Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Beef Stroganoff

Sunday 24 June

When we prepared the tenderloin last Saturday, there was a scrappy bit we trimmed off and froze. You don't waste almost a pound of meat at 8.99/lb., no matter how scrappy. It called out for a dish that needs beautiful beef in small slices, so Beef Stroganoff was a perfect solution.

Back when I was compiling the Fear and Loathing Cookbook, I had six different methods and sets of ingredients for this dish: Classical Beef Stroganoff, Neo-Classical Beef Stroganoff, Post-Classical Beef Stroganoff, Post-Modern Beef Stroganoff, etc. Yet one summer when I was off archaeologizing and Holt looked them over, he complained that none of them reflected what I actually did when I made Beef Stroganoff. So now I can make it up to him by setting down what I actually do - at least, some of the time.

I can't be too doctrinaire because much depends on the type of beef you have available. If it is a lovely tender piece, you want to cut it (always across the grain) in quarter-inch- or third-inch-thick slices, each one or two inches long. If it's a tougher cut, say top sirloin or london broil, cut each slice paper-thin, so it will be tender to eat.

The big secret is, from here on, you treat this dish as if it were a Chinese stir-fry. So you marinate your beef slices in a teaspoon of soy sauce, a teaspoon of Shao Xing wine (or dry sherry), and a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce, plus a little grind of white pepper.

While it marinates, slice up about a pound of white mushrooms and a big yellow or white onion. Heat up your wok or teflon pan, and in some oil, stir-fry the onion with a little salt. When it's translucent, add the mushrooms and keep frying until they're dark and have given up their liquid. Set them aside and scrape the pan clean.

With new oil in the hot pan, stir-fry the beef, tossing rapidly to make sure each piece fries on its own, not in a clump. If the slices are paper thin, they should be done in only a couple of minutes, but even the thick slices won't need much longer; you want them rare on the inside. As soon as no slice is bloody-raw on either side, throw the vegetables back in and mix it all thoroughly to reheat. At this point, you add gobbets of sour cream to your liking (I like at least 3 or 4 Tablespoons), and again to your liking, a tiny dab of Dijon mustard.

You can serve this on noodles if you like (or if you need to stretch it to feed three); we don't often see the necessity. We just put it on warm plates and snarf it down. Incidentally, Stroganoff always reminds me of my childhood friend Rita Ivanoff, whom I once saw flick spoonfuls of sour cream onto a frying hamburger. It's something about the Russian soul - or liver.

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