Comforting Your Soul: Beef Stroganoff for Dinner
Of all the dishes I cook, few things will get friends coming out of the woodwork like the words: “I’m making beef stroganoff for dinner.” I’m not sure when and where I learned how to make this–and frankly, I don’t even know how authentic it is as I’ve never tried this in Russia. All I know is that after about 20-something times of altering this dish and trying different things, this became my “recipe” for beef stroganoff.
That said, any one who has read any of my “cook along with me” posts knows that I also don’t believe in recipes. As usual, I’ll have no measurements–and cooking this will require that you have a basic idea of how to cook more than instant noodles. After all, cooking is about your own feel and your own spin on things–not necessarily following others’ methods. But this post will give you a good foundation on which to build.
Beef stock or water
Salt and Pepper
Whole sour cream
Olive Oil & Butter
Wine – Red or White
Use Fresh Ingredients
First and foremost in cooking any dish is using fresh ingredients; this alone makes all of the difference in cooking. You can use a decent variety of cuts of beef to make stroganoff, but my first choice for this dish is almost always choice ribeye. While this creates a bit more work than I’d have with filet mignon or other leaner cuts, the meat becomes very soft with a minimal amount of cooking, and the texture yields the greatest flavor. For stroganoff purposes, I purposefully look for thinner cuts of ribeye instead of the more desirable thick cuts of steak because I’m going to be slicing this into thin strips.
Prepare the Meat
Rinse the steaks with cold water, and then begin slicing. In this process, especially if you’re using ribeye, be sure to trim the fat off as you slice. I’m the first to admit that fat makes for great flavor, and as you can see, by no means do I trim off all of the fat (or else I wouldn’t have bought ribeye!), but do cut off the big chunks. This isn’t only for health reasons, but because if your meat is too fatty–the sauce is that much oilier, which is not only unattractive but actually takes away from the nice and bright flavors in this dish.
Coat the Meat
The easiest and least messiest way to do this next step is to take a Ziploc bag, and fill with a small amount of flour. I usually put some salt into the bag as this meat is completely unseasoned at this point, and I’m a big believer in seasoning all ingredients separately. Shake the bag up — left, right, upside down, right side up — until all of the beef is coated inside the bag. I am going to use a thickening agent later, and this step is simply to create a nice crisp to the meat–so be sure to dump all of the bag contents into a strainer and shake, shake, shake again to remove excess flour, as shown. Note the excess flour in the sink, and you can see the meat is, indeed, very lightly coated.
Prepare the Ingredients
Note: If you are pretty handy with a knife, you can lay the beef aside for a few minutes while you prep the remaining ingredients. If you are not fast–then it’s wisest to prepare the other ingredients first and shake the beef last as left on its own for too long, you will have beef sticking together due to the moisture in the beef combined with flour.
Take the mushrooms and wash thoroughly. Slice into even sizes and put aside for the time being. How large you want the mushrooms is entirely up to you: the larger they are, the long you will cook them but having large, chunky mushrooms is also appealing in a stroganoff. However, in my dish, beef is king and mushrooms take a supporting role–so I usually slice them down into quarters. You can use a variety of mushrooms including sliced down portobello, shitake or even oyster mushrooms. In this example, I’ve only used typical button mushrooms, but I’ve also tried mixing many kinds together which definitively increases the mushroom flavor in this dish.
For this dish, I used one rather large onion and diced that down to small pieces as well. You can see a glimpse of it below. You can use as much or as little as you want. For me, again, my intention was to include onion flavor but cook it down to almost nothing to prevent it from distracting from the beef.
A Little About Cooking Wines and Oils
While I am always emphasizing the use of the best ingredients, organic when possible (and reasonable)–the one time I make an exception is when using wine to cook. The exception is when I’m going to make a wine-based sauce, but when added to cooking where other flavors are highlighted, I’m open to using virtually any wine. To support this theory, I have tried $50 bottles of outstanding wine in dishes only to find that I really, really cannot discern any difference in the final result, so I always stock up on $15 or less bottles of wine in my wine fridge to use just for cooking. I had two bottles of this particular blend and I had opened one bottle prior to this–and found it to be a pretty basic red wine blend of 45% Merlot, 39% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Syrah–and it immediately got placed into the “wine to use for cooking” shelf. It’s medium-bodied with a great dark color but there was just nothing special about it. I believe this bottle was approximately $15 in the store. The addition of wine, red or white, simply adds more complexity to the flavor of this dish; I’m pretty certain it would turn out delicious even without it. I usually opt for red to make for a darker final product, but I’ve used white, too, without any problems.
