Peppercorn sauce in a pan with steak

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A true classic that will always stand the test of time, peppercorn sauce is the perfect accompaniment to a juicy steak, or even some roasted veg, potatoes or chicken. Creamy, rich and warming, this sauce takes only minutes to make. Perfect for your next date night or occasions when you want something a little special without spending hours slaving in the kitchen.

What is it?

Peppercorn sauce is a traditional steakhouse or bistro recipe, originating in France. The main ingredients are crushed peppercorns and heavy cream, with different recipes using cognac, stock, butter or shallots to add flavour among other things.

For this recipe, I use pepper, cream, cognac and shallots to make one of the most deliciously flavoursome and rich sauces you’ll come across!

Peppercorn sauce over steak on a plate with mashed potato

What type of pepper should I use?

Black, green, pink, red. So many types, which one to choose? The type of peppercorn you select will affect the outcome of the sauce, so pick carefully:

  • Black peppercorns (most popular choice) – the most commonly used pepper in this sauce and also most likely the peppercorns you already have at home. Black pepper is strong and packs a little heat.
  • Green peppercorns (mild option) – these are simply underripe black peppercorns. They are very mild so if you are serving for anyone who doesn’t like the heat these are a great choice. As they are typically sold in brine rather than dried, you don’t need to crush them if they aren’t dried.
  • White peppercorns (can be used if absolutely needed) – these are simply black peppercorns that have had the outer layer removed. You can easily use these in the sauce, but the light colour means you won’t have the same contrast and visual appeal in the dish.
  • Pink peppercorns (not great, unless you want a fruitier flavour) – these are not even pepper but the berries from a plant. While they do still pack a little heat, they are also more fruity in flavour, so I don’t recommend them for this recipe.
  • Sichuan pepper (not recommended) – these peppercorns are actually completely unrelated to peppercorns and they are distinctively citrusy in flavour. They don’t pack heat the same as standard pepper, but do have a numbing kind of effect on your tongue. As such, I don’t recommend using them for this recipe.

Whatever you choose though, make sure to crush dried peppercorns first. Biting down on a whole peppercorn is not ideal! I also suggest not to use a pepper grinder, as the milled pepper will be very fine and you won’t get the same texture in the sauce.

What can I serve it with?

You’ll most commonly see peppercorn sauce served with steak. However, it is really versatile and you can drizzle it over chicken breasts, lamb, roasted vegetables or potatoes.

If you are making this with steak, or another pan-fried meat, then you can prepare the sauce while you are resting the meat. Giving you a succulent and juicy dish with a freshly cooked and warm sauce. You can use the same pan as you used to cook the meat to save on washing up too!

Of course, no meal would be complete without a couple of great sides, Try:

If steak isn’t your thing, then you could also try this served over a seared chicken breast. It also works as an alternative to gravy with roast beef. It’s a great dipping sauce for chips (fries for my US friends) too.

Can I use brandy instead of Cognac?

Just as champagne is technically a sparkling wine that is produced in the elusive Champagne region of France, Cognac is a brandy that is produced in Cognac. Therefore, you can certainly swap the cognac for a good quality brandy.

You could also use whisky instead of brandy for an alternative smoky and malty flavour.

Can I make it without alcohol?

You can certainly make this sauce without using any alcohol. While using it does add a great flavour to the recipe, omitting it makes the whole cooking process a little quicker and easier. Personally, I’m a fan of the extra depth a splash of brandy adds.

If you are worried about the sauce being alcoholic then fear not as the alcohol burns off during the cooking process and all that remains is the flavour and not the alcohol content. If you want to make it without then use extra stock and add a couple of tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce for flavour.

Peppercorn sauce drizzled over steak

How exactly do you flambé and do I need to do it?

Flambé means ‘flamed’ in French and it is basically the act of adding a strong alcohol to the pan and setting it alight. It might sound a little daunting, but it is fairly easy (just make sure you have nothing flammable near the pan like a tea towel!). Plus it’s great entertainment if you have guests over.

To flambé the sauce first increase the heat under the pan to high and, standing back with outstretched arms, tilt the pan away from you. Pour in the alcohol and use a long match or lighter to set the alcohol alight. Swill the pan a few times and the flame will die down and disappear as the alcohol burns out. Always measure out the alcohol into a glass before adding it rather than pouring it straight from the bottle.

If you are using a gas stove/hob with a flame, then you can also tilt the pan into the flame after adding the spirit to catch the alcohol alight, although this is a lot trickier to perfect (and you want to make sure you don’t pour the alcoholic liquid directly into the flame).

