For many people, Christmas looks different this year. Here in Toronto, we are in lockdown due to COVID, so I will be setting the table for two. Yes, two. Such a strange concept for me. Sure, I’ve set a small Thanksgiving table in the past, but Christmas? Most meals associated with Christmas aren’t built for two. So that’s where you have to get a little creative. Instead of turkey, you reach for Cornish hens or a duck. In the place of ham, you grab a couple of smoked pork chops. And in the case of prime rib, you have a multitude of excellent steaks to choose from. So without further ado, I present you with my version of prime rib for two – this Sichuan Peppercorn Ribeye with Shiitake Creme Fraiche Gravy.
This Sichuan Peppercorn Ribeye gathers light inspiration from a multitude of dishes. It’s one part Mala beef, one part steak au poivre, and one part roast beef dinner. I selected a ribeye as my steak of choice because as far as steaks go, you really can’t do better. The ribeye comes from the upper ribcage of the cow, which is a lightly worked area resulting in a tender, well-marbled cut. And since we’re aiming to replace a prime rib, what better way to do that than with a steak cut from the center of the beloved roast.
As with all cuts of premium beef, I started this ribeye off with a quick dry brine. It sounds complicated but really it’s simply salting the meat prior to cooking and exposing it to the air. I don’t often salt my meat far in advance. Usually, an hour is all I can manage because when I treat myself to a nice steak, patience isn’t a virtue I readily have on hand. You can treat all sorts of cuts of meat like this. I particularly like rubbing pork shoulder with equal parts salt and sugar prior to roasting.
Dry brining gives the salt time to penetrate the surface of the meat, so your steak is seasoned all the way through. As I mentioned above, you don’t have to limit your dry brine to salt, you can add sugar or other spices, like Sichuan peppercorns.
Now, I prefer to toast my Sichuan peppercorns in a dry pan before busting them up a little in a mortar and pestle. I find pepper grinders tend to grind them a little too fine for my taste. It takes a little extra elbow grease but it’s nothing to write home about. I apply the peppercorns to the meat at the same time as I apply the salt and I like to let the whole thing sit uncovered in the fridge for an hour. You can go past an hour but I wouldn’t exceed 8.
Once the steak is seasoned and raring to go, everything goes by very fast. It pays to have everything at the ready the second that steak hits the skillet. Once you’re ready to cook, get your skillet extremely hot and add some neutral oil. Add a little more than you think you need. We’re building a light mala effect in the pan. Not all the peppercorns will stick to the meat. So any wayward corns will fry in the oil, leaching their flavor and numbing effect into the residual oil and final gravy.
Once your steak approaches 120°F on an instant read thermometer, it’s go time. Get the butter and aromatics in the pan because you are officially on the clock. If you like medium rare, like I do, you want to get that steak off of the heat when it reaches 125°F. You have a bit more time if you’re more of a medium person, but I still wouldn’t waffle.
From there you can heave a sigh of relief when you put your steak down to rest. You have a nice cozy 10-15 minute window in which to make your sauce. The Shiitake Creme Fraiche Gravy is fairly straight forward. A simple pan sauce that starts with shallots and mushrooms. Followed by a quick deglazing with Shaoxing wine, a little beef stock, and a decent amount of creme fraiche. You could go the patient route at this point and simply reduce the sauce by slowly simmering it. But I cheated a little in the interest of serving the steak in its prime. I thickened the sauce with a little cornstarch and it was silky and luscious in 10 minutes flat.
As I said you can go the slow route when it comes to the gravy, but I think you should start it in a seperate pan. It will take longer to reduce than the steak’s ideal resting time, so it will need a headstart. This unfortunately means, you won’t have the opportunity to build the sauce in the same pan as the steak, which will rob it of some flavor and that subtle mala effect. But some people are very particular about when to deploy thickening agents, so I will leave that up to you and your judgement.
So that’s everything you need to know about this Sichuan Peppercorn Ribeye with Shiitake Creme Fraiche Gravy. I have one more Christmas 2020 post waiting in the wings and it is, predictably enough, dessert-related. Can’t wait to share the sweet conclusion with you all.
Sichuan Peppercorn Ribeye with Shiitake Creme Fraiche Gravy
- Large Cast Iron Skillet
- 1 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 ribeye steak 1 ½ inch thick
- 2 tbsp neutral oil I used canola
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 scallions cut into thirds
- 1 (1-inch) knob ginger julienned
- ¼ cup dried chilis
- 3 shallots halved and sliced
- 100g (3.5 oz) shiitake mushrooms stems removed, sliced
- 1 oz Shaoxing wine
- ¾ cup beef stock
- ⅓ cup creme fraiche
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp cornstarch
- Pour the peppercorns into a dry cast-iron skillet and place over medium heat. Toast until fragrant and lightly browned, about 1-2 minutes.
- Pour the peppercorns into a mortar and pestle and crack the peppercorns until they reach the desired consistency. I prefer mine slightly coarser than can be achieved with a peppermill.
- Place the crushed peppercorns in a bowl and add the salt, stir to combine. Sprinkle the mixture on all sides of the steak, rubbing it into every nook and cranny. Place the steak on a cooling rack above a baking sheet. Place the steak in the fridge and let sit, uncovered, for 1 hour.
- Pour the neutral oil into a large cast-iron skillet and place over medium-high heat. Once the skillet is smoking, add the steak. Cook the steak, flipping frequently and sealing the sides until the steak reaches an internal temperature of 120°F. Add the butter, ginger, chilis, and the light green and white parts of the scallions. Tilt the pan and baste the steak with the butter and aromatics until it reaches an internal temperature of 125°F for medium-rare. Aim higher or lower based on your steak preferences.
- Transfer the steak to a small baking sheet and tent with foil. Let rest for 10-15 minutes. While the steak is resting, saute the shallots in the cast-iron skillet until translucent. Add the mushrooms and saute until browned. Deglaze the pan with the Shaoxing wine and pour in the beef stock.
- Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer and stir in the creme fraiche. Add the Dijon mustard and bring to a simmer once again.
- Spoon a tablespoon or two of the gravy into a small bowl. Add the cornstarch and whisk to combine. Pour the mixture into the gravy and stir until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
- Thinly slice the remaining dark green portions of the scallions and set aside. Discard the steak aromatics and slice the steak into thick strips. Transfer 4-5 slices to a plate and cover with a spoonful of the shiitake gravy. Sprinkle with the scallions and serve immediately.