Avant tout, on mange

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It was in my first week in France – I had already toured the Louvre, ordered a sandwich consisting primarily of butter and saucisson, and missed the TGV by this point – that a friend of mine in the study abroad program invited me to dinner with some other Americans and a few of their French friends (these particular Americans had already been in Bordeaux for a semester and were now infinitely more worldly than I). This group of youths was headed to L’Entrecote, one of a number of restaurants featuring the most divine menu: a single dish, steak, served with matchstick fries and a butter-based sauce rich and decadent enough to bring tears to one’s eyes. We arrived in the softly-lit, wood-paneled dining room and I sat, wide-eyed, trying to dive into the conversation around me while simultaneously committing to memory the sparkle of our wine glasses and the musical burble of French conversation and the particular Frenchness of our salad course, tossed greens with rich walnuts and vinaigrette. We ordered wine for the table – I was only 20 at the time, so this was a rare and marvelous novelty – and directed the waitstaff to prepare our steaks, from a nose-wrinkling  bien cuit to my bloody saignant. The sauce, a scrupulously-preserved family secret, was poured over our platter of meat and we used fries to sop up every last bit in an unapologetic show of gluttony. The meat, tender and juicy, paired beautifully the thyme and (reportedly) chicken liver base of the sauce. I drank rather more wine than I was used to and felt that this was without a doubt the pinnacle of existence.

Since that night, I have dreamed of L’Entrecote. I went again for my birthday that year and again, to a version of the chain in Miami, on our roadtrip. Rare steak with crispy french fries and a buttery mustard sauce remains one of my favorite dishes (preferably, but by no means necessarily, accompanied by a light salad) regardless of exorbitant price or knee-weakening caloric content. When the question came up, I would let nothing come between me and the possibility of recreating this meal at home.

It’s now the moment to announce the real reason for this post: First We Eat is now the proud parent of a deep fryer. This adorably compact little powerhouse has been on our minds for months now. We were debating the wisdom of the investment but, as it often happens, a bold and decisive move had to be made. For our first run, we had to go with a classic: french fries. What better on a soft Saturday afternoon than a plate of steak-frites, fresh and hot and paired with a glass of wine?

We bought three thick steaks, beautifully marbled, and pan-fried them in butter. Slicing the fat with wide strokes of the knife, the steaks were prepped while the mandoline churned out long, even slices of potato. The steaks crackled and hissed against the butter in the solid heat of the cast iron pan. Batches of potato matchsticks, soaked in cold water and dried,  were tossed into the oil, snapping occasionally in a way that made you fear for your hands. After two rounds in the fryer, the fries emerged golden brown and still sizzling. We tossed them with sea salt right before serving them alongside the steak, and each one of us poured a liberal (and possibly heart-stopping) amount of sauce over the whole plate. Seated at the table in the dreamy summer sun, I felt a world away from that magical night in the Centre Ville but, at the same time, intimately connected with the experience and with the ritual, now shared with my closest friends.

First We Eat’s Steak Frites
Serves 4. Adapted from Epicurious 

For the Steak

  • 3 large 1/2 lb steaks, we used rib eye, but you could use porter house, or filet if you prefer.
  • 3 Tbsp Butter
  • Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper to taste

With a sharp knife, make small incisions, about 1 1/2 inches apart in the fat around the outside of each steak. Due to small pan issues, we cooked the steaks one at a time.

Melt 1 tablespoons of the butter in a large heavy skillet or sauté pan over high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the steak and sear for 1 minute on each side. Reduce the heat to medium. Season the steaks generously with salt and pepper and continue cooking, turning the steaks every other minute, until you see little pearls of blood come to the surface, about 6 to 8 minutes. The steaks should be cooked rare to medium for juicy, tender meat. Repeat with the next two steaks. In between steaks, pour the juices from cooking into a bowl and set aside for the sauce.

We put finished steaks on a warmed plate in the oven while the others cooked, careful not to heat  the plate too high or your steak will keep cooking! Once all the steaks are done, let rest for about 10 minutes then slice against the grain to serve with your fries and sauce!

For the Fries

  • 6-7 Medium Russet Potatoes, peeled and cut no more than 1/2″ wide. We used a mandolin.
  • 3-4 cups Vegetable Oil for frying (you can do this in a pan, we used a mini deep fryer)
  • Salt to toss

Pour enough oil into a deep fryer to reach at least halfway up the sides of the pan but not more than three-quarters of the way up. Heat the oil to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cut the potatoes into sticks no more than 1/2 inch wide. Dry all the pieces thoroughly in a clean dish towel. This will keep the oil from splattering. Divide the potato sticks into batches of no more than 1 cup each. Do not fry more than one batch at a time.

When the oil has reached 325 degrees, fry the potatoes for 4 to 5 minutes per batch. They should be lightly colored but not browned. If your fryer has a basket, simply lift it out the remove the fried potatoes. Otherwise, use a long-handled skimmer to lift out the potatoes. Be sure to bring the temperature of the oil back to 325°F in between batches. At this point the fries can rest for several hours at room temperature until you are almost ready to serve them.

Heat the oil to 325 degrees Farenheit. Fry the potatoes in 1-cup batches until they are nicely browned and crisp, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain on fresh paper towels or brown paper bags and place in a warmed serving bowl lined with more paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and serve.

Buttery Mustard Parsley Sauce

  • Remaining pan jus from the steaks
  • 3 Tbsp Butter
  • 1 Cup White Wine
  • 1/2 Cup Water
  • 1 Small Onion, diced
  • 1 Bunch Fresh Parsley, Chopped
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 1 Tsp Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 Tbsp Dijon Mustard

Using the same pan that you cooked your steak in, add all the remaining juice, butter, white wine, and onions and cook until onions are translucent over medium heat. Add the water, worcestershire sauce, and dijon mustard and bring to a boil to reduce slightly, a few minutes. Lower temperature to a simmer and put all the parsley into the sauce and cook until slightly wilted. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and pour this mixture into a cup. We pureed this using an immersion blender, then put the pureed sauce back into the pan to reduce a little more over low heat for about 15 minutes. Serve over your steak. This sauce was also fantastic for dipping the french fries!

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