If flambéing sounds too much for you then you’ll be happy to know that this step is totally optional. If you would prefer to avoid this then you can simply cook the sauce after adding the alcohol for 2-3 minutes, letting the alcohol bubble down.

Can I make it in advance?

Peppercorn sauce can be cooled and kept, sealed, in the fridge for 2-3 days. Reheat gently in a pan.

You can freeze the sauce for up to 3 months, but it may separate when thawing, so I recommend making it fresh.

Ingredients

You need only a few simple ingredients for this sauce. For a full list of ingredients with weights and measurements jump to the printable recipe card.

  • Unsalted butter
  • Shallots, finely diced
  • Garlic, finely chopped or crushed
  • Cognac you can also use a good quality brandy (see more information above)
  • Beef stock
  • Double/heavy cream
  • Peppercorns, crushed in a mortar and pestle, or placed in a food bag and bashed with a rolling pin to crack into coarse pieces. Black peppercorns are recommended but see info above on other types

How to make it

For more detailed instructions with recipe tips jump to the printable recipe card.

Recipe Steps
  1. Saute the shallots in the butter until softened.
  2. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute.
  3. Add the cognac to the pan and, if you want to flambé the sauce, very carefully light it with a long lighter or match with the pan tilted away from you.
  4. Once the alcohol has burnt off add the stock, bring to a simmer and reduce by half.
  5. Add the cream and peppercorns and cook for a further few minutes until thickened.

Looking for more great sauce recipes? Try:

Products that work well for this recipe:

Magnetic Spice Rack – Set of 12

Organise your spices with this magnetic rack! – Stick to the fridge or the provided plate – Rotating design with sift/pour holes

2 in 1 Garlic Press

Can be used to mince, crush or slice garlic. Food Grade Stainless Steel with Non-Slip Handle

Wild Olive Wood Pestle & Mortar

Wild Olive Wood Pestle and Mortar – beautiful & functional
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Peppercorn sauce in a pan with steak

Peppercorn Sauce


  • Author: caroline
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 2 1x

Description

Peppercorn sauce is the perfect accompaniment to a juicy steak, or even some roasted veg, or chicken. Creamy, rich & warming, it takes only minutes to make!

The default recipe serves 2.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp finely diced shallot
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped or crushed
  • 60ml / 1/4 cup cognac (see note 1,2)
  • 125ml / 1/2 cup beef stock
  • 85ml / 1/3 cup double (heavy) cream
  • 1 tbsp black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar and pestle (see note 3)

Instructions

  1. Heat the butter in a frying pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot add the shallots and cook for 2 minutes until softened. (see note 4)
  2. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute, stirring frequently to stop it sticking. 
  3. If you want to flambé the sauce (set the alcohol alight in the pan): increase the heat to high and, standing back with outstretched arms, tilt the pan away from you. Pour in the cognac and use a long match or lighter to set the alcohol alight. Swill the pan a few times and the flame will disappear after a few moments as the alcohol burns out. (see note 5,6)
  4. If you don’t want to flambé the sauce: Carefully pour in the brandy, keeping it away from the flames if you are cooking on a flame/gas hob/stove. Stir everything for a minute or two until the cognac has reduced down and the alcohol evaporated. 
  5. Pour in the stock and bring to a simmer. Cook for 2-3 minutes until reduced by half. 
  6. Add the cream and pepper and simmer for a further 2 minutes until thickened. Season to taste.

Notes

  1. You can use a good quality brandy instead of cognac. Or you can try with whisky for a smoky flavour.
  2. The alcohol burns out during the cooking process, but if you don’t want to use any alcohol you can increase the amount of stock and add a couple of tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce. 
  3. Use 1 tbsp of peppercorns before crushing. I don’t recommend milling it in a pepper grinder as you want a coarsely crushed texture. You can also place them in a plastic bag and smash them with a rolling pin if you don’t have a mortar and pestle. 
  4. If you are making this to go with steak or another pan-fried meat, then you can use the same pan used to cook the steak while it rests and use any deliciously flavoured residual oil or butter.
  5. For safety, measure out the cognac separately into a glass before adding it to the pan. 
  6. You can also tilt the pan slightly into the flame if you are using a gas cooker, although it is trickier to get right – and be careful!
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes
  • Category: Sauce
  • Method: Hob / Stove
  • Cuisine: French

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 1
  • Calories: 320
  • Fat: 26g
  • Carbohydrates: 3g
  • Protein: 1g

Keywords: sauce, pepper, cream, indulgent, steak, cognac, brandy

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