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Eric Akis: Splash of butter beefs up the taste of grilled steak

Ever wondered why beef steak tastes better when you eat out? One word: butter.
A rib eye steak, grilled, plated and rich adorned with Café de Paris butter. ERIC AKIS A rib eye steak, grilled, plated and rich adorned with Café de Paris butter. ERIC AKIS

If you’ve wondered why that beef steak you enjoyed in a steakhouse, bistro or other fine-dining establishment tasted more divine than your home-cooked one, it’s likely all about the butter.

Sometimes, after cooking and plating a steak, to give it an added hit of richness, a chef might simply brush the meat with a little warm, clarified butter before sending it out to the dining room. Other times a chef may choose to top the steak with a butter sauce or a compound butter.

With regard to the latter two items, for a quite long while, popular, full-of-flavour choices have been Café de Paris sauce, and Café de Paris butter.

Lore suggests that a man named Mr. Boubier, who at that time owned Restaurant du Coq d’Or in Geneva, Switzerland, invented Café de Paris sauce in the 1930s. He served his butter-based sauce with grilled beef, entrecôte (rib eye steaks), in particular.

The sauce became popularized when Boubier shared his secret recipe for it with his son-in-law, Arthur-François Dumont, who owned a Geneva restaurant called Café de Paris. Dumont put the dish on the menu, called it entrecôte Café de Paris, diners loved it and it’s still served and enjoyed today.

Chefs in other parts of Europe, and eventually other parts of the world, came up with their own versions of the buttery sauce. That, in turn, inspired a chef somewhere to create a compound butter called Café de Paris butter that had a similar flavour profile.

Mixing soft butter with other ingredients is how compound butter is made. It’s often formed into a log, chilled until set and, with regard to beef steaks, then sliced and set on the meat just before serving it.

Café de Paris butter, like Café de Paris sauce, became widely popular and it’s obviously because it’s enticingly aromatic and has a memorable, robust flavour that marvellously lifts the taste of a beef steak.

There are now countless recipes for Café de Paris butter and no two seem exactly the same. But flavouring butter with such things as herbs, spices, capers, Worcestershire sauce, anchovies, curry powder, shallots and garlic is how it’s typically made and how I made it for my recipe.

I sliced and set the butter on rib eye steaks, but other cuts, such as strip loin and top sirloin, will also work. I served the steaks with asparagus and steamed B.C. nugget potatoes, vegetables that were also enhanced by the butter.

Grilled Steaks with Café de Paris Butter

Beef steaks, which could be rib eye, strip loin or top sirloin, grilled, plated and richly adorned with a full-of-flavour compound butter.

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: four to eight minutes

Makes: four servings

1/4 lb. soft butter

1 Tbsp finely chopped shallots

1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh tarragon (see Note)

1 Tbsp finely chopped parsley

1/2 to 1 tsp anchovy paste, or 1 to 2 anchovies, finely chopped

2 tsp capers, minced

1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest

1 small garlic clove, minced

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1/2 tsp mild curry powder

1/4 tsp paprika

4 (about 1-inch thick) rib eye, strip loin or top sirloin steaks

• olive oil

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place butter in a bowl and beat until lightened. Add the shallots, tarragon, parsley, anchovy, capers, zest, garlic, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, curry powder and paprika and mix to combine.

Tear a 12-inch long piece of plastic wrap and set flat on a work surface. Set butter in the centre of the plastic wrap, forming it into a one- and half-inch thick, five- to six-inch long log shape. Roll the butter in the plastic wrap and twist the ends to seal. Refrigerate the butter until set. Butter can be made a day or two before needed.

When ready to cook the steaks, remove butter from the refrigerator, unwrap and cut into eight slices. Heat your barbecue or indoor grill to medium-high. Pat steaks dry with paper towel. Brush each steak lightly with olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Now grill to the desired doneness, allowing about 2 to 3 minutes per side for rare, and 3 to 4 minutes per side for medium rare to medium. Plate the steaks, immediately top each one with two slices of butter, and then serve.

Note: Fresh tarragon is sold in the produce section of many supermarkets. If you can’t find it, replace with 1/4 to 1/2 tsp dried tarragon.


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