The History Of Steak Oscar Is Rooted In Swedish Royalty

King Oscar II, who spent most of his reign doing double duty as king of both Sweden and Norway, may not be a familiar figure outside of his homeland, but his name certainly lives on. Explorers named glacier-strewn land after him to celebrate his support of the sciences; closer to home, King Oscar brand sardines line grocery store shelves to this day. But sardines aren't the only food named for the 19th-century king: He also gave his name to the decadent classic, steak Oscar. 

As the story goes, King Oscar had a taste for veal, crab, and asparagus. In 1897, a chef presented the king with a dish made from his three favorite foods, topped with creamy béarnaise sauce. It was a hit. Most modern versions use steak instead of veal, but 120 years later, steak Oscar remains a classic.

While some of the dish's components — like steak and béarnaise sauce — are known for being difficult to perfect, the meal actually comes together fairly quickly and easily. If you need to sharpen your skills, read over a few tips for a creamy béarnaise sauce and see what techniques pros like Bobby Flay use to cook the perfect steak.

King Oscar's favorite ingredients are the perfect springboard

One part of the dish's appeal may be its versatility. In the 120 years since steak Oscar was first served, creative cooks have found that you can take liberties with the ingredients while retaining much of the dish's spirit. It can be made with shrimp or lobster in lieu of crab, and hollandaise works just as well as béarnaise. In the 1990s, enterprising chefs swapped asparagus for the newfound broccoli hybrid known as broccolini. You don't even need to tie yourself to steak or veal; other red meats can work just as well. Some steak Oscar variations replace the beef or veal with a succulent slab of chicken breast.

Rather than feeling limited by the ingredients, use steak Oscar — or chicken Oscar, or lamb Oscar, as the case may be — as an opportunity to experiment with different ingredients and techniques. As long as you keep the rich, umami flavor profiles of meat, seafood, a creamy sauce, and a green vegetable in mind, the dish is open to countless variations. Even without Oscar II's favorite foods, it's still a meal fit for a king.