It was a humid, cloudy evening at around nine o’clock, and we were starving. Hana and I, waiting where Laurie’s street met a main West End vein, stood looking at the low, dark ceiling stretching above Glasgow.
‘There he is.’ I pointed at a tall figure coming along Bank Street in a buffalo skin coat.
‘Man it’s hot in this thing,’ were Laurie’s first words, jiggling the coat. ‘I’ll maybe just jump back to the flat and drop it…’
‘Can we just go to the shops, Laurie? We need some food.’
‘Alright, I am pretty hungry too,’ he agreed.
Forty minutes later, in Laurie’s little kitchen, we got to work on the meal. It was a strange room, mostly made up of wooden cabinets, which he complained there were far too many of. A sturdy wooden table and chairs fit snuggly in the centre, where most activity took place. While he seasoned the steaks and I cut potatoes, Hana tried to find a peppercorn sauce recipe to match our ingredients. ‘Do we have any brandy?’, she asked.
‘Hang on,’ said Laurie, and sped off, drying his hands on the way. He came back clutching a few jingling miniatures. ‘Whisky’ll do. Might even be nicer.’
When the smell of roasting potatoes had been seeping through the cosy room for a while, we got started on the sauce, nominating Laurie, one time veteran, to take the lead.
‘Okay,’ he said from over the frying pan, beginning to slide in the onions. ‘Is there a rough order to follow?’ As the ingredients hit the oil they let out a hiss and the sweet aroma mixed with the freshly crushed pepper.
‘I think shallots,’ said Hana. ‘Or onions, in our case. Then the brandy, or whisky. Then cream.’ She scrolled down a page on the laptop. ‘None of these recipes sound right.’
‘Yeah,’ I agreed from over her shoulder. ‘Sixty milligrams of cream?’
‘What would that be, a couple of tablespoons?’ Laurie slopped a little heap of cream into the centre of the pan. Me and Hana came forward watch.
‘That doesn’t look right,’ I said. It did look delicious though, as the small amount of cream began to brown at the edges, and flow around the pan.
‘Remember that’ll probably be for one person,’ pointed out Hana from my left.
‘Okay, I’m just gunna-’ Laurie tipped the whole container of cream in and started to stir the thick, bubbling liquid. As Hana and I sat back down Laurie began adding the pepper. ‘So, sorry, when should I put in the whisky?’
‘Now. Or before now actually,’ said Hana.
‘Okay.’ He added a couple of little bottles. ‘Should I flambé this?’
(Story continues at the bottom of the page)
Here’s what you need:
- A big branch or two of baby vine tomatoes
- A couple of handfuls of button mushrooms
- One free range slab of sirloin steak
- About 250ml of double cream (maybe buy a bit more, as this is added to preference)
- Two or three table spoons of black peppercorns
- Olive oil
- One clove of garlic
- Olive oil
- Three or so potatoes (if for mash – butter, milk, lemon and ground black pepper. If for chips, more olive oil)
- 50ml of brandy or whiskey
- Two shallots or an onion
Leave the steak out for about half an hour before cooking, to let it reach room temperature.
Season on both sides with olive oil, salt and pepper, pressing the meat afterwards.
Start to prepare any sides, like mash with a bit of lemon juice. Or charlotte potatoes; cut into strips, coated with hot olive oil, in an extremely hot oven for about twenty minutes (flip after ten).
Once the potatoes are very nearly ready: Get two thick bottomed frying pans and put them both on the hob (the smaller one on a lower flame).
In the smaller frying pan, heat up a large dash of olive oil and add two shallots and a clove of garlic, all finely chopped. Along with these – two big tablespoons of roughly crushed peppercorns. Still on a low heat, stir these around until softening.
On the other frying pan, which should be very hot by now, add your steak (nope, no oil) and leave it sitting. Push down the meat so it makes full contact, but resist from moving it, it needs to sear.
At around this point, stick a plate in the oven to warm.
Back to the sauce. Add the brandy and either light a match (and carefully hold it just above the warmed spirit until ignition) or leave the alcohol to boil. After a few moments, add the cream to taste – mix – and then simmer to taste and sight. Just imagine what you would want over your meal. When simmering, remove the pan from the heat to get a better picture of the consistency.
For the steak, flip after a minute or two and repeat until done to your liking. Remember to tap down the meat with a spatula each time you’ve flipped it, and never poke at it with a sharp implement. Once done, rest the sirloin on the pre-heated plate for a few minutes.
While waiting for the steak to cool a bit and for the flavour to expand, flash fry the mushrooms and tomatoes in the steak’s juice. And that’s you done.
This is a quick, filling meal that can be eaten for lunch, dinner, or even breakfast if you’re brave. Peppercorn sauce, I think, is just wonderful – so smooth and rich and peppery. And a lovely potato side (whether light mashed potatoes or crunchy chips) goes perfectly. A salad with a simple dressing works well too. However, it’s the quickly fried mushrooms, tomatoes and steak that really seal the deal for me. The remnants of the steak add such a dark, foreign flavouring to the vegetables. Shame sirloin’s so expensive…
‘I’m going to flambé it.’ Easing the edge of the frying pan into the hob’s flame the top layer caught alight. ‘Woah!’ Sloshing the blazing liquid around, Laurie started about the kitchen. ‘How do I-?’ Holding the pan at arm’s length, he threw open cupboards doors. From a lower one, he rose clutching a pot lid. After suffocating the flame, the pan was back on the hob. ‘That doesn’t seem to have done too much damage,’ said Laurie, poking at it with a spoon. His stomach gave an excited grumble.
It was a blessing that this is an incredibly quick meal, as I don’t think the three of us could have held out much longer. Apart from the chips, it only took about ten minutes. And would have taken less if we’d known what we were doing. It always feels oddly satisfying – with a hint of impossibility – when a meal takes four times as long to eat as it does to cook.