Steak Saute with Flaming Cognac and Cream Sauce

Why flambe? Well, there is the obvious reason…showing off. I love to gather everyone in the kitchen, turn off the lights, and every so slowly tilt the pan until the cognac ignites and flames shoot into the air.

What’s that? You need better reason than satisfying my pyromaniacal tendencies to try this recipe? Ok, Ok, there are other reasons to light this candle. How about:the flames caramelize the sugars in the cognac and burn off the alcohol. Flaming results in a smoother, sweeter sauce than just simmering the alcohol.

Of course, flames shooting towards the ceiling are dangerous. Safety tips: turn off the flame on the stove before adding the Cognac, to keep it from igniting early. Keep anything flammable away from the stove. Especially yourself – don’t wear loose clothing, and if you have long hair, make sure it is held back.
I don’t have to worry about long hair; I have to worry about keeping what little hair I have. Sigh.

Have the lid for the pan nearby. The quickest way to kill the flames is to cover the pan and smother the fire. Also, you do have a fire extinguisher in your kitchen, right?

Once the fire is dying down, shake the pan; this brings the alcohol to the surface of the liquid, where it will burn. Towards the end, you will have to shake the pan constantly to keep the flames going. When they finally wink out, your sauce is ready to go.

Have I scared you off yet? No? Good, because the result is delicious. Good luck!
And, no, I haven’t caught anything on fire with this recipe. I always wonder, when those flames are first leaping towards the ceiling, if this is the time I pushed my luck..

Recipe: Steak Saute with Flaming Cognac and Cream Sauce

Adapted From: Pam Anderson How to Cook Without a Book

Cook time: 15 minutes



  • 4 top sirloin steaks, 3/4 inches thick (About 1.5 pounds of beef)
  • 2 tsp kosher salt (1/2 tsp per steak)
  • 1 tsp fresh ground black pepper (1/4 tsp per steak)
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil

Sauce ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup cognac (Or other brandy. Don’t use the good stuff here)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • salt and pepper to taste

*For an overview, see my Saute with Pan Sauce basic technique 
1. Prepare the Steaks: Sprinkle the salt and pepper evenly over the steaks.

2. Prepare the pan: Heat the oil in the fry pan over medium-high heat, until the oil is shimmering and just starting to show tiny wisps of smoke. Swirl the oil to get a very thin coat on the entire bottom of the pan.

3. Saute the Steaks: Place the steaks in the pan. Shake the pan to get the oil under the steaks, then let sit for 3 minutes, or until well browned. Flip the steaks, and cook the other side for another 3 minutes, or until well browned. Remove the steaks to a plate.

4. Make the Pan Sauce: Turn the heat off. Turn the vent fan on, if you have one. Make sure you have a lid that will cover the pan nearby, to smother the pan if necessary. Add the cognac to the pan, turn the burner back on to medium-high heat, then carefully ignite the cognac by tilting the pan slowly until the fumes from the alcohol catch fire. (If you are the cautious type, ignite the cognac with a long necked click lighter instead of tilting the pan.) Let the flames burn down, shaking the pan when the fire gets low to keep the flames going as long as possible. Once the flames are out, add the cream. Simmer until thickened, about 3 minutes. Taste the sauce, and add salt and pepper until it is well seasoned.

Tilted just enough for the flames to start…
Keep shaking…
Thickened and ready to serve.

6. Serve: Serve with 1 tablespoon of sauce drizzled on top of each steak, and pass the rest of the cognac sauce at the table.

New York Strips or Ribeyes: Use the same instructions. Aim for 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of meat; any more than that and you will be crowding the pan. If the steaks are closer to 1 inch thick, cook for 4 minutes a side.

Herbs: Add a sprig or two of fresh thyme, rosemary or tarragon with the cream give a herbal flavor to the sauce.

Cognac is traditional in this recipe; it’s name is right there in the title, after all. But, any brandy will do. I use a VSOP cognac, because it is what I keep on hand to drink. But I, hesitate before putting it in the pan, thinking: Do I really want to use this for cooking? In other words, this is not the time to bring out the XO Excellence Premier Cru Cognac…the bottle of VS in the back of the liquor cabine, the one that has been open for a while, is just fine.

In spite of the fancy ingredients, and the impressive floor show, this recipe takes almost no time to put together. Keep that in mind when you need to wow someone on short notice.

What do you think? Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.

Related Posts:
Saute Basic Technique
Ribeye Steak Saute with Red Wine Pan Sauce
Chicken Breast Saute with Marsala Sauce

Adapted from:
Pam Anderson How to Cook Without a Book

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  1. A rookie question.. for us poor chumps who have electric stoves, can we ignite this with a lighter?

  2. @Tina L:

    Sure, you can use a lighter – just make sure to get a long-necked one.

    Which akes me think of restaurant meal where the specialty was flambeed food. It was done table-side by the waiters. They would light a match, and quickly draw their hand across the pan, igniting the alcohol in a fountain of flames. It was impressive, but I’m sure they didn’t have any hair left on their arms…

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