In chili-loving Madagascar, there’s a hugely popular hot sauce called ‘sakay’. It usually stars habanero chilies – fondly known locally as ‘the pepper even five men cannot eat’. In this Madagascar steaks recipe, we’re pairing sakay with griddle-seared sirloins, green peppercorn sauce, and two Madagascan salads.
This is such a glorious treat because the sauces and salads add a delightfully exotic dimension to the wonders of a thick-cut, fast-cooked steak.
Those wonders are spotlit by a host of contrasting flavors, starting with the fiery intensity of the sakay, and the much gentler subtlety of the creamily rich, green peppercorn sauce. Then there’s a very simple, citrus-and-vinegar marinated salad of red onions, tomatoes, and ginger that adds a tartly sweet and warmly brightening freshness. And our combo of contrasts continues with the rich, earthy tastes of waxy potatoes dressed in tangy sour cream, black olives, onion, and plenty of roughly chopped parsley.
Sakay – a real flames-and-embers sauce
In this easily made sauce, chilies, ginger, garlic, and limes produce a wonderful mix of two completely different types of heat.
With its intensity accentuated by the arresting zest, flesh, and juice of fresh limes, sakay’s immediate burst of surprisingly fruity fire comes from finely chopped, fresh habaneros. And then, like glowing embers beneath the leaping flames, generous amounts of ginger root and garlic introduce a smoldering, lingering warmth.
Add a little olive oil and some flavor-melding salt to the mix, let it sit for 30 minutes or so, and you’ll understand why sakay is regarded as an absolutely essential sauce in Madagascar.
For those who prefer something a touch less fiery, sakay is often made with another key pepper in Malagasy cuisine, pilo kely. Also known as pili-pili and peri-peri, this is the small, typically red, African bird’s eye chili with its distinctive snub-nosed taper.
Although not packing quite the same scorch as a habanero pepper, its significant heat does have a similarly fruity, slightly smoky undertow. Now, those African bird’s eyes can be hard to find, but fresh, red Thai bird’s eye chilies would be fine as a not-quite-as-hot substitute for habanero peppers (though they still pack a punch, often double that of cayenne.)
The creamily rich, green peppercorn sauce
This is a marvelously mellow counterpoint to our sakay’s seriously striking heat. It has a creamy, buttery richness that’s perfectly balanced by a touch of vinegar tartness and the low-and-slow burn of green peppercorns.
These corns are the younger, fruitier tasting peppercorns that turn darker as they ripen into more sharply peppery – and much more widely used – black peppercorns.
For our sauce, we’re using the sort of green peppercorns that come packed in brine. Why? Well, these are soft enough to be added to the sauce right at the end of its cooking. This means they hold their shape really well, and the corns keep their brightly fresh, slightly citrusy pepperiness. It also means they can be used whole as an attractive, popping garnish for your pepper-sauced steaks.
The two salads: lasary voatabia and potato salad
Lime juice, ginger, salt, black pepper, and a little vinegar turn a simple mix of sliced cherry tomatoes and red onions into a delight that’s more like a chunky, tartly fresh relish than a conventional tomato salad.
Known in Madagascar as lasary voatabia – pickle tomato – it’s sometimes served as a condiment, as a filling for a baguette, or in the guise of a ‘side salad’, which is how we’re using it here.
The key to making lasary voatabia, is to allow the tomato and onion to sit for 20 minutes or so in their marinating dressing of lime juice, vinegar, ginger, salt, and pepper. This sharp, tangy, and ginger-warm marinade softens the red onions, draws out their sweetness, and infuses them with a lovely pale pink color. The dressing’s acidity also reduces the fresh ginger’s immediate pungency and accentuates the depth of its peppery warmth. Its effect on the cherry tomatoes makes them slightly firmer and emphasizes their natural sweetness.
In terms of ingredients, the difference with our potato salad is that it features sour cream instead of the more commonly used mayonnaise. The sour cream’s additional sharpness then gets a little more tangy boost from plenty of halved black olives.