This was a newer bottle of extra virgin olive oil I’ve been testing out lately, and it’s good. I’ve had better, but in stroganoff, the olive oil is all but a minor player so I opted for this and fresh butter. ALWAYS USE FRESH, REAL BUTTER.
Now, Let’s Cook!
In a hot stainless steel pot or pan (I use this particular All-Clad stock pot), once it’s thoroughly hot, I pour in olive oil and swirl around and then drop in a chunk of real butter, which will melt in a few seconds without getting a chance to burn. Drop all of the meat in and begin stirring to cook as evenly as possible. The objective is to brown the meat on the outside to maintain more texture within the stroganoff, and you need not necessarily cook the meat through at this point, so I always use high heat to quickly cook the meat on the outside. Then, I remove the meat from the pot and set aside to cool.
In the same pot, without cleaning, I drizzle a little more butter or olive oil and toss in the onions — season. When they are about halfway cooked (still with a bite) and releasing liquid, I toss in the mushrooms — season some more. It’s always amazing to see how much liquid and oils mushrooms can absorb. Be sure to stir full-time at this point to prevent sticking.
Continue doing this until the mushrooms become completely soft and start releasing the liquids again, as shown above.
Toss in the ribeye you had browned and set aside and begin stirring the entire dish together on medium heat. As a general guide, do this until half of the liquid that was there before tossing in the meat has evaporated or been absorbed. How long this is will depend on your stove, your cookware, and the meat you used. At this point, this dish is good enough to eat on its own, too—but we’re still not quite at the stroganoff point.
Let’s Begin Making Stroganoff
When I have fresh beef stock available, I’ll use that–but in this example, I had none, so water it is. There may be a slight difference in depth of flavor by using stock vs. water, but it’s hardly noticeable when you use ribeye to make this dish. The meat itself has so much flavor and the boil we are about to give this dish makes for a plenty rich stock. Before it comes to boil, I toss a good amount of wine in the dish as it’s crucial you let the alcohol evaporate during the boiling process. Alternatively, you can also toss in the wine during the earlier process of mixing in the onions and mushrooms with the beef — totally up to you.
Do continue tasting this sauce to ensure that there’s enough salt and pepper in it, keeping in mind that you will be boiling down more. Making sure there’s enough salt in the process of cooking ensures each item in the dish is so much tastier than seasoning at the end when everything is cooked. It’s riskier, too, as it can easily become too salty as the liquid evaporates, but the final product, when it works, is incomparably better.
Stir together and the wine will immediately darken the base into an appealing brown color. I’ll bring it to a boil on high-heat, and after about 3-4 minutes of stirring, I bring it down to a low to medium heat to let the whole thing slowly simmer. Due the flour on the meat, the sauce is not really watery, so do take care to visit the pot every 2-3 minutes to check the amount of liquid and give it a good stir to prevent sticking.
For tender cuts of beef, you may only need to boil for 15 additional minutes; for the lesser cuts of beef, make sure you boil until the meat is completely tender. Also, add water as needed to ensure approximately the level of liquid shown above.
Approximately 10 minutes before I will consider turning off the stove, I will make a flour and water concoction to thicken the soup. You can easily use a roux, and this may taste better–but this dish needs more butter like I need a hole in the head, so let’s chill out a bit. The flour concoction works fine, so long as you do let it boil for about 10 more minutes after using it to thicken the sauce. Keep in mind you will be using sour cream in a little bit, so don’t thicken it to the maximum point and leave room for that.
About 90 seconds before I will remove the pot from the heat, I toss in a good amount of real sour cream, a heaping tablespoon of Dijon mustard (the more flavorful the mustard is, the better!), and approximately 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce. While the sour cream alone adds creaminess, all three of these last ingredients adds an acidic and tangy kick to the dish. I let it boil for about 1 minute more, and then remove from the stove.
More often than not, I opt for rice over egg noodles or other pasta when making beef stroganoff. Perhaps it’s the Asian in me, but there’s something wonderful about meat atop rice that pasta cannot hold a candle to. I sprinkle some green onions on top to offer a bit of fresh crunchiness. On this evening, I took some fresh asparagus, tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper, and laid flat on a baking pan to broil for about 5-6 minutes at 500 degrees to serve as a side to this dish. It’s a simple, clean flavor that goes nicely with the stroganoff and rice, but perhaps a fresh salad is more your preference?
Overall, don’t be afraid to try this dish at home. While there are a lot of pictures on this post, it is a really simple process and it makes for great leftovers so long as you reheat with more water in a pot as it thicken exponentially as it cools down. I’m told it’s also a great dish to freeze in single servings to defrost and reheat/recook at a later time, but I have never tried that.
Hearty, filling and absolutely flavorful, beef stroganoff is a dish that brings comfort to your soul. I dare you to not feel better after eating it.