March 14, 2006

Beef Stroganoff

Beef Stroganoff is the kind of dish that I approach with a bit of trepidation. Images of really good Stroganoff float through my head…a silky sauce, not too thick, perfectly cooked mushrooms, tender beef, and the flavor of dill in a well balanced sauce. Then there are the ugly images that creep in of a too-thick sort of slop that clings to the meat in a disturbing way and overcooked mushrooms. So, it can be really good or really bad. Fearing I’ve now left you repulsed by the thought, let’s concentrate on the good images. Tender beef is simmered in a sauce combining sour cream, Dijon mustard, cognac, and fresh dill over a bed of egg noodles. Yum!

There are various accounts, but it seems this dish was created in St. Petersburg around 1890 for a cooking competition by a chef who worked for Count Pavel Alexandrovich Stroganov. Americans today tend to think of it as a retro dish since it was so popular in the 1950s. Evidently, it appeared earlier than that, in a 1934 cookbook, but there weren’t many Americans cooking expensive beef dishes during the war, so it didn’t catch on until later.

When you search for Stroganoff recipes you are likely to find a variety; some made with ground beef and cream of mushroom soup, as well as more gourmet versions made with beef tenderloin, shitake mushrooms and crème fraiche. My version is in between, I guess, but definitely leaning toward the latter. Way toward it. Almost touching it.

Beef Stroganoff

1 lb. beef tenderloin, or another lean cut like sirloin, sliced into 2 in. strips about ½ in. thick.
1 lb. button mushrooms, sliced
1 small onion, chopped or 2 shallots, chopped
2 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. cognac
1 c. beef broth
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
½ c. crème fraiche or sour cream
¼ c. heavy cream or half & half
2 tsp. flour
¼ c. chopped fresh dill (don’t skimp on this!)
Salt and pepper

Melt the butter in a wide skillet over high heat and sear the beef on both sides, being careful not to overcook it. Do this in several batches to avoid crowding the pan so that the beef can truly brown. Remove meat from the pan and set aside. Turn down the heat to medium and add the onions to the skillet. Sauté until almost tender. Add the mushrooms to the pan and cook until tender, about 10 minutes.

Combine the mustard, crème fraiche, heavy cream and flour in a small bowl.

Deglaze the pan with the cognac. Once almost evaporated, add the beef broth. When that has reduced just a bit, whisk in the mustard/crème fraiche sauce. Season with pepper and salt if need be. Add the beef and any juices back to the pan, along with the dill, and stir to combine. Heat gently for 3-5 minutes until hot. If mixture is too thick, you can add a bit more broth. Serve over egg noodles or rice. Serves 4-6.

Mix yourself a dirty martini, put on some Sinatra and eat some sort of jello salad or flambéed dessert and you've got yourself a nice little retro Tuesday.

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