Classic Bistro Steak Frites

Here it is, in all its simplicity: the perfect Last Meal steak frites, for two (though it could be doubled or tripled depending on your kitchen and equipment). The recipe includes a traditional compound butter for the steak (but this is happily and infinitely variable) and builds in the frites and arugula salad as well, so it’s all one recipe. It cuts not one corner, but I’ll offer notes on simplifying it for when you have only a half hour, or only 11 minutes.

Ingredients

  • 2 (6-ounce/170-gram) flat iron steaks (Âľ inch/2 centimeters thick)
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice (about ½ lemon), plus ÂĽ lemon for the salad
  • 8 tablespoons/115 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
  • 1 quart/1 liter vegetable oil, for deep-frying, plus more for sautĂ©ing
  • 2 russet potatoes, peeled and held in water to prevent browning
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 handfuls fresh, tender arugula
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
  • Fine sea salt to taste

Method

At least 3 or even 6 hours before you intend to cook the steaks, generously season them on both sides with kosher salt. Put them on a paper towel–lined plate, cover them with plastic wrap, and leave at room temperature until you’re ready to cook them.

To make the herb butter, in a small mixing bowl, combine the shallot and lemon juice and add a pinch of kosher salt. Let the shallot macerate for 10 to 15 minutes.

Add 6 tablespoons/90 grams of the butter. Mash it into the shallot with a fork, then add the tarragon and parsley. Using a stiff rubber spatula, mix it all together till the ingredients are uniformly combined and the butter is soft and creamy. (For a restaurant-style presentation, spread a 12-inch/30-centimeter sheet of plastic wrap on your counter. It helps to sprinkle the counter with water to hold the plastic wrap flat. Spatula the butter into the center of the plastic wrap. Fold the top of the plastic wrap over the butter and press your hand into the base of the butter to begin creating a log shape. Holding the plastic wrap at either end of the butter, roll the butter toward you, using enough tension to force the butter into a tight log about 5 inches/13 centimeters long. Twist and tie both ends and lower the butter into an ice bath to chill it and preserve its shape. Remove it from the ice bath before cooking the steaks so that it softens; you don’t want to put freezing-cold butter on your hot steaks.)

Heat the vegetable oil in a large pot or Dutch oven until it reaches 275°F/135°C on a deep-fry thermometer. Meanwhile, cut the potatoes into ¼- to ⅜-inch/6- to 9-millimeter fries. (If you want them perfectly uniform, use large potatoes and square off all six sides so that they are perfectly rectangular, then cut the fries from this block. If you are super type-A, use a ruler and Sharpie to draw a 3-inch/8-centimeter line on your cutting board, marked at ¼-inch/6-millimeter intervals as a guide, and pay attention to the angle of your knife. Most people have a left or right slant to their grip, so be aware of this so that you slice straight down. Take your time. Make them as uniform as possible. This is most easily accomplished if your knife is sharp. Make your first slice. Feel the sliced side. If it is rough, your knife is dull; if it’s smooth you’re working with a good knife.) The fries can be cut as much as a day ahead of time; store them in a bowl of water in the fridge. Some chefs even think this results in better fries as exterior starch granules fall off.

When the oil has come to temperature, add the fries. (If you’ve soaked them, spread them out on a towel to dry first; excess water can cool down the oil too much). Cook the fries until tender, 10 to 15 minutes or so, depending on your pot and the oil. They should remain pale. Carefully spread them out on a baking sheet lined with paper towels. These can be refrigerated or even frozen if you’d like to parcook them in advance.

Raise the temperature of the oil to 350°F/175°C (if there are a lot of potato fragments remaining in the oil, consider straining the oil so that the fragments don’t burn, then return the oil to the pot).

While the oil for the fries comes up to temperature, uncover the steaks and give each side several grinds of black pepper. Put a heavy skillet over high heat and let it sit for 3 to 5 minutes. If you have a grill pan, this is an even better choice. Not only do you get appealing grill marks, but the smoking fat rising from the grooves lightly smokes the meat for an actual grill flavor. When the pan is smoking-hot, add enough vegetable oil to coat the bottom of the pan. If you’re using a grill pan, just wipe the ridges with a couple of oil-soaked paper towels. When the oil is hot, lay the steaks in, pressing them down hard with a spatula (especially if using a grill pan). Then leave them alone. Don’t touch them or check to see if they’re sticking; they’ll release from the pan when they’re browned.

Once the steaks are in, return your potatoes to the Dutch oven to finish their cooking, 3 to 5 minutes, until golden brown.

Cook the steaks for 2 to 3 minutes. Turn them over, add the remaining 2 tablespoons/30 grams butter, and continue cooking for another 3 minutes, basting them occasionally with the butter. Push a finger into the steaks. They should give some and not offer much resistance for medium-rare (125°F/52°C if you want to use an instant-read thermometer). If they’re very squishy, they’re still rare (in which case, if you like rare, they’re done). When they are done to your liking, transfer them to a plate, where they will finish cooking as you complete the meal.

Put the arugula in a bowl. Drizzle it with olive oil. Squeeze the lemon quarter over it and toss. Gently season with fine sea salt. Taste to see if it needs more seasoning or oil. You can plate the salad now.

Stir the potatoes. When they are gorgeous and tantalizingly browned, use a skimmer to transfer them to a wide bowl lined with paper towels. Shake them in the bowl while seasoning them with kosher salt; this helps shake off excess oil and coat them evenly with the salt.

Put some fries on each plate. Add the steaks, topping them with a couple of tablespoons of the herb butter. (Save any leftover butter to toss with hot green vegetables or use it as a sandwich spread.)