Sauce vierge, an uncooked French sauce, combines tomato, basil, garlic, shallots, capers and Dijon mustard to liven up steaks, fish, chops and more. Here, it’s served over pan grilled strip steak. Recipes below.
Honestly, if you ask me what I like to put on my steaks, my usual answer is salt, pepper, a knife, a fork and my teeth. I’ve never been a bottled steak sauce kind of guy. And the first time I ordered steak at Tango Sur, an Argentine restaurant in Chicago, I ignored the side of chimichurri sauce for the first several bites. (It was delicious, of course, when I finally sampled it.) I have since made my own version of the big flavored, garlicky, slightly spicy chimichurri sauce many times.
Sauce vierge is a French uncooked sauce; the literal translation from the French is virgin sauce. There are countless versions of this sauce, but most (not all, though) include fresh tomato; they also call for some kind of green herbs, garlic, olive oil—and lemon juice, more often than not.
This sauce vierge is similar to chimichurri in its intensity. With garlic, shallot, capers and Dijon mustard all working together, it’s not exactly a first date dish. I’ve served it here with pan grilled steaks seasoned only with salt and pepper, but sauce vierge is often served over fish. It would also be delicious with pork chops or chicken. Marion suggested that it would also work well as dressing for a warm potato salad.
One recipe called for roughly chopping the ingredients and piling them on a cutting board (minus the oil and the mustard), then finely chopping and scraping them together to help everything blend. This sounded like a cool process. It wasn’t. After just a couple of minutes, I scraped everything into the food processor and pulsed it a number of times. Much better.
Grilled Steaks with Sauce Vierge
For the Sauce Vierge:
1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 plum tomato (or other medium tomato), seeded and diced
1/2 scallion, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon capers
1/2 jalapeño pepper, finely chopped (see Kitchen Notes)
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, lightly packed
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (plus extra, if needed)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the steaks:
4 New York strip steaks, about 8 ounces each
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Prepare the sauce vierge. Heat a small dry skillet or sauce pan over medium flame. Toast the coriander seeds until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer seeds to a bowl to cool completely. When they have cooled, grind them with a mortar and pestle, enjoying the nice lemon/sage smell as you do.
While the coriander seeds are cooling, prepare the tomato, scallion, garlic, capers, jalapeño pepper and basil. Combine them in the bowl of a food processor, along with the crushed coriander seeds, and pulse just until everything is finely chopped. You’ll probably need to scrape down the sides of the bowl a couple of times. Don’t over process—you want the sauce fairly chunky. Transfer mixture to a bowl and stir in the oil and mustard. Taste and season with salt and pepper. If the sauce seems impossibly thick, drizzle in a little more oil. But don’t add too much—you want your sauce vierge almost like a salsa, not runny.
Set aside for at least 1/2 hour for the flavors to combine. I took my steaks out of the fridge at this point and gave them the 1/2 hour to come to room temperature.
Cook the steaks. First, let me say use any method you choose. Grilling would be perfect, adding its smokiness to the lively sauce. Pan searing with oil and a little butter would also be good. I used a grill pan.
While the pan heats over a medium-high flame, brush the steaks with canola oil, then season them generously with salt and pepper. Brush the grill pan with canola oil, then add the steaks. Cook on one side for about 4 minutes, then turn them. Let them cook on the second side for 2 to 4 minutes, depending on thickness. Transfer to a platter and tent with foil to let them rest for about 5 minutes.
Transfer to individual plates and spoon some sauce vierge on each steak. Alternatively, you can place a ramekin of sauce vierge on each plate and let diners dip bites as they choose. If you spoon sauce over the steaks, use a light hand—it’s intense in flavor (in a delicious way, but intense nonetheless). You can pass the remaining sauce vierge at the table.
How spicy? For most of this year, the jalapeño peppers I’ve been getting have been pretty tame. So when I chopped up the half pepper for this dish, I included the seeds and the white ribs. When I tasted the mixture before adding oil, it was really pretty fiery. Adding the oil calmed it down quite a bit. It still had a nice kick, but not too much heat. Know your peppers and your heat tolerance; then either use the seeds or discard them.