Saturday, July 08, 2006

Diane

There's a very American steak dish called Steak Diane, usually involving a pan-fried steak, and a pan-sauce with cognac (possibly flambeed) and some other things. It was more popular 40 years ago, before the advent of Americans eating Thai food and carb-free salads, but it's still an interesting, flavorful, and quick dinner. It's origins are obscure, and different sources give different explanations.

Foodtimeline.org has a well-researched set of citations of early versions of Diane. For example, Larousse Gastronomique (authoritative late 19th-century French cookbook) says:
Diane, a la
The description "a la Diane" is given to certain game dishes that are dedicated to the goddess Diana (the huntress). Joints of venison a la Diane are sauteed and coated with sauce Diane (a highly peppered sauce with cream and truffles). They are served with chestnut puree and croutons spread with game forcemeat.
Which is fine, except that the modern sauce Diane has no truffles and is not particularly high in pepper, and many versions have no cream. And, of course, it's not used with venison, and I don't even want to think about game forcemeat. So I'm not convinced the modern dish has anything in common with this old recipe. Instead, I'm more inclined to believe the second story told there, and by James Beard, that Steak Diane is an American (New York!) dish, with origins in Steak au Poivre and the tableside drama of flambeeing.

There are a number of variations, such as whether the steak is pounded thin or not, whether the alcohol is flambeed or not, whether there's cream in the sauce or not. Here are two recipes that flambe, and one that doesn't. And there are a wide selection of recipes for chicken Diane as well. Here are parallel recipes for my versions of Steak and Chicken Diane that don't pound, flambe, or include cream, but are very good and easy. The chicken uses Mark Bittman's sear-and-steam approach, which I rather like, while the steak is just a standard saute. Credit goes to Joy of Cooking and Cooks.com for the basic recipes.

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