done but to make things easier for myself, I pick the peppercorns off the stem in the morning, rinse them and have them draining in a small colander in the fridge.
The stock and steak I move from freezer to fridge the night before.
If I am having a salad with the steak, I make the dressing for it the night before, and it sits in a glass jar in the fridge. Then all it needs is a few shakes before I pour it onto the greens.
For good measure, I place my trusty frying pan on the (unlit, of course) stove and a smaller pan for making the sauce.
I know this sounds fiddly, but I like to boil the stock, shallots, garlic and crushed peppercorns and then strain these ingredients out after they have flavoured the stock.
Feel free to ignore this and carry on without straining - you will, after all, have one fewer pan to wash.
I don't mind doing it because I get a smooth sauce punctuated with just whole peppercorns.
The sauce has an addictive heat I cannot get enough of. You can use peppercorns bottled in brine too, but you lose out on that clean, aromatic heat.
Cognac gilds the lily a little and sounds indulgent on a weeknight. I look at it this way: I survived to fight another day, right?
75g fresh green peppercorns on stalks (above, get them from Thai grocery shops in Golden Mile Complex or at Tekka Market)
4 to 5 shallots
3 to 4 cloves garlic
2 striploin steaks, 2cm thick, about 200g each
1 tsp grapeseed oil
1/2 tsp salt, plus more to taste if needed
200ml beef or chicken stock
75ml cooking cream
1 Tbs cognac
Rinse the peppercorns under running water and pick the berries off the stalks. Discard the stalks, rinse the berries again and pat dry with paper towels. Crush about 2 tsp of them in a mortar and pestle.
Peel and slice the shallots and garlic. If leaving them in the sauce, chop them finely instead.
Place a frying pan over medium heat. Coat both sides of the steaks with the oil, sprinkle 1/2 tsp salt over them.
Cook in the pan for 1 minute and 15 seconds on each side for medium rare or 1 minute and 30 seconds on each side for medium. Remove the steaks to a plate and let them rest while you make the sauce.
Add the crushed green peppercorns, shallots and garlic to the pan and toss with a spatula, scraping up the browned bits at the bottom of the pan. Pour in the stock and bring to a boil over high heat. Let the stock boil and reduce to half its original volume.
Strain the stock into a smaller pan or pot and discard the crushed peppercorns, shallots and garlic. Or leave them in the stock and continue without straining.
Add cooking cream, cognac, the remaining whole green peppercorns, and any juices from the cooked steaks to the stock. Bring the heat down to medium, and cook until the sauce thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Stir constantly. Add salt if needed.
Place the steak on plates, pour the sauce over the meat and serve with a salad or steamed vegetables.
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