The Legacy of the Huntress

by Mark R. Vogel

            Diana was the Roman Goddess of wild animals and the hunt.  The sister of Apollo, she was praised for her strength, beauty, athletic prowess, and hunting skills.  She was also deemed a protectorate of woman and became associated with chastity, marriage, and fertility. 

             Diana considered her body sacred.  According to Roman mythology, one day she was bathing when a hunter happened to come upon her.  Diana was outraged and turned the hapless hunter into a stag.  This fable may explain why in many artistic depictions of Diana she is accompanied by a deer.  And that my fellow gastronomes, brings us to Steak Diane.

             In the nineteenth century sauces made “a la Diane” were dedicated to Diana and appropriately enough, originated as an accompaniment to venison.  Sauce a la Diane was composed of cream, truffles, and ample amounts of black pepper.  The first mention of Sauce Diane (as opposed to a la Diane), comes from the culinary icon Auguste Escoffier in 1907.  He added hard cooked egg white to the a la Diane formula. 

             When and where Steak Diane actually evolved has as many viewpoints as the United Nations.  Although there is some consensus that it is American in origin, Brazil, Australia and Belgium are cited by other pundits.  There’s an even wider array of recipes for Steak Diane.  Perform an Internet search and you won’t find two recipes alike. 

             New York City appears to be the best candidate for the source of Steak Diane’s genesis.  But even if we could conclusively identify New York as the birthplace, contrariety exists as to which Big Apple establishment is the actual mother.  The Drake Hotel, the Sherry-Netherland Hotel, and the Colony restaurant are all possible contenders according to a 1950s New York Times article. 

             One thing is for sure.  Steak Diane was the rage in the fifties and early sixties, especially in New York.  A hot culinary trend at the time in upscale restaurants was dishes that could be flamboyantly prepared tableside.  Steak Diane was traditionally done so, its theatrics arising from the flambéing of the cognac used to make the sauce.  

             Flambéing, by the way, is not just for show.  Igniting the alcohol in a recipe amplifies the flavor of the finished sauce via the process of caramelization.  Caramelization is a type of browning reaction, similar to the kind that takes place when you sear a piece of meat on a grill or a hot sauté pan.  During caramelization, the intense heat causes the sugars in the dish to undergo a series of chemical changes.  The most important of these for the cook is the intensification of flavor.  Caramelization requires temperatures in excess of 300 degrees.  If you were to pour the alcohol in the pan and reduce it without igniting it, the liquid will never go beyond the boiling point, i.e., 212 degrees.  Thus, igniting it ensures that the necessary degree of heat is generated to elevate your sauce into another flavor dimension.  

      

 STEAK DIANE

        

            The type of steak utilized varies but fillet mignon (steak-sized cuts from the tenderloin), and strip steak are the two most common.  Stick with a tender piece of meat no more than a half inch in thickness.  Pound the meat with a mallet down to a half inch if necessary. 


2 (8–12 oz.) tenderloin or strip steaks

Olive or vegetable oil, as needed

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 large shallot, minced

2 oz. cognac or brandy

Half cup veal or beef stock

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce 

2 tablespoons cold butter

Chopped chives as needed 

 

            Brush the steaks on both sides with some oil and season with salt and pepper.  Heat a heavy bottomed 12-inch skillet over high heat and add enough oil to cover the bottom.  When the oil just starts to smoke add the steaks and sear until the first side is browned.  About two minutes.  Flip and sear the other side.  Remove the steaks and cover with foil or place in a 200 degree oven to keep warm.  Add more oil to the pan if necessary and sauté the shallot.  Remove the pan from the heat and add the cognac.  Either tilt the pan so the flame ignites the alcohol or use a match.  When the flames subside add the stock and mustard, bring to a boil, and then simmer until reduced by at least half.  Whisk in the Worcestershire and then the butter.  Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if need be.  Add the steaks back to the skillet and cook briefly on each side to heat up and become coated with the sauce.  Sprinkle with the chives and serve. 

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