One of my first memories of a good French meal involves Steak Marchand de Vin. Too late for lunch, I stopped one day at a bar where steak-frites was the only choice. The proprietor took out his pan and fried up fresh steaks as I watched, fascinated. After a quick sizzle on each side, he transferred the meat to plates and went to work on the sauce. In went a dusting of chopped shallots and garlic, and then came the wine, poured from an open, unlabelled bottle. But we were in Burgundy, and that bottle had a pedigree. Before my eyes the wine was boiled almost to a glaze to concentrate and mellow the flavor – the key step, I discovered, when I went home and tried it myself. Fresh herbs and cubes of cold butter, swirled in the warm sauce until melted, completed the dish.

Serves 4

  • 4 individual steaks, cut 2cm/¾in thick, such as fillet, T-bone, French ‘entrecôte’ (rib)
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 300ml/½ pint/1¼ cups red wine
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chives
  • 1 tablespoon chopped tarragon or basil
  • 2 tablespoons cold butter, cut in pieces

1.  Season the steaks on both sides with pepper and a very small pinch of salt. Heat half the oil in a heavy frying pan, add the steaks and fry over a high heat for about 2 minutes, until brown. Turn the steaks, lower the heat to medium, and continue cooking for 2-5 minutes, depending on their thickness and how well you like them done. To test the cooking of a steak, press the meat in the center with your finger (don’t worry, it won’t burn you). If soft, the steak is rare, if slightly resistant, the meat will be medium, and if firm it is well done (and likely to be dry). Remove the steaks to a dish, cover with foil and keep warm.

2.  Heat the remaining oil in the pan, add the shallots and the garlic and fry, stirring for 1-2 minutes until they begin to brown. Pour in the wine and simmer for 2-3 minutes, stirring and scraping to dissolve the pan juices, until the wine is reduced almost to a glaze. Stir in the parsley, chives, tarragon or basil and any juices that have run from the meat. Take the pan off the heat. Whisk in the butter a few pieces at a time so that it softens and thickens the sauce without melting to oil. Taste and adjust the seasoning, spoon the sauce over the steaks and serve at once.

On the Side: We must have some chips/French fries, cut skinny the way the French like them, and add a green salad if you like.

In the Glass: Pour your favorite red wine, bearing in mind that one glass for a prime steak will probably not be enough. If you are planning on something simple, by all means use the same wine when you make sauce, but if this is a special bottle, keep it strictly for drinking. The nuances of a fine vintage will be lost as soon as the wine is heated.

Variations on Steak Marchand de Vin: Steak Marchand de Vin is a basic recipe that is wonderfully easy to vary.
Mediterranean Steak Marchand de Vin: Omit the chives and tarragon and use flatleaf instead of curly parsley. Double the amount of garlic and add a finely chopped anchovy fillet with the red wine.
Steak Dijonnaise: Substitute white wine, preferably Chardonnay, for the red wine. After adding the herbs, take the pan from the heat and whisk in 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard and 150ml/5fl oz/2/3 cup heavy cream. Bring the sauce just back to a boil, take off the heat and whisk in the butter. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more mustard if you like.

From Good Food No Fuss by Anne Willan, 2003
Photo CREDIT: Simon Wheeler