Thick-cut sirloin with pink peppercorns, coriander, garlic and fennel

Thick-cut sirloin with pink peppercorns, coriander, garlic and fennel
Pepper steak, Karoo-style: Tony Jackman’s thick-cut sirloin with pink peppercorns, coriander, garlic and fennel, photographed at the Boekehuis, Calvinia. 17 April 2024. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

The herbs and spices in the vicinity of the Hantam Karoo house I am staying in continue to lend their disparate flavours to my solitary suppers. Last night, it was the turn of pink peppercorns and fresh fennel from the kitchen garden.

Steaks are cut far too thin, as a matter of course, to my way of thinking. I prefer a thick-cut steak, a proper doorstopper. And I favour sirloin over rump or ribeye and other cuts, because it has that generous fat cap. And fat, as any dyed-in-the-hide meat eater will tell you, adds so much more than mere calories to a meal. (Hide? Well, it’s not sheep…)

At Calvinia Vleis, which has become a legendary butchery (they send their meat all over the country now), I surveyed the steaks that were lying side-by-side in their display fridge and they were all a tad scrawny for my liking. Anyway, I am alone, and they were packed in pairs.

I asked the blockman if he would cut one nice fat hunk of sirloin for me, adding with a smile and a wink: “When you cut it, if you think it’s thick enough, make it a little bit thicker.”

He smiled and obliged. It was a real big boy, and that is just what I wanted. It was fridge-cold, so I put it on a plate on the kitchen window sill for the afternoon.

Later, sitting on the front stoep to enjoy the sunset, my eye fell on the trees across the road. Brazilian peppercorn, those trees that are so ubiquitous in the Karoo but which many people just call “pepper trees”, and at this time of the year they are laden with fronds of peppercorns hanging in pretty pink bunches. In fact, the ripe berries of the Brazilian or Peruvian pepper tree are not regarded as true peppercorns at all.

But tread carefully with pink peppercorns in the kitchen. They are more bitter than most peppercorns, so while they do add some interesting, even dark, flavour to your steak, it’s best to have a light hand with them.

Select the driest peppercorns from the trees, and put them on a windowsill for a couple of days to dry out further.

There’s fennel growing in the little garden outside my kitchen door, so I picked some of the fennel too. And I included some fresh garlic and crushed coriander seeds in the mix as well.

I was also mindful of what chef Herman Fick had told me on Monday night, about how to cook the perfect lamb chop, so the steak would be cooked that way too, on all six sides in the way recommended by chef Herman Fick.

(Serves 1)


 1 x 400 g thick-cut sirloin steak

1 Tbsp pink peppercorns

1 Tbsp crushed coriander seeds

2 Tbsp fennel fronds, chopped (no stems, even though they are fine)

2 garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped

Butter, generously

Salt to taste


An hour before you’re ready to cook the steak, pat it dry and season it on all sides with salt. Leave it on a plate on the kitchen table.

Remove the peppercorns from their fine stems, and shake off any remaining bits and pieces, so that you have only the peppercorns. Put them in a bowl.

Lightly toast the coriander seeds in a dry pan, and add them.

Chop the fresh fennel and add that.

Peel the garlic and chop as finely as you can, and add that too. Mix.

Melt plenty of butter in a pan on a low heat. When it has melted, add the seasoning mixture and a little salt and stir. Let it infuse on a low heat for five minutes or so. (Reheat just before serving the steak.)

Melt more butter in a heavy pan and, when it is foaming, hold your steak with one narrow end down in the fat for a couple of minutes. Turn and cook the opposite edge. Next, cook the meaty edge, that is, opposite the fat cap.

Now put the steak with the fatty edge right in the fat and let it have a good five minutes or more to get that fat nicely cooked through, golden and with luck a bit crunchy.

Finally, cook the steak on its two flat sides, until medium rare would be my recommendation, or the way you prefer it to be done. Reheat the peppercorn butter, and pour it over the steak. DM

Tony Jackman is Galliova Food Writer 2023, jointly with TGIFood columnist Anna Trapido. Order his book, foodSTUFF, here

Follow Tony Jackman on Instagram @tony_jackman_cooks.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Michele Ruiters says:

    This is absolutely delicious in the middle of all the sad news in our country. Were any vegetables in the vicinity of this amazing steak?

  • Ryckard Blake says:

    It’s the nature of the steak, the beef, the cow that counts, not the colour of the peppercorns, or other secondary effects.
    Garlic must never be heated to trying temperature – add it to the just sizzling butter to spoon over the finish-fried steak.
    And what about the butter type? Others say fry in oil with the highest smoke-point – avocado. How can melted butter be hot enough?

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    Sounds fabulous! My pink peppercorns will come out of a bottle, but hey-ho, good enough for me!

  • Brian Hutton says:

    Great advice “When you cut it, if you think it’s thick enough, make it a little bit thicker”. That’s the way I like it and of course medium rare.

    I am not a fan of using fancy sauces over my steak. I prefer salt and olive oil before cooking sometimes butter added afterwards.

    • D'Esprit Dan says:

      Have you used a flambadou? Brilliant thing, cone shaped, heated until sizzling in the fire, then put fat into it and drip the fat onto your steak. Delicious.

      • Brian Hutton says:

        No, I have not. But I did find a trick that Braam Kruger aka ‘Kitchen Boy’ a fine chef that poured brandy and a sprinkle of brown sugar over his steak and then set it alight with a blow torch. 😎😂😎

      • Brian Hutton says:

        Now this can be an excellent tool to have.

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