Few dishes satisfy more than steak frîtes, a nice cut of seared beef with a pile of French-fried potatoes.  We make this dish at least a dozen ways usually with a beef rib eye steak but often with other cuts too.  This recipe for Pan Grilled Steak au Whiskey is a riff on one we served at the Restaurant du Village.  A porterhouse or T-bone steak, coated with black peppercorns in a whiskey spiked tarragon sauce made from pan drippings.

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For a fine cut of meat, got to your local butcher. Ask for a well-marbled cut of either porterhouse, T-bone or rib eye. Sometimes we’ll find something at a local grocery store that looks good and that is often what inspires me to make the dish. Ideally, you’ll want at least 1-inch thick piece of meat, 1 1/2 inches is even better.

For fresh flavor, crack the peppercorns only when needed.  Crush them using a mallet, hammer or the bottom of a heavy pan that you have scoured well before using.

Pounding peppercorns

You must sift out the fine specks of pepper because they will make the dish too spicy hot. (Save the fines for another use.)

Sifting the fines

You’ll want to salt the meat first then press the cracked peppercorns into the flesh.

Salting the steak

Applying peppercorns to steak

Pressing peppercorns into meat

Shocked by the quantity of cracked pepper I used? Don’t be. But if it troubles you, cut the amount in half.

To get an evenly seared crust, use a heavy pan preferably carbon steel or cast iron. Preheat the pan for 4 – 5 minutes over high heat. And turn on your kitchen vent. The smoke from the peppercorns can be blinding.

A secret to serving steak at the desired temperature is undercooking it.  This applies to roasts as well as grilled meats and even tuna. Through a process known as carryover cooking, the meat continues to cook while it rests.  For a 1-inch-thick steak, expect the internal temperature to rise 5–8 degrees as it sits.  Have a sheet pan ready to hold the steak while you prepare the sauce in the pan.

Good rich stock ensures a quality sauce. Your local butcher might sell concentrated stock.  A fresh bone broth would work too. We keep dark poultry stock in the freezer and use it to make sauces. And, in a pinch, you could use a stock base but be careful with how much.  Because you must cook and reduce the pan sauce to thicken it, too much base can make the sauce indelibly salty. (I occasionally use Better Than Bouillon Brand for soups and I have been successful using their vegetable base in sauces, a ¼ teaspoon at a time.)

The portion we served at the restaurant embarrassed us even then, a 28-to-32-ounce rib eye flapping over the edges of the plate. Yet people shouted when we took it off the menu. In this recipe for Pan Grilled Steak au Whiskey, the steak pictured serves two. It’s accompanied by Rosemary Roasted Potatoes, minus the rosemary but dusted with chopped parsley.

Pan Grilled Steak au Whiskey

Serving Size: 2 Servings

Pan Grilled Steak au Whiskey


One 16-to-24-ounce bone-in porterhouse or T-bone, fat trimmed from the edges

Salt, to taste

1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns

1 tablespoon butter or vegetable oil

2 small shallots, peeled and minced

2 ounces scotch whiskey

½ to ¾ cup rich veal, beef or dark chicken stock

2 tablespoons fresh chopped tarragon or 1 tablespoon dried

Cold butter, as needed if desired


  1. Place the peppercorns on a flat work surface. Using a heavy mallet, hammer or the bottom of a clean heavy pan, crush the peppercorns to crack them into uneven pieces. Brush them into a fine sieve. Sift out the small fines and save for another use.
  2. Preheat a dry steel or cast-iron skillet large enough to hold the steak comfortably over high heat. Let the pan heat through for at least 5 more minutes.
  3. Season the steak with salt. Sprinkle one side of the meat with half of the cracked peppercorns. Press them into the meat with the palm of your hand. Do the same on the other side.
  4. Place the steak in the hot pan. Cook for 3–5 minutes on one side or until the layer of peppercorns is nicely brown and crisp. Flip and cook the steak on the other side until the internal temperature reaches the desired degree of doneness. For a rare steak, cook only until the internal temperature reaches 115–120°F. Medium rare cook until it reaches 120–125°F.
  5. Remove the steak from the pan. Place it on a sheet pan and keep it in a warm spot while you prepare the sauce.
  6. Pour off any excess fat from the pan. Add the butter. Melt it over medium heat then add the shallots. Cook them gently until they begin to soften and brown lightly. Add the scotch whiskey carefully and cook, stirring with a spoon to dislodge any browned bits. Add the stock and tarragon. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the sauce thickens. Season with salt as needed. Swirl a tablespoon or two of cold butter into the sauce to thicken it if desired.
  7. Divide the steak into two portions. Serve with the sauce and oven fried or roasted potatoes.


Try this preparation on a fat hamburger or tuna steak, adjusting the quantity of black peppercorns and cooking time accordingly.