I like to refer to Cognac as the "Nectar of the Gods". After a nice big steak dinner, there is nothing quite as satisfying as crowning the meal with a glass of Cognac. I have three dear friends that relish this tradition: Bob Dedic, Scott Drill and Steve Hirtz.
The French white grape used to make Cognac is Ugni Blanc, which is very dry, acidic and thin. When the grape is first pressed, it is undrinkable. So off it goes to distillation. Once distilled, the liquid is stored in oak casks. When it goes into the oak casks, it is roughly 70% alcohol. As the Cognac sits in the barrel, it evaporates at the rate of about 3% per year, slowly losing both alcohol and water.
This evaporation is known locally as "La part des anges", or "the angel's share". By the time the Cognac is ready for blending, the alcohol level will have dropped to 40%. Each Cognac house has a maître de chai (master blender) who then blends the different aged Cognacs into what they consider to be the house style.
Cognac is an acquired taste. It is not for those with a weak constitution...as it burns all the way down. Nor is it for those with a thin wallet. If you want a 750 ml bottle (standard wine bottle) of the very best stuff, it will set you back $3,000 at Total Wine. Remy Martin's Louis XIII comes in a distinctive Baccarat Crystal decanter and the Cognac inside is comprised of a blend of 1,200 different Cognacs, ranging in age from 40 to 100 years old.
The French, famous for their Cognac, are also famous for their cooking. Long ago, they learned to cook their food with this wondrous spirit. Two of my favorite Cognac based French meals are made with steak....specifically, Steak Diane and Steak au Poivre.
Along the line some genius decided to take the sauce from Steak au Poivre and splash it on a burger. And oh my gosh, what a burger it makes. But I would not suggest that you reach for a bottle of Louis XIII to make the sauce. A good bottle of XO Cognac will set you back about $30 and you will be delighted with the results!
3 teaspoons peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
12 ounces fresh ground beef
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 large shallot, finely diced
4 tablespoons Cognac
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 egg hamburger buns, sliced and the insides toasted
Dijon mustard (optional for garnish)
Thin slices of tomato (optional for garnish)
- Crush peppercorns with mortar and pestle or grind with rolling pin.
- Form ground beef into 2 patties. Season both sides of each patty with salt and 1 teaspoon crushed peppercorns, reserving rest. Coat patties with grapeseed oil. In frying pan over high heat, sear both sides of patty to desired level of doneness, about 5 minutes per side for medium-rare. Remove burgers and rest on paper towel. Remove excess oil from pan, and return to medium-high heat.
- Add butter and sliced shallot to pan. Cook until shallot softens, about 1 minute.
- Remove pan from heat, and allow to cool for 30 seconds. Add Cognac and return to heat. Bring to simmer. Stir and scrape bottom of pan to deglaze and create sauce. Simmer for 2 minutes.
- Add cream and remaining pepper. Simmer for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
- Arrange burger on bun, and pour au poivre sauce on top. Garnish with sliced tomato and/or Dijon mustard, if desired.
Wine pairing: I'd reach for a big and bold Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon to stand up to this powerful sauce. If you want to really feel it, try a PlumpJack.
|Grogs and Goldie, 1956|