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Lava cake may be the obvious choice for dessert, but what entree are you serving for your special someone this Valentine’s Day? Go for something you wouldn’t normally make in your dinner rotation, like steak paired with oven fries. This particular pan-seared steak recipe, from America’s Test Kitchen, doesn’t require a fancy grill. You can cook the meat directly over your stovetop with the frying pan you already own. What makes it exceptional is the buttery red-wine-based glaze that’s made from the leftover browned bits in your pan. That crusty stuff is called fond, and it’s basically concentrated flavor. So, stop scrubbing it off your pan; instead, let the shallots and sugar melt it effortlessly off to form the best steak sauce you’ve ever had.

Pan-Seared Steak with Red Wine Pan Sauce

(Serves 2)

Why This Recipe Works: For a pan-seared steak recipe with a full-bodied, complex steak sauce, we cooked the steaks in a high-quality, heavy pan, reducing the heat to prevent burning and moving the steaks only once. By adding a few extra ingredients to the traditional trio of wine or brandy, stock, and butter, we transformed canned stock into a luxurious, refined sauce for our meat.

Notes for the Cook: Pan sauces cook quickly, so prepare the ingredients before you begin cooking the steaks. Use a heavy skillet with a nonreactive cooking surface.

Ingredients:

  • 2 boneless 8-ounce rib-eye steaks or top loin steaks, 1 to 1 1/4 inches thick, thoroughly dried with paper towels
  • 1 small shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine, such as cabernet sauvignon
  • 1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves

Directions:

1. Heat heavy-bottomed, 10-inch skillet over high heat until very hot, about 3 minutes. Meanwhile, season both sides of steaks with salt and pepper.

2. Lay steaks in pan, leaving 1/4-inch of space between each; reduce heat to medium-high, and cook without moving until well browned, about 4 minutes. Using tongs, flip steaks; cook 4 minutes more for rare, 5 minutes more for medium-rare, and 6 minutes more for medium. Transfer steaks to large plate and tent with foil to keep warm.

3. Off heat, add shallot and sugar to empty skillet; using pan’s residual heat, cook, stirring frequently, until shallots are slightly softened and browned and sugar is melted, about 45 seconds.

4. Return skillet to high heat, add wine, broth, and bay leaf; bring to boil, scraping up browned bits on pan bottom with wooden spoon. Boil until liquid is reduced to 3 tablespoons, about 4 minutes. Stir in vinegar and mustard; cook at medium heat to blend flavors, about 1 minute longer.

5. Off heat, whisk in butter until melted and sauce is thickened and glossy. Add thyme and season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove bay leaf, spoon sauce over steaks, and serve immediately.

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(Photos via America’s Test Kitchen)