As for prepping this salad, the sour cream first gets mixed with diced red onion, finely chopped parsley, and a little salt. That combo is then added to the chunky potatoes while they’re still piping hot from being just barely cooked through in simmering water.
That heat matters because it increases the amount of flavor the potatoes absorb from the sour cream, onion, and parsley. At the same time, the heat from the potatoes is sufficient to sweeten and nicely soften the raw onion. And this melding of flavors continues as the coated potatoes cool to room temperature. Once that happens, you add the black olives just before you serve – so that they keep all their distinctive salty, bitter-sweet fruitiness.
Choosing, cooking, and presenting your steaks
For me, the steak most suited to being served with these salads and sauces is a sirloin. A close-run second would be a possibly richer-tasting ribeye, but sirloin has a closer-grained, firmer texture that slices beautifully and contrasts so well with the silky smoothness of the green peppercorn sauce.
Learn More: Ribeye Vs. Sirloin – How Do They Compare? (@ Fiery Flavors)
So, my first choice would be grass-fed, dry-aged sirloins, cut about one-and-a-third inches thick, with a lovely layer of fat running along one side. And before I think about starting to cook them, I like the steaks to be at room temperature and thoroughly patted dry with kitchen towel. Only then do I set a big griddle pan on high heat, so it’s ready to give the sirloins some char-inducing, high heat on each side.
While that pan is heating, I rub about half a teaspoon of olive oil over the sides of each steak, then sprinkle the oiled sides with a half teaspoon of ground sea salt. For the medium-rare sirloins I like, it’s then just a matter of searing the steaks for two minutes on each side – with the heat under the pan running on high all the time.
Leave the cooked steaks to sit on a warm plate for a few minutes, and then cut them on a big wooden carving board into third-inch slices ready for serving – straight from your board.
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Madagascar Steaks With Sakay, Lasary Voatabia, And Potato Salad
For the Madagsacan sakay sauce
- 4 habanero peppers medium size, fresh, red or orange, very finely chopped, seeds and all. (A medium-sized habanero will be about 1 ½ inches long.) For less intense heat, you could use widely available, fresh, red Thai bird’s eye chilies, each about two inches long.
- 3 tablespoons ginger root grated, skin and all
- 8 cloves garlic peeled and grated
- 2 limes juice, flesh, and zest from the limes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground sea salt
For the green peppercorn sauce
- 3 tablespoons green peppercorns in brine. I used the sort that come packed in a glass jar, and drained the brine from the peppercorns
- 1 red onion medium size, peeled, and finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic peeled and finely chopped
- 1 ½ cups whole-fat heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons whole-fat salted butter
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon ground sea salt
For the tomato and onion salad – lasary voatabia
- 1 ½ pounds red cherry tomatoes cut into ¼-inch slices
- 2 red onions medium size, peeled, halved, and cut into 1/8-inch slices
- 1 tablespoon ginger root grated, skin and all
- 1 lime juice, flesh, and zest of the lime
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground sea salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
For the potato salad
- 1 ½ pounds waxy potatoes unpeeled, and cut into bite size chunks. Russet potatoes would be just grand.
- 1 ½ cups whole-fat sour cream
- 1 red onion medium size, peeled, and chopped into ¼ inch dice
- 1 ounce parsley roughly chopped, stalks and all
- 20 black olives pitted and halved
- 2 heaped teaspoons ground sea salt
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground black pepper
For the steaks
- 2 pounds sirloin steak (about 1 1/3-inch thick is grand) with a fat layer on one side of about ¼-inch thick. To serve four, you could go for four steaks at 8 ounces each, but two 1-pound steaks would be my preference. Explain to a good butcher how you’ll be cooking the sirloins, and they’ll happily cut steaks to the size you want.
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons ground sea salt
Making the potato salad
- In a serving bowl that’s easily big enough to hold all the potatoes once they’re cooked, stir together the sour cream, diced onions, roughly chopped parsley, and 1 heaped teaspoon of salt. Set the bowl aside while you cook the potatoes.
