Whenever a fine chef makes steak Diane, he turns it into a major production number. Most often he will cook it on a chafing dish right beside your table. There are the sizzling sounds of the steak, the pungent aromas of the special sauce, and then the chef produces a bottle of cognac, splashes the cognac into the frying pan, touches it with a match and . . . it's showtime!
Okay, here's your chance to break into show business. But don't rush it. Just as the better Broadway show needs its out-of-town tryout, you'll want to run through this dinner a few times before trying it out for guests. Test your act on the less critical members of the immediate family. A misfired steak Diane will leave the match sputtering unromantically in a damp bog of sauce and spice. Or, worse, you may go down in flames, creating the kind of explosion more suitable to the White Sands Proving Ground than to the dining-room table.
The Staples: Make sure these are all on hand: butter, salt, pepper, garlic, basil, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, sherry, cognac.
The Shopping List: 2 pounds of steak, sliced thin and pounded flat (tell the butcher it's for steak Diane); shallots (or chieves, or scallions); parsley; 2 pounds of fresh green beans: lemon; an onion; 2 pounds of Idaho potatoes; fresh cherries.
We're keeping the side dishes as simple as possible tonight so that there will be nothing to distract you at the magic moment of ignition. It is possible to make steak Diane without the flaming finale, of course, just as it's possible to celebrate the Fourth of July without fireworks.
5:15 p.m.: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. While the oven is getting hot, carefully wash the potatoes. (Caution! No soap.) When potatoes are clean and still wet, salt them heavily. Some like to coat the skins with melted butter before adding the salt, but that is just gilding the lily.
5:30 p.m.: Put the potatoes on an open rack in the pre-heated oven. It should take about an hour to bake them. Rinse the string beans and cut off their tips. Put half-a-stick of butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Add two cloves of garlic, minced. Saute the garlic for 5 minutes with 1 medium chopped onion. Add the green beans, salt, pepper and a pinch of basil. Cook over a medium-low heat until beans are tender, then turn heat to low.
6 p.m.: There will come a time when you will be able to make the sauce for the steak Diane at the same time as the steak. Not tonight. Tonight we'll make the sauce in advance and add it at the last minute. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt half a stick of butter. Add a handful of chopped shallots (or chives, or scallions) and a few sprigs of parsley, chopped. Now a dash of salt and pepper, a couple of splashes of Worcestershire sauce, a small spoonful of Dijon mustard. Keep this warm. Test the green beans for tenderness; squeeze half a lemon over them.
6:25 p.m.: This is it, the big moment. Break a leg, as they say in show biz. The steaks must be thin and free of fat. Heat a heavy frying pan over medium-high heat; add a dab of butter and a steak. Each steak should be cooked for a minute or two on each side over high heat. (Caution! Add more butter if steaks start to stick.) Then place the steaks in a warm oven.
Put an ounce or so of cognac in a small saucepan over medium heat for a minute or so. Don't let it get too hot. Then pour it into the pan you used to fry the steaks. Match! Flames! Applause! Then, as the flames died out, add a healthy shot of sherry and scrape together the steak residues. Mix in the sauce you made earlier.
Test the baking potatoes with a fork. When the fork passes easily through the potatoes, they're ready.
Gently spoon the sauce over each steak and allow some to drop onto the potatoes. If all this has worked perfectly, there may be a curtain call or two. But if it hasn't, you simply follow the oldest culinary tradition of them all: The dinner must go on.