Why do restaurants in Eugene still have Steak Diane on their menus? I own a house built in 1947. I know from mid-century vintage. Our house has sound plaster-n-drywall walls, sketchy wiring, not enough insulation, a firm foundation and a low profile. We’ve done some basic upgrades to make the best of a great structure, and we love it all the more. My call to you, Eugene Restaurants, is to do the same.
Steak Diane is not aging gracefully in these times of fresh, bright flavors and a wealth of grains and local vegetables. There’s nothing wrong with the basic structure, but there are some outmoded flavors at work here. The butter sauce is snoresville (and not to mention even more unhealthy than the steak it rode in on). Let’s put this old gray mare out to pasture.
What exactly is Steak Diane? A reference librarian on Food Timeline has culled various sources, including this one:
Evidence suggests Steak Diane is an American invention of the late 1950s/early1960s, when French cooking (think Julia Child & the Kennedy White House menus) was all the rage. Rich wine sauces and flamboyant presentation were the norm for many top restaurants. If Steak Diane is an American recipe, then New York City is the most likely place or origin. Jane Nickerson’s article “Steak Worthy of the Name,” (New York Times, January 25, 1953 p. SM 32) offers three likely candidates: “The Drake Hotel, the Sherry-Netherland Hotel and the Colony Restaurant each said, not knowing that any other dining place had done so, that their patrons praised their steak Diane. Nino of the Drake claimed he was the first to introduce this dish to New York and, in fact, to the entire United States. Essentially it consists of steak cooked in butter and further seasoned with butter mixed with fresh chives; usually the beef is pounded thin. The chef of each establishment has his own version.”
So basically, it’s steak fried in butter, with butter sauce. There’s also the flambé nonsense, which isn’t mentioned in the quote above, but makes its outmoded presence known on the webpage. Egads.
Eugene restaurants add mushrooms and shallots to the recipe, so the dish is not only NOT Steak Diane, it has warts. Now, before you go medieval on my tush (or rather, mid-century on my tush), please know I don’t have anything against this kind of thing. I like steak. I like mushrooms. But are we doing anyone a favor by taking up a place on menus all over town with it? Let’s reconceive steak in all its glory. I feel this move is especially important now that local, grassfed beef is surging in popularity…even with former vegetarians who had cut out beef for ethical and sustainable farm issues.
There are thousands of combinations to sauce a slab of steak. One of my favorites is also a classic, but still retains a contemporary charm, unlike Steak Diane. I like to quickly chop up an Italian gremolata: a tablespoon of lemon zest, a large bunch of parsley, 3-4 garlic gloves and some sea salt all minced together finely. I grill a steak (or rather, Retrogrouch grills it), let it sit for a few minutes to redistribute the juices, top it with portions of the mini-salad gremolata, and serve. This works just as well with a flavorful cut like a flank steak as it does a tender, mild cut like a filet. It even works on pot roast.
Go green! A creative chef, I am certain, could make many variations on this herby option. Heck, even an uncreative chef could turn to other areas of Europe for inspiration. My simple gremolata topping is just one example of a green sauce. Not only are there several Italian green sauces, there are a French version, a fascinating Georgian one in my Culinaria Russia cookbook, and German green sauces that prove lovely accompaniments to roasted or grilled meats.
The German classic green sauce, a specialty of Frankfort, features a panopoly of herbs and some chopped hardboiled egg and oil. Even Goethe loved it. It would still appease the old guard, and appeal to the rest of us, who won’t shell out for a dull butter and mushroom sauce aging one of your highest ticket items.
Please, I beg you, air out the old house of Diane! Fix her wiring! Plumb her plumbing! Sand her floors and paint her sills! She’s got a strong foundation; she just needs some minor touch-ups.