People throughout France sit down regularly to a meal of deceptive simplicity and universal appeal: steak and french fries. It may seem like the world’s easiest dish (after all, it requires only two main ingredients), but the steak must be meaty and juicy, the potatoes buttery and crisp, and both must arrive at the table piping hot. Here’s an uptown version of this French bistro classic, featuring my favorite cut of beef for steaks– rib eye– anointed with a dollop of creamy Roquefort butter. The French would most likely pan-fry the steaks, but I prefer the flavor that comes with grilling.
The frites get their meltingly soft interior and crisp crust from a two-step frying process: the first at a lower temperature to cook them through, the second at higher heat to crisp them.
- 6 rib eye steaks (about 1/2 pound each)
- Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
If Pan Searing
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- A few thyme sprigs and sliced shallots (optional)
For the Pomme Frites
- 4 large baking potatoes
- Peanut oil, for deep-frying
- Coarse sea salt
- 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons dry white wine
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon (or 1 tablespoon dried)
- 2 tablespoons chopped chervil (or 1 tablespoon dried)
- 2 medium shallots, finely chopped
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Yolks of 3 large eggs
- 10 tablespoons of chilled unsalted butter
If Using the Alternative Béarnaise
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus 1 1/2 tablespoons, melted
- 1 ounce Roquefort cheese, at room temperature
Pan Searing the Steaks
- Pat steaks dry with paper towels. Season liberally with salt. Allow to rest at room temperature for at least 40 minutes and up to 2 hours. Alternatively, place on a plate or on a rack over a baking sheet in the refrigerator overnight. Remove from refrigerator at least 40 minutes before cooking.
- Heat oil in a large stainless steel or cast iron skillet over high heat until heavily smoking. Season steaks with pepper and add to pan and cook, flipping frequently with tongs or cooking fork until internal temperature has reached 110°F for rare or 130°F for medium (steak will continue to cook for a bit), 6 to 12 minutes depending on thickness. Add butter and optional aromatics to pan and continue to cook for an additional 2 minutes. Remove from pan and tent loosely with foil. Allow to rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.
Grilling the Steaks
- Brush the steaks with the melted butter and season with pepper; pound to ½ to ¾ inch and let the steaks come to room temperature.
- Light a grill. Generously season the steaks with salt and grill over a hot fire for 4 minutes per side for ¾ inch medium rare or 3 minutes per side for ½ inch thick.
- In a small saucepan, bring to a boil the vinegar, wine, 1 tablespoon of the tarragon, 1 tablespoon of the chervil, the shallots and a pinch of salt and pepper.
- Lower the heat and simmer until reduced to 2 tablespoons. Pressing the herbs with the back of a spoon against the pan, strain the liquid into a heavy saucepan.
- Carefully whisk in the yolks over very low heat, moving the pan on and off the burner until the mixture thickens. Do not let cook.
- Whisk in the butter piece by piece on and off the heat until the sauce thickens and no lumps remain. The sauce would be warm and thick.
- Season with salt and pepper, the remaining tarragon and chervil, and a drop of vinegar, if desired.
- In a small bowl, beat the 4 tablespoons of butter with the Roquefort until blended.
- Peel the potatoes and slice lengthwise 1/4 inch thick. Cut the slices into 1/4 -inch- wide sticks and soak in ice water for 15 minutes.
- In a deep-fryer or a large saucepan, heat 2 inches of oil to 325°. Drain the potatoes and blot them completely dry. Divide the potatoes into 4 batches and fry each batch until cooked through but not browned, 4 to 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fried potatoes to paper towels to drain.
- Reheat the oil to 375°. Fry the potatoes until crisp and golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes per batch. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the frites to fresh paper towels to drain.
- Top each steak with Béarnaise and serve the frites on the side.
MAKE AHEAD The frites can stand at room temperature for up to 4 hours after their preliminary frying.