A retro classic par excellence, steak Diane is poised for a return to the limelight – and not only because it’s perhaps best known for boasting no small amount of the theatricality innate to dining out that we’ve so missed in recent years. In the most classic iterations of the all-American dish, filet mignon is served flambéed tableside with Cognac, adding depth of flavor and jaw-dropping spectacle. With its rich, creamy, buttery sauce, steak Diane is comfort food with an edge, making it perfect for chef John Shields’ Loyalist, the sister restaurant just downstairs from his Michelin-starred Smyth.
It was a long, circuitous journey that brought Shields and his wife, pastry chef and co-owner Karen Urie Shields, to Chicago’s West Loop. After years of working in such renowned local establishments as Alinea and Charlie Trotter’s, the pair made the bold choice of declining to lead the opening of a Vegas outpost of the latter, instead absconding to Smyth County, Virginia to open Town House in 2008. There, a keen attention to local ingredients and seasonal flair landed the pair nationwide renown, and even earned John Shields a James Beard Award Semi-Finalist nod in 2011.
Upon their return to Chicago, the Shields spearheaded the double-barreled concept of Smyth and the Loyalist – the former a Michelin-starred establishment that seeks, the pair say, to “express ‘farm on a plate’ – not in such a literal sense, but more as an idea.” The latter, meanwhile, is a bar and lounge inspired by the brasseries of France: good, hearty food and a convivial atmosphere. While the fare is certainly more casual downstairs, the attention to detail is anything but.
Steak Diane, to hear John Shields tell it, was a no-brainer addition to the menu of the more casual of the two concepts, thanks to it being “rich, indulgent and deeply satisfying with every bite.”
For Shields, it is also a dish near and dear to his heart – one that hearkens back to his earliest days as a culinary student.
“I first discovered steak Diane when I had to prepare the dish tableside during my first quarter test when I was training,” he recalls. “I had to prepare it in front of my instructors and all of my classmates. It’s a fond memory I have from my training.”
Of course, he’s updated the classic a bit from its retro roots. There’s no tableside flambage with this version of the dish, which begins, instead, with roasted maitake mushrooms. Confit in a generous amount of butter and infused with fresh herbs, they form the base of the rich sauce. The recipe below makes far too many for their stated purpose – and that’s a good thing: enjoy leftovers as a side dish, on a sandwich, or (let’s be honest) straight out of the pan. Just be sure to set four aside for the sauce base, which is also enriched with roasted garlic, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, demiglace (which Shields notes you can easily find online or at Whole Foods) and “a lot” of black pepper, an addition that balances out the richness considerably.
While a more classic steak Diane features the ultra-tender (and thus aptly named) tenderloin, Shields prefers a skirt steak for more flavor – yet another modern change you’ll soon see he was right to make.
While this steak Diane requires a bit of forethought, thanks to the roasted mushrooms, it’s also surprisingly easy to bring together, making it the ideal dish to transition easily from special occasion fare to Monday night supper. Making it for the family? Toss the remaining mushrooms into a serving dish, and it’s basically a one-pan meal. Having friends over? Invite them into the kitchen and flambé the Cognac, or serve the steak paired with lobster, as Shields does upon request, for a highbrow play on surf-and-turf that he notes he “honestly (sees) as a little Americana fun to add to the menu.”
Whether this steak Diane is being served to a crowd of friends or just your brood, however, there’s one technical element you won’t want to neglect: the steak’s temperature. Shields notes, “I prefer to serve the steak medium because the cut of the meat has the best texture when it is.”
The resulting dish, for Shields, is far from retro, but rather, quite simply, “timeless.”
The Loyalist’s Steak Diane
For the roasted mushrooms
- 1 pound whole maitake mushrooms, ends trimmed (enough to evenly fill the bottom of a large 12”x16” roasting pan or casserole)
- 1 pound butter, divided into sixteen pieces
- 10 whole garlic cloves
- 1 bunch fresh tarragon
- 1 bunch thyme
- ¼ cup good olive oil
- ¼ cup sunflower oil
- Sea salt to taste
For the sauce base
- 160 grams (1 cup) thinly sliced shallots
- 25 grams (1¾ tablespoons) butter
- 30 grams (2¼ tablespoons) cognac
- 500 grams (about 2 cups) heavy cream
- 25 grams (5 teaspoons) Dijon mustard
- 25 grams (1½ tablespoons) Worcestershire
- 27 grams (about 3 tablespoons) beef demi-glace base
- Black pepper to taste (a lot)
- 2 (3- to 4-ounce each) skirt steaks
- ¼ cup chopped capers
Preheat the oven to 400 ̊F. Lay 12 of the butter squares in a roasting pan, then add half each of the thyme and tarragon, to make a bed for the mushrooms. Place the mushrooms on the bed of herbs and butter, and scatter the garlic cloves all around. Season with the oils and salt, and pinch the remaining 4 butter squares over the mushrooms. Finish with the remaining herbs. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and cook 36 minutes total, turning halfway through cooking.
Set the mushrooms aside to cool until you can comfortably handle them. Remove the mushrooms and set aside, and mince the garlic cloves; set aside for the sauce.
To make the sauce, melt the butter in a rondeau or large saucepan. Sweat the shallot until softened, taking care not to brown it. Add the cognac and reduce until the alcohol has been cooked off; the pan will be relatively dry. Add the remaining sauce ingredients (including the minced, roasted garlic) and gently simmer until the sauce coats a spoon. Season heavily with black pepper.
Temper the steaks slightly at room temperature, and season generously. Sear the steak in a hot, heavy-bottomed pan to your desired temperature (we serve the steak medium rare in the restaurant). Rest the steak before serving.
To serve, heat 1 cup of the Diane sauce and add four of the maitake mushrooms, roughly chopped, as well as the capers. Heat gently. Slice the steak and place onto a large platter. Top with the warm Sauce Diane, and serve with a nice bright salad (and, if you’re asking Chef Shields, “maybe some French fries if you want to be a little, extra indulgent.”)
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