It might sound simple, but to serve a perfect steak and chips is no mean feat – and a fragrant sauce will take it to another level.

A rather pompous customer who regularly came to eat at Bibendum once said to me: ‘Why on earth would I order steak in a restaurant when it’s so easy to cook at home?’

Well, maybe – perhaps he truly was an expert at cooking steak, but was he simply talking about satisfying one or two hungry chums or accommodating a dinner party for several guests? To attempt the latter, he would need to be an expert juggler of the vagaries of grilled meat, as well as being possessed of a very big grill upon which to do that juggling.

One can imagine the scenario. ‘Gerald, may I have mine medium-rare, please?’ says Mary. ‘Oh and mine medium,’ trills Joan. ‘Me, too,’ shouts Trevor. ‘Blue at this end of the table,’ demands Frank, smugly. ‘The lady wife will have hers cremated,’ he adds, giving her a condescending glance of disapproval.

Naturellement, Gerald and Frank are in agreement – blue men through and through. However, if truth be known and Gerald were a sensible chap, he and Frank would enjoy their steak dinner à deux. Any more than this is madness.

One other thing to mention: I have always considered a good-quality domestic deep-fat fryer to be as good an investment as an electric ice-cream maker. Frying in a pan – even with a dangling thermometer to hand – can be a worrying way to achieve the finest of crisp chips.

Steak, chips and Béarnaise sauce

Ingredients (Serves two)

  • 2 thick rib-eye steaks (about 200g)

For the chips

  • 2–3 large Maris Piper potatoes
  • Oil, for frying
  • Fine sea salt

For the Béarnaise sauce

  • 3tbspn white-wine vinegar
  • 1 finely chopped small shallot
  • The leaves from a small bunch of tarragon (keep the stalks)
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 200g unsalted butter
  • A touch of lemon juice

Method

Peel the potatoes and cut into medium-thick chips, then wash well until the water runs clear. Dry in a tea towel. Heat the oil in the deep-fat fryer to 130˚C and immerse the chips. Cook for 8–10 minutes until tender, but with as little colour as possible. Drain well and tip onto a tray. Refrigerate.

To make the sauce, pour the vinegar and three tablespoons of water into a small, stainless-steel pan with the shallot and two-thirds of the given tarragon leaves and stalks, both chopped. Reduce over a moderate heat until syrupy, then strain the mixture through a fine sieve into the bowl of a small food processor. Add the egg yolks and blitz until airy and pale.

Heat the butter until quite hot and bubbling (use a small pan with a lip, to aid pouring) and, with the motor running, slowly pour the butter into the food processor until the sauce has become thick, as with making mayonnaise (you may like to add a touch of the milky residue, as this processor method usually makes a thicker than usual sauce). Season lightly, add lemon juice to taste and sprinkle in the remaining tarragon leaves. Briefly process once more, until the machine has chopped the leaves quite finely into the sauce. Keep warm over a bowl of tap-hot water.

Pre-heat a stove-top ribbed grill until it’s very hot indeed. Season the steaks and brush them with olive oil. Grill on both sides until cooked to your liking. When pressed with the index finger, rare meat bounces back lazily; medium-rare a little more noticeably; medium quite sprightly; medium-well not much, really; and well-done not at all. Leave to rest a few minutes for the lesser cooked.

To assemble, fry the cooled chips at 180˚C–190˚C for a few minutes until crisp, golden and rustling. Sprinkle with fine sea salt and serve alongside the steak. Garnish with well-washed and chilled watercress, together with the sauce alongside in a sauceboat or pretty bowl.

Sirloin steak with green-peppercorn sauce

An old favourite seldom seen on restaurant menus these days – and much missed by yours truly. Deliciously fragrant with aromatic peppery notes, yet not so much that it will blow your head off, the creamy sauce takes me back to the days of an expert sauce chef, rather than that of the more modish flames and smoke.

Ingredients (Serves 2)

  • 2 x 200g thick sirloin steaks, including an edge of fat 1dspn green peppercorns (in brine)
  • A small clove of garlic, crushed to a paste with salt
  • 25g butter
  • 2tbspn Cognac
  • 2tspn fine Dijon mustard
  • 100ml–125ml whipping cream

Method

Take a thick, heavy-based frying pan (cast-iron, for preference) and allow it to become hot over a naked flame. Season just the fatty edges of the steaks with salt. Then, pressed together as one double-thickness steak, place them fatty-edge down directly into the dry pan. Over a more moderate heat, allow the fat to quietly crisp up, so exuding its grease into the pan (the steaks should not, assuming you took note of thickness, topple over) – there should be exactly sufficient to finally fry the meat itself.

Once the fat is sufficiently crisp, turn up the heat and fry the steaks as you normally would and to your liking (see previous recipe). Lift out and keep warm on hot plates, loosely covered with foil, while the sauce is made.

Tip up the pan and remove the pool of fat with kitchen paper (don’t wipe out the crusty bits). Add the butter to the pan, allow it to froth and add the green peppercorns. Partially squash some of them into the butter using the back of a wooden spoon, then stir in the garlic and Cognac (there’s no real need
to flame the alcohol). Allow to combine for a few moments, then whisk in the mustard and cream until all is smooth.

Simmer gently – while also continuing to occasionally whisk – until the copious amounts of bubbles formed during this final process begin to reveal an increasingly brown tinge to their edges. The sauce should be of just the correct, creamy consistency to generously coat the steaks.

Serve forthwith. A particular preference for me, here, is the accompaniment of fine sauté potatoes rather than chips.