Last week, we talked about pepper and basically black pepper. It’s the most common spice in the world. It’s on many tables and used in so many dishes. This week we will take a look at a few black pepper dishes you ought to try.

The first one that comes to mind for so many of us is steak au poivre.

This one has that characteristic I really hate to see on restaurant menus. It mixes languages. But it’s been around so long that we take it for granted. The French part makes it sort of seem fancy. Steak with pepper might not sell as well, and it sure sounds plain.

In the case of steak au poivre, it is a French dish. It consists of a steak, traditionally filet mignon or beef tenderloin, that’s coated with coarsely cracked peppercorns and then cooked. It often has a creamy pan sauce served with it. But that sauce can be thinner and simpler. And the steak can be sliced rather than served whole. A thick cut doesn’t work so well on this dish.

A trick in making this dish is to pre salt your steaks and let them rest in the refrigerator for an hour or so. This gets seasoning into the meat and you don’t have to deal with that later.

Grind some black peppercorns coarsely and coat one side of the steak well before cooking. This method works well in most any steak preparation.

A pan sauce is one that’s made in the pan. That’s how it gets its name. Most are very simple. In the case of steak au poivre, the steak is seared and remove from the pan at its appropriateness doneness for you. At this point you add stock to the pan, scrape up the good bits on the bottom of the pan and then add a little heavy cream. The sauce gets boosted with a little more pepper.

Steak au poivre is served with fried potatoes or one that’s baked. Another option is sautéed sliced mushrooms.

If you take this process a little further, you come up with a dish called steak Diane. It’s not a traditional French dish, but is American in origin. This one came along when tableside cooking was so popular.

For steak Diane, once the steak is cooked and removed from the pan, Brandy is tossed in and a big flames result. Makes it look very fancy in the dining room.

Usually Dijon mustard goes into this sauce with the cream. Sliced mushrooms are a part of the sauce. This steak is often sliced before service. I like using green peppercorns for this dish. Great flavor when added to the sauce.

Other cuisines have dishes called pepper steak. Asian pepper steak is sliced or cut and quickly seared. This one will have black pepper in the sauce and more is added when it is served. To give the dish an Indonesian touch, the sauce is usually much thicker. Things like oyster sauce and other flavorings add to the complexity.

One of my favorite dishes using lots of black pepper is for Royal Red Shrimp. You coat the shrimp in salt and lots of pepper. Always make sure the back of the shell is split. It comes off much easier when heating.

The dish is cooked over high heat in olive oil for just a short period. They get done quickly. Usually green onion and a few veggies are tossed into the sauté. This dish tastes as good as it looks.

Chicken takes its place with black pepper too. Simply coat the chicken pieces with pepper before cooking. You can use the steak Diane method with chicken. It’s great together and makes a special looking presentation. The Asian sauce works with chicken as well.

When cooking the chicken and even the steaks, it’s easier to start with thinner pieces. This allows for quick cooking without overcooking the meat. In all of these dishes, the flavor of the pepper is important. We like to see it when the dishes are served.

As you can see, in most of these the pepper is front and center, and the dish is served with simple sides or perhaps none. Freshly cracking the pepper sure adds great flavor to the dish.

We’ve just scratched the surface of dishes to make featuring black pepper. We will take a look at some more another time.

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Jim Sikes is an Opelika resident; a food, wine and restaurant consultant; and a columnist for the Opelika-Auburn News. Contact him on Facebook at In the Kitchen with Chef Jim.

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