20 November 2010

Sacrificing hipness for comfort food

We all have some dish that instantly transports us to our childhood. For some, it might be a chocolate milkshake that was a regular bedtime snack; for others a lemony roast chicken. Most of us, in fact, probably have multiple memory-filled meals, each one as comfortable as an old sweater.

stroganoff with green peas

For me, my standby is stroganoff: sliced or ground beef cooked with mushrooms and onions in a sour cream sauce. Stroganoff is an intensely uncool dish, the sort of thing that was featured on the back of a Campbell's soup can in 1973. It's the sort of thing that most people associate with a hospital cafeteria rather than a home-cooked dish of comfort food. But hey, even Thomas Keller has good things to say about it, so it must be good!

I grew up eating Stroganoff, blissfully unaware of my future uncoolness. Despite the frozen peas that were always served with the dish, it was always one of my favorite beef dishes. We made ours with ground beef and concentrated Cream of Mushroom soup, and served it always on a bed of egg noodles. I would always complain about the peas that my mom would pile on top, and they would always end up on my plate anyway. In recent years, I have discovered a love of just-warmed-up peas, and I pile them up on my plate without complaint.

beef stroganoff

Since moving out on my own, the recipe has changed: I add gobs of thickly sliced mushrooms and ample amounts of browned onions. Throughout our years of non-meat-eating, we would brown vegetarian steak strips, which was all right, given that I hadn't had it any other way for years. Economical skirt steak, however, fills out the meal and adds deep, beefy flavor. Skirt can get tough easily, so it's best to sear it at the beginning, then let the slices cook at a simmer until just done. Sirloin or ground chuck would make fine substitutes if you preferred.

browned onions

If you're in a hurry with this meal, you can cook beef, onions, and mushrooms at the same time in different pans, but I generally prefer more cooking time over more dirty dishes.

Beef Stroganoff

Serve over egg noodles or rice; this would also be great with roasted potatoes, and I can see it pairing well with a parsnip purée, too.

Dried porcini mushroom flour can be found at various gourmet food stores, and it adds some rich flavor to the sauce; alternatively, you could finely chop/blend another cup or so of mushrooms and cook those in the pan before making the roux.

3 tablespoons butter, divided
about 12 ounces skirt steak (or other beef as desired)
salt and pepper
1 large onion, halved and sliced
250 grams white or cremini mushrooms, thickly sliced (about 3 cups sliced)
1 tablespoon flour
½ cup milk
½ cup heavy cream
2 sprigs fresh thyme
pinch nutmeg
1 ½ teaspoons mushroom powder (optional)
6 tablespoons (or more) sour cream

Egg noodles: 1 to 1 ½ cups dry per person
Frozen peas (optional)

Heat a very large skillet over medium-high heat. Season the beef well with salt and lots of black pepper. When the pan is quite hot, add a knob of the butter (about ½ tablespoon) and the steaks. Cook, turning after a minute or two, until golden brown on both sides and still rare in the middle, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Add about 1 tablespoon butter to the hot pan and add the sliced onions. Season with a bit of salt, reduce the heat slightly if needed, and cook, stirring regularly, until golden brown and almost completely softened, 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a plate or bowl.

Note: if you are serving this over egg noodles, this is a good time to put the water on to boil.

Add about ½ tablespoon butter to the pan (you should have one tablespoon of butter left) and add the mushrooms in one layer; cook in two batches if necessary. Cook without stirring until golden brown, then flip and finish cooking the second side. Transfer to the bowl with the onions.

While the mushrooms are cooking, take the mostly-cooled steak and slice it thinly across the grain; reserve any juices and transfer to the bowl with the onions.

Add the last of the butter to the pan and reduce heat to medium. Add the flour and cook the roux until medium blonde, 2-3 minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan with your spoon to loosen up the cooked bits of meat. Add the milk, cream, thyme, nutmeg, and mushroom powder if you have it, and stir briskly to combine.

Add the reserved vegetables, beef, and juices and stir well to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook until thickened and the beef is cooked through, about 5 minutes more.

Stir in the sour cream, bring back up to heat, and taste to adjust seasonings.

Serve with egg noodles and green peas, if desired.

Serves about 4

1 comment :

  1. Mouth watering! I wouldn't consider is uncool, though. Not like Jello salad. Now THAT'S just a travesty to justice.