Monday, November 10, 2008

Beef Stroganoff

The pumpernickel bread I baked recently isn't the most versatile type of bread out there so I did a bit of research for what goes well with it. There's smoked fish and cream cheese so I had a bit of that. There's Nutella. (Actually, the combination of a sale on Nutella and poor impulse control was the initial prompt to choosing that sort of bread to make in the first place.) It sounds a bit odd, but when you remember that there's cocoa in the pumpernickel recipe it does make sense. There will developments on that combination later--predictable ones if you've been reading for a while--but you know from the subject line that the immediate topic is beef stroganoff.

There's a surprising amount of variation in recipes out there. For one thing, I didn't know that mushrooms are recent addition. I cobbled together my own version out of three recipes that had appealing elements. (Cream of mushroom soup was right out.) I liked 2/1 beef to mushroom ratio and the seasoning in the recipe from Simply Recipes. Cook Like Your Grandmother had an interesting marination technique. And Dave Campbell, chairman of the Culinary Arts Department at SUNY Cobleskill added some intriguing French elements. Here's my composite recipe:

4 Tablespoons butter
1 pound tenderloin, cut into thin strips
1/3 cup thinly sliced shallots
1/2 pound not-quite-so-thickly sliced cremini mushrooms
1 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 small handful cornichons, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste

0. Take everything out of the refrigerator so it'll be at room temperature when you need it.

1. Layer beef and shallots on a relatively deep plate or shallow bowl (so as not to spill any released juices) salting as you go. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit on the counter for an hour.

2. Melt 3 Tablespoons of butter in a large cast iron pan on medium heat. Scrape off the shallots into a bowl. Turn heat up to just below high and brown beef in batches. The meat should be sufficiently salty already but check. Add pepper to the bowl of cooked meat.

3. Reduce heat to medium high and add shallots. Cook shallots until they're nicely browned, about four minutes. Add to bowl of meat.

4. Melt another Tablespoon of butter in the pan. Add mushrooms after the butter stops bubbling but before it starts to brown. It's not a very long window of time. Toss mushrooms immediately to coat, but then only stir occasionally as the mushrooms cook down. Cook for four to six minutes until mushrooms are cooked down but not shriveled up. At some point add tarragon and nutmeg.

5. Remove from heat (or turn heat to low if your pan isn't cast iron), let cool slightly and add sour cream and mustard. Mix thoroughly. Stir in cornichons, beef and shallots. Test for seasoning and adjust.

6. Serve garnished with a bit more tarragon (fresh if you've got it) over egg noodles and/or with pumpernickel bread.

Before I get to how it turned out, a note about the beef. I had every intention of talking about how the much-cheaper-than-tenderloin flank steak is perfectly fine for this sort of quick browning application, but when I got to Fresh Market I found that grass-fed tenderloin was on sale for less than flank steak. The butcher was even willing to cut it up so I didn't have to buy the whole 6-pound loin (although I think that's just because nobody in the meat department could find out the actual price for smaller pieces after I had been promised such a thing was possible). But since it was only $8/pound I bought fully half of it even though I rarely eat beef and when I do I it's cheap tough stew meat. I hope months in the freezer won't do it too much harm as I think it's going to take a long time for me to use it up.

Right, how did the stroganoff turn out? Pretty darn well, I'd say. The marination let the shallots and beef meld flavors and the mushrooms and sour cream absorbed flavors from both from bits left in the pan so the dish was well unified. Of the additions, the tarragon and the mustard give a little sweetness and vinegary zing that nicely round out the other elements of the dish. The cornichons and nutmeg I could lose. And the dish does indeed work nicely with the pumpernickel. The dense chewy bread is a pleasant textural addition and the subtle sweetness pairs well with the creamy meatiness of the dish so success all the way around.


kat said...

Its funny this dish is a favorite of mine growing up but it was the kind made with golden mushroom soup in a can. I'll have to try making it from scratch sometime

billjac said...

It's not hard to see how this dish transitioned into Midwest-style casserole, and I'll bet it made a pretty good one too. The real deal may not live up to the comfort food version you remember.

your mother said...

Bill--I used to make this dish--your father really liked it--my recipe had conac in it

billjac said...

I guess that explains the half-empty cognac bottle that's been in the liquor cabinet for the last 25 years.