For me the shallot really fires up when used in quantity in the classic of Bordeaux specialities – Sauce Marchand du Vin. Finely sliced shallots, sauteed off in the best butter you can find – most supermarkets now sell traditionally made baratte butter from Brittany with the coarse sea salt grains (some even from Guerande). ‘Baratte’ is the churning technique that makes genuine butter – it is a world apart from industrial butters bearing famous names.
Start by peeling and finely slicing a dozen or more shallots, depending on how many diners – this is good for two, so double up for four, etc. Next slowly sautee, employing the lid on, lid off method – it’ll take 20 minutes or so and you’ll love every moment as they emerge transluscent. Sieve in a tablespoon of plain flour – then good red wine – preferably a couple of glasses from the same bottle(s) you’ll be serving with the steak. As the sauce originates from Bordeaux, the choice is wide. A glass of flaming Cognac is another option to deepen the flavour.
As the wine begins to reduce, add a couple of ladles of rich stock – veal is best, but even chicken will do fine. It’s savouriness we are after. Season if you must at this stage with sea salt – never pepper please.
When the alcohol has cooked off and the sauce is close to ready, add couple of hazelnuts of the butter – swoosh the pan backwards and forwards, round and round until the butter has perfectly merged into the sauce – and so given it the elegant glaze that typifies Sauce Marchand du Vin.
Hold the sauce as you grill the steak – by rights it should be entrecote – the English call that fine cut the sirloin which sits the other side of the bone to the filet. It said sirloin comes from ”Arise Sir Lion”, as in Sir Richard the Lion Heart – that’s the beef traders’ story anyway – I pass it on for what it’s worth.
You know the form – steaks out of the ‘fridge for a good hour before – moistened with E/V olive oil. Bring the grill or pan up to top heat and then slide in the meat. For me it’s 3 minutes a side for ‘saignant’ (bloody) – longer for rare or medium rare – less for the pointless ‘bleu’.
Leave to rest on a board for 8-10 minutes. Then long slice on the diagonal and plate – finally nap with the rich Sauce Marchand du Vin and serve. To accompany – big frites, oven roasted in goose fat, haricots verts finished in olive oil seasoned with garlic – and some leaves such as you can find in your garden or in the shops – walking on by from those nasty bagged salads please.
There are dozens upon dozens of recipes for this sauce – most are rubbish – some even call for boiling onions and passing through a ‘Chinois’ – I had that translated for fun and the English text told me to ‘exit to China’. My version above is on the money.
So please, raise a glass of fine Bordeaux and toast the many marchands du vin who brought this sauce into being. Salut mes braves. Writing this piece has made me wish dear Keith Floyd was back at the stoves.
With Cheval Blanc in bond at £9,800 a case, there’ll be many a celebrating Marchand du Vin to be found too.