Here it is — the mother of all homemade dishes. When mom cooked it, we were rushing back home from school, because we could smell it from the distance. It’s an epitome of comfort food and, if you are lucky to be not counting carbs, home made noodles or mashed potatoes are in order. Forget rice… Yes, FORGET RICE, I said. Save it for some tantalizing Asian dish.
Beef Stroganoff is a classic example of a dish where you create something exquisite with just a handful of basic ingredients. It’s very French in origin and nature, which means proper technique and correct order are what make things right. It’s worth cooking just for the smell alone. And, despite its dizzying aroma and spellbinding taste, it’s ridiculously easy to make.
The short story goes something like this. Some rapidly aging Russian aristocrat named Stroganoff asked his French chef Andre Dupont to make a simple meat dish which won’t be too tough for him to chew. The aforementioned chef obliged and what he came up with was so good and so simple that it was featured regularly at Stroganoff’s open door dinners, soon becoming an absolute smashhit (I am sure they didn’t call it a smashhit in the XIX century, but we’ll use the word for its highly descriptive properties). The dish was very convenient for batch production because of its simplicity, consistency and robustness, easy scalability, and of course, fantastic taste. Seasoning? Black pepper and salt. And with only five base ingredients, it won’t break the bank either.
Beef Stroganoff, ironically, named after the master, rather than the chef who created it, was one of very few dishes that survived the aristocratic times and transitioned in its initial form into hungry post-revolution years. It transposed from elite cookbooks into soviet cookbooks with its aristocratic roots unscrutinized. It’s been served in every food establishment — from skim and grim college cafeteria to neo-bourgeoisie salons. Sauce and meat quality varied a little, based on the current economic situation and cook’s creativity, but the fame and the glory lived on…
And here we are, 150 or so years later, on a regular Wednesday evening, still posting about it, having just devoured a plateful (or two).
Feeds 6-8 reasonably hungry adults
- 2 tbsp cooking oil or butter (I used homemade tallow, which adds beefy flavor)
- 2 lbs beef top sirloin, some fat is a must (see photo)
- 2 large yellow onions, halved and sliced 1/4″ thick
- a handful of all purpose flour. I literally just grab whatever amount of flour fits in my closed hand
- 2-3 cups water or stock (I used homemade brown beef bone broth)
- 3/4 cup sour cream or heavy cream
- 1/2 cup white wine – only if using heavy cream – this is just to add acidity. If you are using sour cream, wine won’t be necessary
- 2 cups mushrooms (optional)
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste’
Sprinkle sirloin liberally with salt and pepper and pound it with the tenderizing mallet, taking care not to tear it. Turn to the other side and repeat.
Cut sirloin into strips about 1/2″ wide and 3″ long.
Sprinkle flour over the strips and toss to coat.
Heat a Dutch oven or a large skillet with cooking oil on high until lightly smoky. Cook sirloin strips in oil until nicely browned on all sides. You may have to work in smaller batches to prevent meat from sweating, which would reduce the browning effect. Remove meat and set aside. This shouldn’t take more than 3-4 minutes.
Cook the onions in the same fat, tossing them frequently, until golden brown and translucent, for about 4-5 minutes. Take care not to burn them.
Add the meat back to the onions and cook together for a 1-2 minutes, turning them often with a wooden spoon to prevent scorching.
If you are using heavy cream, at this point you can add 1/2 cup of wine, if not, add 1/2 cup of water or stock. Scrape the bottom of the skillet with the wooden spoon to deglaze.
Add the remaning water or stock. There should be just enough to barely cover the meat. Stir nicely until sauce is uniform and smooth, bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to low. Cover the pot/skillet and simmer for about 15 minutes. Check on the meat once or twice and stir to prevent scorching.
Add cream or sour cream, and mushrooms if using, check the seasoning, you may want to add some salt at this point. Cover again and simmer another 10-15 minutes, until meat is tender.
Serve hot, over mashed potatoes or noodles, pouring some sauce over the side dish as gravy.