“Think of a dish that you would tell someone they had to have if they came to Paris,” I prompted. After what seemed like an eternity, Chef Gagnaire raised his head and said “Couscous!” “Couscous?!” Lara and I both exclaimed.
The chef had a point. Old-school Paris may be struggling with issues of cultural and national identity and some Parisians struggling with the city’s increasingly multiculturalism, however, Parisians have firmly embraced the food of the Maghreb and couscous is a common dish found in many bistros, cafés and take-away places across the city.
Having just been to Morocco, where I made lamb tajine, we couldn’t possibly settle on couscous, regardless of how multicultural Paris is these days. Once I explained this, without hesitation Pierre declared “Côte de bœuf!” Perfect. I had secretly hoped he’d say this.
Last year we had the privilege of being in Pierre Gagnaire’s Dubai kitchen for the night when he made one of his regular visits to his restaurant Reflets. That night, as Pierre’s head chef Olivier Biles fired orders of côte de bœuf (cote de boeuf) so colossal, so fragrant, and so delicious, I had trouble focussing on anything else going on.
Olivier would send out these huge chunks of beef in a cast iron pot surrounded by thyme sprigs burning like incense to show the customers their beef after it had been seared and before it hits the oven to complete the cooking. The aroma of the dish was amazing.
So after a long and very enjoyable lunch at Pierre’s Paris restaurant a couple of weeks ago, we strolled across to the chef’s office so we could get some advice on how to cook this great hunk of burning beef. Five minutes a side on the grill, ten minutes in the oven, and ten minutes rest, he said. Simple as that.
I asked Pierre about the thyme that I had also noticed being used in Dubai and he smiled and said that the thyme can go in the pan or in the oven with the meat. He also said he liked a little butter, a squeeze of lemon juice, and a touch of vinegar at the end.
The Chef’s was the first of many welcome pieces of advice I’d receive over the next couple of weeks on how to cook côte de bœuf ! There was “serve it with pommes frites”, “cook it bleu (rare)”, but the most common comment was just “ooohh, côte de bœuf!”
Pierre said he preferred to eat his with pomme noisettes (potatoes carved into a hazelnut-shape), pepper, a sauce béarnaise, and a fresh salad, or perhaps potato Dauphinoise, which is layered slices of potato baked in milk and/or cream and a little cheese.
What was most critical, he said, was that you had meat from a good butcher as Parisians liked to eat it rare and the quality was important. His favourite butcher is Hugo Desnoyer – the go-to guy in Paris for quality cuts of meat. The cut used for côte de bœuf is actually a bone-in ribeye steak, but cut very thick through the ribs.
I settled for a local butcher who had been recommended to me, some 200 metres from the apartment. The butcher first asked me how many people the beef was for and suggested a ‘double cut’, which is normal for a côte de bœuf for two – generally you can only order it for two. This was around 1.2kgs of meat and bone.
He then asked whether it was for the BBQ or the pan. As it was for the pan, he trimmed the bone off and expertly trimmed some of the excess fat that runs through the cut and tied the meat up with string, placing the fat back on the outside of the cut. Beautiful.
But before we left, he issued a stern warning: “Deux minutes!” indicating in true French mime style that I should cook each side for two minutes before placing it in the oven. “Dix minutes,” he continued, miming the resting of the beef by placing his hands flat. He was insistent, but that’s what I love about the passion of someone who loves their ingredients.
Before we get to the recipe, it must be noted I made a couple of adjustments to the side dishes. Instead of pomme noisettes or potato Dauphinoise on the side, I went with a rustic mash fortified with mustard and a drizzle of red wine sauce (I’d had a similar side dish at Le Comptoir and loved it), and for a vegetable side I couldn’t resist doing some of the fresh asparagus that was just hitting the markets.
I made a sauce béarnaise for dipping both the beef and the asparagus into. It is a delicious cut of meat but it is also an expensive cut of meat, so if you’re unsure about oven temperatures or how to judge the meat, use a meat thermometer. You don’t want to get this wrong!
Côte de Bœuf Recipe
Author: Stolen from Pierre Gagnaire’s Dubai kitchen – Reflets
Recipe type: Main
Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 25 mins
Total time: 40 mins
The cut used for côte de bœuf is a bone-in ribeye steak, cut very thick through the ribs. This cut is quite expensive and needs to be cooked no further than medium rare.
• 1kg (2.2 pounds) trimmed côte de bœuf (bone-in ribeye) at room temperature
• Salt and pepper
• 2 small bunches of thyme, tied with kitchen string
• 100g (3.5oz) salted butter
• Splash of olive oil
1. Make sure that your meat is at room temperature.
2. Heat an oven-proof sauté pan to high on the stove and set the temperature of the oven to 200˚C (395˚F).
3. Do not season the meat unless you want to steam it (and trust me, you don’t).
4. Add the butter and a dash of olive oil to the pan.
5. Pat dry the meat before placing it carefully in the hot pan. Add a bunch of thyme to the pan.
6. You want a good dark crusty exterior for the meat, so don’t move or turn it until you get it; this should take around 3 minutes per side, or 5 if you have a crappy electric stovetop.
7. Once both sides are cooked, I like to set the other bunch of thyme on fire, get it really smoking, add it to the pan, and partially cover the pan. This should take a couple of minutes to get a decent aroma through the meat.
8. Place the meat in the oven; it should be around 10 minutes to get to rare to medium-rare.
9. Remove the meat from the oven and rest covered in a warm place. Not you, the meat.
10. Traditionally, côte de bœuf is sliced at the table and served.
11. The next day if you haven’t finished the beef, you’re going to have the best beef and mustard sandwiches of your life!