From America's Test Kitchen Season 3: Bistro Basics
Steak au poivre is often nothing more than uninspired skillet steak. We were after the real thing—a perfectly cooked steak with a well-seared crust of pungent, cracked peppercorns and a silky sauce. The trick to successful steak au poivre is coating just one side of the steaks with peppercorns and cooking the steaks on the uncoated side as long as possible to promote browning and prevent scorching of the peppercorns. With the first side browned, the steaks can be flipped and cooked for less time on the peppered side. Pressing the steaks with a cake pan once they have been placed in the hot skillet ensures that the peppercorns stick. After the steaks were done to our liking, we made a simple pan sauce with a mixture of beef broth and chicken broth that we first reduced, then flavored with brandy and lemon juice. Cream made the sauce luxurious and gave it some substance; butter whisked in at the end brought silkiness.
To save time, crush the peppercorns and trim the steaks while the broth mixture simmers. Many pepper mills do not have a sufficiently coarse setting. In that case, crush peppercorns with a sauté pan or rolling pin, (see below).