Cookbook Profile

Szechwan Pepper-Crusted Steak
Smothered with Onions

Serves 4


A crusty seared steak smothered with fried onions is one of the simplest and most satisfying combinations imaginable. I rub the steak with a mix of finely ground Szechwan, white, and black peppercorns, which imparts an aromatic, slightly floral yet peppery flavor that goes wonderfully with the onions. Although it is delicious as is, this combination sings when drizzled with a rich winy sauce and served with potatoes, such as Potato Chips or Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes (see the book).

You can use many cuts of beef for this recipe, as long as they are tender enough to be served rare. The most flavorful steaks for pan-searing are at opposite ends of the spectrum in price: shell and strip steak of beef or buffalo are quite expensive; skirt and hanger steak are inexpensive. (Buffalo steaks, either shell or sirloin, are a great alternative to beef; they are flavorful and tender, yet spectacularly lean.)

"Fried" Onions
1-1/2 pounds Vidalia or Bermuda onions, peeled
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 to 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper

Szechwan Pepper Rub
1 teaspoon Szechwan peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon white peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon allspice berries
1-1/4 pounds beef skirt, hanger, or strip steak
or buffalo sirloin or shell steak, trimmed of all fat
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
Kosher salt
Scant 1 teaspoon finely grated ginger

Port Wine Sauce, Balsamic Syrup or Red Wine Essence (see the book) (optional)

To make the onions, slice the onions in half through the stem. With a mandoline or vegetable slicer or a thin sharp knife, cut lengthwise into 1/8-inch slices. (You should have about 6 cups.)

In a large nonstick skillet, melt the butter over moderately low heat. Add the onions, sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and toss to coat. Cover and cook until the onions have released their liquid, about 13 minutes.

Uncover the pan, increase the heat to moderate, and cook slowly, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle the onions with the sugar and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until they are golden brown and caramelized, about 10 minutes longer. Sprinkle with the balsamic vinegar and toss until the vinegar has evaporated. Add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and season generously with pepper. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.

Meanwhile, prepare the pepper rub: In a small heavy skillet, toast the peppercorns and allspice over moderate heat, shaking the pan occasionally, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a blender or spice grinder and grind to a fine powder. Strain the spices into a small bowl and return the coarse bits to the blender. Blend again and strain.

Pat the steaks dry with paper towels; rub lightly with a little of the oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt and massage the ginger into the steak; then rub the pepper rub over them.

Heat a grill pan or heavy nonstick skillet over high heat. Lightly oil the grill pan, if using, or swirl the remaining oil in a nonstick skillet. Add the steaks to the pan and cook until little droplets of blood form on the surface, about 4 minutes. Turn the steaks over and continue cooking until droplets of blood form on the top again, another 3 to 4 minutes, for rare.

Transfer the steaks to a cutting board and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes. With a thin sharp knife, slice the steaks on a slight angle against the grain. Sprinkle the meat with a little salt and arrange the slices on four warm dinner plates. Nestle a mound of onions next to the steak, drizzle a little of the optional sauce around the meat, and serve at once.

In Advance
You can prepare the Szechwan pepper rub up to 2 days ahead and the onions up to 6 hours ahead; cover and leave at room temperature. About 5 minutes before serving, sauté the onions in a hot pan until warmed through.

"Wood-Smoked" Steak Smothered with Onions. Crust the steaks with Smoky Tea Essence (see below) instead of the Szechwan Pepper Rub, to make the steak taste as though it was grilled over wood.

Smoky Tea Essence

Makes about 1/3 cup

This powder, my most exciting discovery with rubs, is made from Lapsang Souchong or Hu-Kwa, a smoked tea from China's Fukien province. It imparts a sweet, bacony, smoky flavor to foods. You can use it in just about any dish where a slight hint of wood smoke is desired. I've rubbed it on steaks to give them a grilled flavor, infused it into broths to impart a bacony flavor to soups, and added it to pots of beans or to roasted peppers. When I am cooking for vegetarians, I use it instead of bacon or ham to impart a smoky flavor. While it is great as a rub on its own, I often use it in tandem with many other Flavor Essences and Dry Rubs.

Smoky teas are readily available in supermarkets and gourmet stores.

1/2 cup (1-1/2 ounces) loose Lapsang Souchong tea or 20 tea bags

If you are using tea bags, cut them open. Empty the tea into a blender or spice grinder. Blend the tea for at least 1 minute at high speed, until you have the finest-possible powder. Let the mixture settle for about 30 seconds before removing the cover, so the fine powder does not fly into the air.

Use a dry pastry brush to push the powder through a strainer set into a clean dry container. Blend and strain the larger bits again.

In Advance
Store in a tightly sealed jar away from light for up to 3 months.


Buy the Book!


A New Way to Cook
by Sally Schneider
Photographs by Maria Robledo
Artisan, 2001
$40 (U.S.); hardcover
ISBN: 1579651887
Recipe reprinted by permission.


A New Way to Cook




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This page created June 2002