French classic recipe: How to make steak frites

Chris Bonello is head chef at Shannon Bennett's Melbourne Bistro Vue on Collins Street.
Chris Bonello is head chef at Shannon Bennett's Melbourne Bistro Vue on Collins Street. Photo: Getty Images/Josh Robenstone

Whether you’re in Montmartre, the Marais or Melbourne, bistro menus are likely to list lesser-known secondary steak cuts typically dished up with tangy tarragon-flecked béarnaise, salty shoestring fries (or chunkier pommes Pont-Neuf) local greens and crusty white bread. Hanger steak (onglet), prized for its rich gamey flavour and resistance to the bite, is a long-time French favourite.

A week in the kitchen at Shannon Bennett's Bistro Vue in Melbourne sees a range of meticulously sourced meats from slow-cooked bolar blade to full blood wagyu tri-tip go under the knife, with a shopping list that reads over 300 steaks, 320 to 500 kilograms of potatoes (more in summer), 14 litres of béarnaise and 10 litres of salad dressing.

Executive chef Chris Bonello char-grills one of the most popular cuts for us – grain-fed Rangers Valley wagyu sirloin, marble score 4-5. Serve with béarnaise, watercress and pommes Pont-Neuf or pommes frites. A green side salad might be a mix of mustard greens, shaved fennel, baby cos, frisée, Swiss chard and baby beet leaves glistening in classic vinaigrette. Break a just-baked pain d’epi, smother in French butter and savour over a glass of red Burgundy.

A word on the great frites debate

Though centuries on the Belgians and French still battle for copyright, rumour has it the best frying potato is Canadian yukon gold with its waxy flesh and sweet flavour – a trademark variety grown in the kitchen gardens at Burnham Beeches, Bennett's development in Melbourne's Dandenong Ranges. Sebago or russet burbank also rank among chefs’ top choices. As for technique, hand-cut and triple-cooked at precise temperature wins hands down promising fluffy potato with long-lasting crunch.

Cooking the perfect steak

Serves 4

Ingredients

4 x 300g sirloin steaks, about 3cm thick (Bonello sources Rangers Valley wagyu)
Murray River salt flakes
Freshly cracked black pepper

Method

1. Pre-heat grill or heavy grill pan to a medium heat.
2. Season steaks well with salt and cracked pepper.

For rare steak: grill for two minutes, flip and cook for another two minutes then remove from the grill and rest on a warm plate for three minutes before serving.

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For medium steak: grill for four minutes each side and rest for four minutes.

For well-done steak: grill for six minutes each side and rest for six minutes.

Chris Bonello's tip: There's no need to oil wagyu but if your steak choice isn’t marbled, ply with extra virgin olive oil and season well. Or for even greater flavour slather on goose or beef fat.

Pommes Pont-Neuf

Serves 4

Ingredients

4 large sebago potatoes, peeled
4 cups cottonseed or grapeseed oil (high smoke-point is important)
1 tablespoon Murray River salt flakes

Method

1. Slice the potatoes into large rectangular chips – about four per potato.

2. Rinse chips under cold running water to remove excess starch.

3. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil, add the chips and cook for four minutes or until just soft.

4. Strain, transfer to a tray and freeze for 30 minutes. This stops the chips from breaking while frying.

5. Heat oil in a deep-fryer to 170C. Drop in the chips and cook for 8-10 minutes.

6. Remove chips from the oil and rest.

7. Just before you're ready to serve, bring oil temperature back up to 180C. Drop in the chips again, and cook for five more minutes or until crisp and golden.

8. Season with salt flakes and serve. Allow four pommes Pont-Neuf per person.


Pommes frites (thin-cut fries)

Serves 4

Ingredients

4 large Yukon Gold or sebago potatoes
4 cups cottonseed or grapeseed oil
1 tablespoon Murray River salt flakes

Method

1. Wash potatoes but keep the skin on for maximum flavour.

2. Process potatoes through a potato punch or simply cut into 1.5cm thick chips.

3. Heat oil in a deep-fryer to 160C. Drop in the chips and fry for seven minutes.

4. Remove chips from the oil and cool down.

5. Just before you're ready to serve, heat oil to 180C and fry chips again for two minutes or until crisp and golden.

6. Season with salt flakes and serve.

Chris Bonello's tip: Fry in duck fat for sensational flavour.


Clarified butter (for bearnaise)

You'll need to make your own clarified butter ahead of time before making bearnaise sauce and store it in the fridge. It keeps up to seven days.

To clarify butter

Makes 500ml (depending on the quality of the butter)

Ingredients

1kg Lescure or Pepe Saya unsalted butter (if unavailable use Danish butter)

Method

1. Place butter in heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat and bring to the boil.

2. As the butter boils, a scum of impurities will form on the top. Skim off with a spoon or ladle.

3. Once there are no more impurities rising to the surface, remove the pan from heat but keep in a warm place.

4. The melted butter will separate; clarified butter will rise to the top and milk solids will sink.

5. Remove the clarified butter with a ladle and discard the milk solids. Store in the fridge.

Clarified butter can be stored in the fridge for 7 days.


Bearnaise

Makes 500ml

Always make bearnaise fresh and use eggs at room temperature.

Ingredients

3 free-range egg yolks
50ml Le Jardin des Epices apple vinegar or chardonnay vinegar
400ml clarified butter, melted and still warm
Juice of 1/4 lemon
1/2 tablespoon of fresh French tarragon, finely chopped
Murray River salt flakes
Freshly cracked pepper

Method

1. Put egg yolks in a bowl over a pan of simmering water.

2. Add vinegar and whisk until yolks are pale and fluffy. The temperature of mixture should reach 62C.

3. Remove from the heat. Strain through a muslin cloth-lined sieve into a mixing bowl. Slowly add the butter in a gentle stream, whisking continuously until consistency thickens.

4. Add the lemon juice, tarragon and season to taste.

5. Keep covered, in a warm place until serving.

Chris Bonello's tips:

If the mixture gets too thick and looks like it's about to split, thin out with a little water and keep whisking.