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A goddess steak

"stories and recipes are like sauce in a pan: they move differently in each telling and in each pair of hands. A recipe is advice, but also an invitation. That said, to move freely, a starting point is required." Rachel Roddy

From little things (the starting point) big things grow - or, in this instance, from the cover of the July Coles Magazine comes a ramble from Rosemary - not a big thing to the world, but a big thing to me, as I will, hopefully, have created something almost worthwhile at the end of it all. And I don't mean a dinner of Steak Diane. Not today anyway. Maybe later this week.


The recipe in the magazine has three top people associated with it - the recipe maker - Sarah Hobbs, the photographer Ben Dearnley and the stylist Emma Knowles. All three at the top of their field in Australia I think. Which is why I think the Coles Magazine at least looks classier than the Woolworths one. But that's an aside too. I notice such trivia.


I am no good at cooking steak. There I've said it, as my son would say. However, the closest I have come to at least a halfway good steak is Steak Diane using Jill Dupleix's recipe. Having not been able to find it initially online, and then finding the recipe but no picture I wondered where it came from, but I have just discovered it was in a long ago delicious. magazine. No doubt it's perched up high and out of reach in my kitchen. But never mind I think I printed it out, and anyway the recipe is indeed online. So I can make it again whenever I want. Or I could try a different version.


Jill Dupleix has one very pertinent piece of advice to offer which should be heeded, however:


"Get everything ready beforehand, because once you start, it’s all go-go-go until you hit the table.” ... [serve with] spuds, a green salad, rice, wilted spinach, green beans, zucchini - or whatever is sitting in the fridge when you open the door.” Jill Dupleix


Sorry that was an unnecessary bit of waffle.


Back to Steak Diane and then to my fundamental questions and musings, which don't actually have anything to do with the cooking of the dish.


The dish is very simple and very quick, which is why I included it in a cookbook I made for my two daughters-in-law called Rapid Recipes for Chicks on the Run. Fundamentally you cook your steak, take it out and rest it. Then you make a sauce with a sliced or diced shallot, some garlic, to which you add - in varying order according to whose recipe you are using, some tomato paste, some Dijon mustard, some cream, and some Worcestershire sauce. Then you add brandy - some say brandy and sherry, light it and pour over steak when the alcohol has burnt away, put it on a plate with the steak on top - very simple, as long as you don't set fire to yourself. Decorate with chopped parsley and chives. Watch this very short video from Gordon Ramsay to get the idea.


Of course, I looked for other versions, but found surprisingly few worth noting. Delia, for example - a lady of the generation which brought Steak Diane to prominence, did not have a recipe. But sort of surprisingly Adam Liaw did. I see that Gordon Ramsay added mushrooms, which sort of makes sense but is not traditional. But then this is not a traditional dish in the sense that any now fashionable but originally peasant dish is.


Coles heads the page on which the recipe features 'Retro revival'. 'Retro' in this particular instance refers to the bistros that were so fashionable back in the 60s to 80s, where you could eat prawn cocktails, French onion soup, beef stroganoff, chicken paprika and a daube, followed by crême caramel at a table with a chequered tablecloth and a candle stuck in a Mateus bottle. Oh happy days.

It was the kind of dish cooked by the flashier celebrity chefs of the day like Fanny Cradock, Keith Floyd, and, my personal favourite Robert Carrier. This is a picture of his version which I found in a wonderfully dated book called Cooking for You. You can't find his recipe online, but the one thing I will comment on is that he says in the recipe:


"The steaks should be very thin. Pound them out if necessary"

Looking at the Coles recipe and Adam Liaw's too you would have to say that that stricture has gone by the board. We like our steaks 'real', thick and luscious these days I think. Indeed Coles', probably sole reason for featuring this recipe, is the little box promoting the fact that:


"Coles was the first major Australian supermarket to launch its own brand of certified carbon neutral beef from farm to shelf."


Thus promoting their climate change credentials, and advertising one of their products in association with a luscious looking, and easy, dish. Two ticks for them.


However, interestingly, Gordon Ramsay's are thin too. Either way it's old-fashioned food, of which Jay Rayner says, having been locked up, as it were with Robert Carrier's Great Dishes of the World during COVID:


"Along the way I was reminded of a kind of cooking which, in the pursuit of the new, I had all but forgotten. And I fell in love with it all over again." Jay Rayner


Which is why I am currently trying to cook something from one of my old gurus' books every other week. Because I too am falling love once again with all those old tdishes that were once so exotic, but now so everyday, or so forgotten.


My main questions, however are who is Diane and who invented it?


Fundamentally nobody knows, but there are stories. The two main ones, well main in the sense that they are the most interesting, and therefore the most told, are centred on two different kinds of goddess.


The first is the Roman goddess Diana - goddess of the hunt and the moon. The picture is of a Roman fresco in Rome by the way. Some say she is Greek, but the equivalent Greek goddess is Artemis which has got nothing to do with the name Diana. The legends are the same though. For such an aggressive goddess she was apparently very modest, and when she was caught bathing nude by Actaeon she was so angry she turned him into a stag - hence the fact that she is often shown with a deer. Actaeon's own dogs then turned on him and ate him. Gruesome. Especially gruesome for a goddess who was also the goddess of childbirth - life and death in one persona.


The association with Steak Diane is with a French sauce called Sauce Diane (Diane being the French for Diana), which featured cream, truffles and lots of black pepper, and was a sauce for venison. Which makes sense. But I think that's quite a long leap to Steak Diane. Different animal, different ingredients - no truffles, only a touch of pepper, and with the addition of other things like brandy and Worcestershire sauce which is hardly a French condiment. I suppose we are still talking meat, and huntresses hunted wild animals, although beef is not generally thought of as wild. Even back in Roman times.


"Still others believe the sauce with steak Diane is completely unrelated to the French sauce Diane, and that the goddess' name was used to add a sense of history and mystique." South China Morning Post


Hmm. And if you go with Diana the goddess being the source somehow then why isn't it Steak Diana?

And actually the same could be said of the other major contender for the title of the dish - Lady Diana Cooper or Manners which is her maiden name - a society beauty of the early twentieth century. You can find the full biography on Wikipedia but the highlights are novelistic. Born into an aristocratic family, although fathered illegitimately by a writer, she became known in some circles as the most beautiful woman in England. Well that's a very personal judgement, but she's certainly pretty. She had a group of friends called the Coterie, mostly male and high society, and mostly all of them died in WW1. She married virtually the only survivor of the group, who eventually became the British Ambassador in France and a Viscount. And did I mention she was also a journalist and an actress? An interesting lady and one of the claimants to the title of Steak Diane, says he named it for her. The claimant Benianimo (Nimo) Schiavon, maitre d' at the Drake Hotel in New York said he invented it in Belgium with Luigi Quaglino. But again, why Steak Diane and not Steak Diana? Her name was Diana.


It also seems that a dish of the same name was around back in the 30s, mostly in New York, but also in England, some say Rio de Janeiro and the Australians also claim it for their own in the person of Tony Clerici, who said he had invented it whilst working in London. In a word there are heaps of claimants, and we don't really care, but I do wonder who Diane was. None of them say.


However, to misquote Claudia Roden's epigraph in her book Med: "Cooking is history in a saucepan". And it is. Not just for the origin mysteries, but also for the history of cooking, trade, agriculture, horticulture, politics, sociology ..., that brought us to the point of eating Steak Diane in a posh restaurant where they flambé your steak with panache at your table.


In the meantime find the recipe that sounds the best to you and cook and eat it. It's delicious. You don't need to think about who Diane was.

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