Steak Frites is a classic bistro dish in France. This easy to translate classic is simply steak and French fries, or as we would say in England, steak and chips. Properly prepared it is the perfect comfort food, and it is something I make often.
I’m not going to tell you how to cook your steak – that’s personal preference. Coming from a family where we all like our steak done differently, from rare right up to medium well, I know how important it is that the meat is cooked exactly as you like it. The crucial thing about the meat is that it be pasture raised, free range or organic and ethically sourced. I get mine from our local butcher, and it is always wonderful. As for the cut of meat, well that is up to your taste and budget. We prefer fillet, but we enjoy sirloin too.
As for the frites, well, I confess I rarely make them from scratch, particularly on a night I am looking for comfort food. I like my fries skinny, like they make them in France, so that is usually how we have them. However from time to time I am over-ruled by the men of the household, who prefer their chips chunky. Although not strictly authentic, it’s still delicious.
I usually serve a vegetable with Steak Frites, although that too is not something you would necessarily find in France. I keep it simple though – for the photograph above I simply roasted some asparagus drizzled in olive oil on a roasting pan. It takes the grand total of 15 to 20 minutes and is virtually effort free. Out of asparagus season, I love a green salad with a punchy mustard vinaigrette scattered with walnuts.
What makes my steak frites special is the Paris beurre I make to go with it. I admit, putting butter on a steak is not something that would please my cardiologist, if I had one, but as a treat from time to time it is simply wonderful. The beauty of it is you can make Paris beurre, or any herb butter, easily ahead of time and keep it in the freezer. You can slice it, frozen, and pop it on your sizzling hot steak. It then melts, gorgeously, into the tender meat and the herbs and spices in it add flavour to the steak.
What you put in the Paris beurre is up to you. Traditionally, Paris beurre included ketchup, mustard and capers, but I tend to stick to shallots, garlic and fresh herbs. The shallots and garlic should be so finely chopped that they are almost minced. For a pound of butter, I would use one small shallot and one to two cloves of garlic. The herbs are up to you – thyme and rosemary work very well in combination, or you can choose one herb and let it shine on its own. (And if you happen to be using your butter on say, a salmon steak, making a herb butter with tarragon or dill is a wonderful idea.)
The key to making these herb butters is to soften the butter at room temperature. Do not, under any circumstances, use the microwave. Not only will it compromise the butter in terms of food safety by making it too hot, it will affect the texture. Depending on the time of year, an hour or two at room temperature will do butter no harm, and it will soften it to just the right consistency to allow you to blend it.
Once the butter is softened, combine it with your very finely minced shallots, scallions, garlic and herbs – in whatever combination you are using – and mix everything together with a fork. You can add ketchup or mustard, or even horseradish at this stage. I also like to use ground mixed peppercorns as seasoning, and if the butter is not salted already, you could add a sprinkling of salt. Once everything is thoroughly mixed together, take a sheet of greaseproof or wax paper, or even cling film or Saran Wrap and lay the butter mixture on it. Using the paper or film, roll it into a sausage shape, and then pop it in the freezer for at least an hour, or for up to a month. When you remove the butter from the freezer, you can slice it up like this.
And yes, provided you work quickly, you can re-wrap any remaining butter and return it to the freezer. It truly is that easy. You can have dill and chive butter on hand to serve with fish, tarragon and shallot butter for chicken and any number of combinations to go with pork or beef. The only limit truly is your imagination. The taste experience flavoured butters can provide, combined with the ease of making them (it’s a heck of a lot easier than making a sauce!), make them the perfect go-to ingredient. They are a really easy way to make ordinary comfort food into something very, very special.
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