Monthly Archives: March 2011

Steak au Poivre

Thanks to its being grown so many places, pepper is no longer out of reach of all but the rich. It has become one of the necessities of cooking and appears in the recipe for almost every savory dish. But there are a few dishes in which pepper is more than just a back note.

Many countries have classic dishes that combine pepper and beef—because it’s a great flavor combination. I first had bistecca alla fiorentina—steak Florentine—in a small restaurant in Florence when I was 15 and still traveling with my parents. This consists simply of grilling a thin steak and then, just after pulling it off the grill, squeezing lemon juice over it and sprinkling it generously with freshly ground black pepper. That’s it. But there are great beef and pepper combos worldwide.

France’s steak au poivre is, in my opinion, the king of pepper and beef dishes. I first had this in the historic district of Montreal, decades ago. It’s gorgeous, but it’s not that hard to make, and it has, since that time, become a favorite dish to serve to guests or simply to reward myself for making it through another week. Continue reading

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Pepper: King of Spices

Pepper in the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul, once the culmination of the Spice Route.

The recorded history of pepper goes back farther than that of any other spice, with Sanskrit texts testifying to its use by the peoples of India more than 4,000 years ago. The Aryans of the Ganges valley were the first to export wild pepper, but the spice appears not to have reached the Mediterranean until the 5th century B.C. It was the first Oriental spice to reach Europe, and it was an immediate hit.

Initially, in Greece, pepper was viewed as more medicinal than culinary. Plato wrote that pepper was “small in quantity but great in virtue.” But after the 5th century B.C., Athens in particular began to see the world’s first separation of lifestyle and diet along lines of economic differences. Suddenly, the upper classes of a prospering Athens wanted to be gourmets. (Sparta, though also powerful at this time, was still pursuing a lifestyle and cuisine that was, well, Spartan.) The new interest in fine dining led to a dramatically increased interest in pepper as a spice. Continue reading

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