- The Washington Times - Monday, December 19, 2005

Back in the early ‘70s, when I was a young chef working in the kitchen at the fabled Maxim’s restaurant in Paris, the American ambassador to France at the time, Arthur K. Watson, often came in to eat. When he did, he often ordered the same main course from the menu: biftek hache au Roquefort avec sauce aux poivre vert.

At the time, I didn’t really wonder why. Lots of restaurant customers have favorite dishes that they’ll order over and over again. Chefs are far too busy working to stop and think about such things.

Only later, after I moved to the United States, did I realize that Ambassador Watson’s devotion to the dish probably came about because ordering it was an easy way to enjoy, although in a distinctively French style, an American classic for which he might have been homesick. After all, chopped steak stuffed with Roquefort and topped with sauce of green peppercorns and port wine is really nothing more than a fancy cheeseburger without the bun!

I thought of that when I began to offer my own version of the Maxim’s favorite as a special in my first U.S. restaurants. People loved it, especially because it was a food that, even though it seemed familiar, presented them with surprisingly sophisticated new tastes.

That’s why I hope you’ll try this recipe the next time you’re aiming to come up with something new for an inexpensive main course that can make any dinner special, whether you serve it on a weeknight to your family or on the weekend to guests. It’s a great way to enjoy ground beef - and one for which you don’t need to use any boxed convenience foods to help the meat along.

You’ll get the best flavor and texture if you start with good quality beef, of course. I like to use ground beef fillet or trimmings from New York steaks, which good butchers should have on hand. Ask your butcher to grind the meat coarsely for you. If all that’s available is pre-ground beef, however, the recipe will still work fine.

You can also easily vary the recipe to suit your own tastes or imagination. One of my favorite variations is to do an Italian version, substituting a milder cheese, such as Fontina or mozzarella, and serving the stuffed burgers with a fresh, garlicky tomato sauce. Or try making them with mild Cheddar and barbecue sauce.

Any way you prepare them, serve the ground steaks with mashed or baked potatoes or French fries. For that matter, feel free to acknowledge the recipe’s American spirit and serve them, sauce and all, on good quality hamburger buns!

GROUND STEAK WITH ROQUEFORT CHEESE AND GREEN PEPPERCORN SAUCE

Serves 6

3 pounds (1.5 kg) coarsely ground beef

2 eggs, lightly beaten

2 shallots, minced

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

3/4 cup (180 ml) crumbled Roquefort cheese

3 tablespoons mild-flavored vegetable oil

1 cup (250 ml) port wine

3 to 4 tablespoons bottled green peppercorns, drained

1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream

1/4 pound (125 g) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1/4 cup (60 ml) finely chopped Italian parsley or fresh chives, optional garnish

In a bowl, thoroughly stir together the ground beef, eggs, shallots and salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Divide the mixture into 12 balls of equal size.

With your thumb, make an indentation into the center of each ball. Stuff each hole with 1 tablespoon of the crumbled Roquefort cheese. Then pinch the hole closed and flatten the ball slightly to form a plump patty.

Heat a heavy skillet, large enough to hold all the patties, over medium-high heat. Add the oil and, when it’s hot enough to flow freely, place the patties in the skillet. Saute the patties until they’re nicely browned and the cheese is melted, but the meat is still rare, 3 to 4 minutes per side.

Transfer the patties to a heated platter and cover them with aluminum foil to keep them warm. Pour off the fat from the pan. Return the pan to the heat, add the port and stir and scrape with a wooden spoon to deglaze the pan deposits. Add the peppercorns and cream. Simmer briskly, stirring frequently, until the sauce is thick enough to coat the spoon, 7 to 10 minutes. One small piece at a time, whisk in the butter.

To serve, place two patties on each heated dinner plate. Spoon the sauce generously around them. If you like, garnish each serving with chopped parsley or chives.

(Chef Wolfgang Puck’s TV series, “Wolfgang Puck’s Cooking Class,” airs Sundays on the Food Network. Also, his latest cookbook, “Wolfgang Puck Makes It Easy,” is now available in bookstores. Write Wolfgang Puck in care of Tribune Media Services Inc., 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, N.Y. 14207.)

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