- Add the chunked potatoes to a big saucepan with 1 heaped teaspoon salt and enough cold water to just cover them. Bring the pan slowly to a boil on medium-high heat, and as soon as that happens, drop the heat to low-medium and cover the pan.
- You want the potatoes to cook at a gentle simmer for about 10 minutes so that they just cook through. The point about a gentle simmer is that it helps the potatoes to keep their shape – give them too much rapidly boiling heat, and they’re liable to start breaking apart and turn a little mushy around the edges as they cook.
- Drain the cooked potatoes thoroughly in a colander and let them steam off for a minute. Now turn them into the serving bowl with your sour cream, onion, and parsley. Use a wooden spoon to gently turn the still-hot potatoes so that all the chunks get well coated with the mix. Take a little care with this so that you keep the chunks of potato as whole as you can.
- Set the bowl aside and let it cool to room temperature. Once that’s happened, you can carefully stir in the olives just before you’re ready to serve the salad. Time now for the sakay and your lasary voatabia.
Making the sakay
- This is really simple. All you do is stir all the ingredients together in a pretty serving bowl. It can now happily sit as its flavors meld – with a few encouraging stirs – while you set about making everything else.
Making the tomato and onion salad – lasary voatabia
- Add the ginger, salt, black pepper, vinegar, lime zest, lime flesh, and lime juice to a serving bowl that will hold all this salad’s ingredients. Stir thoroughly, and then add the sliced red onion and halved cherry tomatoes.
- Set the bowl aside for 20 minutes – with the occasional stir – so that the onions and tomatoes can marinate in their sharp and tangy ‘dressing’.
- The olive oil only gets stirred in at the end of that time when the salad is ready for serving. Add it sooner, and it will tend to prevent the dressing from infusing the onions and tomatoes with its flavors.
Making the green peppercorn sauce
- Set a medium saucepan on low heat and add 1 level tablespoon of butter. As soon as it starts barely foaming, stir in the finely chopped red onions, garlic, and salt. Keeping the heat low, you now want to gently stir-fry the onion and garlic for about 5 minutes so that they soften but don’t start to pick up any color. Bear in mind that ‘soften without coloring’ are the watchwords here.
- Now stir in the vinegar and as soon as it starts bubbling a little, add the heavy cream. Let the mix come up to a very gentle simmer with a few stirs, and then add 2 tablespoons of your drained green peppercorns. Now use a stout wooden spoon to lightly crush about half the peppercorns against the sides of the pan. You’re not trying to mash them, just to lightly crush about half of them into your sauce. Once that’s done, turn off the heat. The sauce is almost finished.
- All that remains is to gently reheat it while your cooked steaks are resting, and then to briskly – and I mean briskly – stir in the remaining level tablespoon butter, and serve the sauce immediately. If you stir in the last of the butter too soon, it does have the tendency to separate from your creamy mix. So, just reheat the sauce slowly, briskly stir in the butter, and serve at once.
Cooking the steaks
- In terms of timing, I’d be aiming to start cooking the steaks as soon as the peppercorn sauce is almost finished but is still to have that final tablespoon of butter added to it.
- Now, you may well have a tried-and-tested way of cooking your steaks just the way you like them. So, by all means, stick to what works for you.
- For me, very hot and fast in a heavy griddle pan is the way to go here, with a little olive oil and salt rubbed all over the room-temperature sirloins just before they hit the pan. Two minutes of untouched, searing heat on each side will give you lovely medium-rare sirloins that can then have a firming ‘rest’ for three minutes on a warmed plate. And by ‘untouched’, I mean that there’s no need to fiddle about with the steaks as they sizzle away on that high heat – just leave them be.
- Once they’ve rested on their warm plate, all you have to do is cut the steaks into slices about a third-inch thick, and they’re ready for serving.
Serving your peppercorn-sauced steaks
- With the sliced steaks nicely arranged on a big wooden board, pour over the peppercorn sauce in an eye-pleasing way.
- Now sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of whole green peppercorns over the top of the sauced steaks. Present the glorious-looking board at your table with the sakay and salads alongside, and let your fellow diners help themselves.