The Pearly Gates of Paris: Steak with Tarragon Mustard Sauce and Oven Frites

10 years after a cliché, yet life-changing experience as a backpacker through Europe, I returned.  We went to Paris.  But, I didn’t have to stuff a pack into a locker and wear flip-flops in the shower.  This time, there were chocolates waiting for me on my pillow, along with the weather report for the next day.  I could get used to this.

What didn’t change was the good part.  The food.  The wine.  The cheese.   The cheese.  FYI – They just may be serving this cheese at the pearly gates of Heaven – Coulommiers Saint Simeon.  I don’t have a picture of the cheese unwrapped because we ate it too fast.  True story.

We found it at the most darling, yet no-nonsense, Fromagerie Barthélemy in the 6th arrondissement.  I was sure to reach back in my brain to speak the best high school/college French as possible.  Just looking at Madame Barthélemy, you could tell she wasn’t going to placate me after “lazy” American utterings of “Parlez-vous Anglais?”  It was only our second day and I was still getting my Franco-sea legs back, but I managed to point to the cheese along with a “C’est bon?” and was rewarded with an enthusiastic reply of “Oui, c’est très bon! Il est très crémeux. ”  Cremeux…creamy.  That, I knew we could get behind immediately.

We walked for miles.  We took pictures of the Eiffel Tower from every possible angle.  We strolled along the Seine.  We saw the Mona Lisa.  I imagined myself in a J’adore Dior perfume commercial while strolling through the expertly manicured gardens of Versailles.  And then something happened that permanently cemented itself into my conscious and subconscious.  The steak frites at Le Relais de l’Entrecôte.

First of all, I can’t stand making decisions, so this was the perfect restaurant for me.  After waiting in line for a table (worth it), we were seated and asked two things: how do you like your steak cooked and what would you like to drink?  Next thing I knew, a lovely salad with walnuts appeared with a zippy mustard vinaigrette.  Upon finishing the greens and sipping a glass of St Emilion, I took in my surroundings.  Steak and fries and smiles everywhere.  Maybe this would be at a station next to the cheese at the pearly gates.

The steak arrived pre-sliced and served table side with extra crispy frites and a gorgeous herb sauce.  Only half of the steak made it to the plate, while the rest sat nearby, covered and over a burner to keep warm.  Genius.  Just when I thought I couldn’t possibly indulge anymore, sure enough, the rest of the steak was served with another helping of those wonderful fries.

Once you cross a certain line, you just have to continue.  We did, after all, walk for miles that day.   Miles.  The meal of a lifetime concluded with espresso and a delicate pastry shell filled with rich vanilla ice cream, fresh strawberries and raspberries, whipped cream and almonds.

With a heavy heart, full stomach and suitcase full of souvenirs, including another pet (please meet Jacques)…

…it was time to leave Paris and rejoin the rest of our brood.

It took me about 24 hours to snap.  I had to have that steak again…with that sauce.  It didn’t look exactly the same, but when I closed my eyes I was back.  I can’t always take my meals in Paris, but my taste buds don’t have to know that.  C’est bon.

Steak with Tarragon Mustard Sauce and Oven Frites

3-4 beef steaks (such as sirloin, rib eye, shell or filet mignon), about 1 to 1.5 inch thick

2 lbs medium to large potatoes (such as Yukon Gold or Russet), washed and julienned

1 shallot, minced

1 tablespoon mustard

3 tablespoons butter

1.5 cup milk

2 tablespoons crème fraîche

½ cup tarragon, chopped

½ cup parsley, chopped

6 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees. Bring steak to room temperature.  Coat on all sides with 2 tablespoons olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Set aside while preparing frites.

Spread julienned potatoes in single layer on a baking sheet – or two – lined with parchment paper or foil and toss with 4 tablespoons olive oil (use more if necessary to evenly coat).  Place on rack in upper 3rd of oven.  Bake for approximately 30-45 minutes, tossing occasionally, and take out when nicely browned and cooked through.

Place large oven safe frying pan over medium-high heat.  Once thoroughly hot (after about 1-2 minutes) carefully add steaks to pan.  Sear for 2 minutes on each side and move to oven for approximately 4-5 minutes for medium rare.  Add a few minutes to cooking time if desiring medium or medium well.

Remove steak from oven, and rest for 3-5 minutes on a plate tented with foil.

Meanwhile, in sauce pan, melt butter and sauté shallot over medium heat until softened.  Stir in mustard and slowly whisk in milk.  Bring to simmer and whisk frequently to keep smooth while sauce thickens slightly – approximately 10 minutes.  Once steak is resting, strain sauce and return to pot.  Stir in crème fraîche, tarragon, parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper.  (Note: White wine could also be substituted for milk, ensuring it stays at a simmer and reduces to about ¾ to 1 cup before straining).

Take all juices accumulated from resting steak and add to sauce.

To serve, pour sauce over steak sliced against the grain with a heap of frites dusted with parsley and a salt.  Enjoy with a bold glass of red wine.

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