Peppercorn Sauce

updated Feb 12, 2024
Peppercorn Sauce Recipe

This spicy, slightly smoky, cream pan sauce is made from beef stock, peppercorns, shallots, brandy, and cream.

Serves2 to 4

Makesabout 1 cup

Prep10 minutes

Cook15 minutes

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Creamy peppercorn sauce poured over a steak, on a gray-blue playe, with a gray and white striped napkin, a bowl of the peppercorn sauce in the background, and a small white ramekin with whole peppercorns in it.
Credit: Tara Holland

Peppercorn sauce is a creamy, spicy, and lightly smoky pan sauce made from beef stock, peppercorns, shallots, brandy, and cream. Originating from the French dish steak au poivre, it’s traditionally created from the fond (the brown bits and residue) left behind from the seared steaks, which are packed with flavor.

Peppercorn sauce is a delicious accompaniment to a variety of proteins and vegetables — not just steak. To make it more versatile, this recipe doesn’t rely on fond. An extra tablespoon of butter added at the end makes up for the richness lost.

Quick Overview

How to Make Peppercorn Sauce

  1. Crush the black peppercorns. You can do this in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
  2. Cook the shallot. Cook the minced shallot in butter until softened, remove the skillet from the heat, then add the brandy or cognac. Cook until reduced by half.
  3. Add the beef stock and peppercorns. Plus add the green peppercorns and some of the crushed black peppercorns, then bring to a rapid simmer. Simmer until reduced by half.
  4. Add the heavy cream. And add the remaining butter, then simmer until thickened.
  5. Season. With salt and crushed black peppercorns, to taste.

Key Ingredients in Peppercorn Sauce

  • Peppercorns: We use two types of peppercorns for the sauce – whole black peppercorns and whole green peppercorns (read below why we use both types).
  • Beef stock: Beef stock amps up the flavor which pairs perfectly with steak. If you don’t have beef stock, you can use beef broth instead.
  • Heavy cream: This makes the sauce rich and creamy.
  • Brandy or cognac: Traditionally, brandy or cognac is added to the sauce. Bourbon makes a slightly left-field yet satisfying substitute, as the smokiness works well with the pepper. For a booze-free version, use a non-alcoholic brandy, or replace brandy with a splash of pear, peach, or apple juice.
Credit: Tara Holland

Which Peppercorns Should You Use?

We use two types of peppercorns for the sauce – whole green peppercorns and whole black peppercorns – for a contrast of flavor and texture.

  • Green peppercorns: Green peppercorns are commonly used in peppercorn sauce, as they are much milder, with an almost floral, aromatic flavor compared to whole black peppercorns, which are strongly spiced. Green peppercorns, although available in dried form, are commonly brined or pickled and sold in cans or jars, which yield a softer texture that works well with the sauce.
  • Black peppercorns: When using dried whole black peppercorns in this recipe, we recommend toasting them in a dry skillet over medium heat before coarsely crushing them to enhance the peppery flavor. It is not advisable to serve whole dried peppercorns in peppercorn sauce; they should be coarsely crushed or ground first. 

Helpful Swaps

  • If you are using exclusively dried peppercorns in this recipe, omit the brined green peppercorns and increase the whole black peppercorns to 2 teaspoons. Once coarsely crushed, add 1 1/2 teaspoons of coarsely crushed pepper (in step 4), instead of 1/4 teaspoon. Spice tolerance is personal, so it’s a sauce you should taste at the end and amend the dried pepper level accordingly. 
  • You could also use a mix of dried peppercorns, which bring different layers of flavor, or even add a 1/4 teaspoon of Sichuan or Aleppo peppercorns to level up your sauce. 

How to Thicken Peppercorn Sauce

As with any pan sauce with a fairly quick cooking time, this sauce doesn’t get very thick. If you prefer a slightly thicker sauce with a bit more substance, you can add a cornstarch slurry (cornstarch mixed with a little water) at the end, which is given as an optional extra in this recipe. 

What to Serve with Peppercorn Sauce

Peppercorn Sauce Recipe

This spicy, slightly smoky, cream pan sauce is made from beef stock, peppercorns, shallots, brandy, and cream.

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 15 minutes

Makes about 1 cup

Serves 2 to 4

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1

    large shallot

  • 1/2 bunch

    fresh chives

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    whole black peppercorns

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons

    whole green peppercorns in brine

  • 2 tablespoons

    unsalted butter, divided

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt, divided

  • 1/2 cup

    brandy or cognac

  • 1 cup

    beef stock or broth

  • 1/3 cup

    heavy cream

  • 2 teaspoons

    cornstarch (optional)

Instructions

  1. Mince 1 large shallot. Finely chop 1/2 bunch fresh chives until you have about 3 tablespoons. Place 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder and coarsely crush. Drain and rinse 1 1/2 tablespoons green peppercorns in brine.

  2. Place the shallot, 1 tablespoon of the unsalted butter, and 1/4 of the teaspoon kosher salt in a medium skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots have softened and are lightly browned at the edges, 2 to 3 minutes.

  3. Remove the skillet from the heat. Carefully add 1/2 cup brandy or Cognac. Return to medium-high heat and cook until reduced by half, about 1 minute.

  4. Whisk in 1 cup beef stock, green peppercorns, and 1/4 teaspoon of the black peppercorns. Bring to a rapid simmer. Simmer until reduced by half, about 3 minutes.

  5. Add 1/3 cup heavy cream and the remaining 1 tablespoon unsalted butter and whisk to combine. Bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until slightly thickened, 4 to 5 minutes. If you would like an even thicker sauce, mix 2 teaspoons cornstarch with 2 tablespoons water and add to sauce, whisking continuously. Cook for 1 minute more.

  6. Add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Taste and add season with more kosher salt and crushed black pepper as needed. Serve sauce spooned over steak, chicken, or grilled mushrooms. Garnish with the chives.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftover sauce can be refrgerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.