The recipe comes to us from Milk by Anne Mendelson, and it was the hands-down favorite from all the recipes we tested. Whatever it lacks in visual attractiveness, this dish definitely makes up it for in the flavor department. Tender slivers of beef in a tangy mushroom cream sauce... We may have licked the plate. Maybe.
Below is the recipe for Beef Stroganoff straight from the book. As Mendelson mentions in her headnotes, stroganoff is a dish that just begs to be adapted. Next time we make it, we'll probably go down to 1 - 1.5 pounds of beef and double the amount of mushrooms. We thought the sour cream sauce had just the right amount of tang and was perfect just as it was.
Beef Stroganoff, named for a family of long pedigree in czarist Russia, was a reigning party favorite a generation ago and is one of my leading nominees for a return from limbo. The dish started being extolled in the 1930s by members of the self-styled "gourmet" movement in the United States. Its distinguishing features are thin strips of rapidly seared beef, a sauce enriched with sour cream, and an otherwise complete absence of agreement on the necessary ingredients.
It takes a lot for any beef Stroganoff to be certifiably "inauthentic," though I'd probably draw the line at the addition of habanero salsas or herbes de Provence. Most recipes have onions and mushrooms, but there are cooks who reject either or both. One extremely lofty recipe has you fry some onions in the pan "for flavor," then throw them out lest they mar the noble simplicity of the beef. The amount of sour cream (a few atypical recipes have sweet cream) can be half a tanker or a few tablespoons. I have seen Stroganoffs from several continents with or without tomato paste, catsup, condensed mushroom soup, tarragon vinegar (not a bad idea, that), Tabasco, cayenne, paprika, wine marinades, flambéed brandy, sugar, Madeira, and moose meat (this last in a marvelous book titled Cooking Alaskan).
All I can say about the following version is that I like it. If that much filet mignon or sirloin is a financial impossibility, try thin sliced flank steak for a chewier but still excellent result. The classic accompaniment is noodles or a rice pilaf; some people saute the mushrooms separately and serve them as a garnish or side dish.
yield: 6 to 7 servings
2 pounds filet mignon or beef sirloin
3 to 4 tablespoons flour
1 large onion
1⁄2 pound (or more as desired) fresh white mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed
6 tablespoons butter
1⁄2 cup strong beef broth, preferably homemade
2 to 3 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Parsley or fresh dill for garnish
Cut the meat into strips about 2 to 3 inches long and 1⁄3 to 1⁄2 inch thick. This is easier if you first put it in the freezer for about 30 minutes. Put the strips, well separated, on plates or a work surface and dredge with flour, turning them to coat lightly on all sides. Chop the onion fairly fine and cut the mushrooms, stem and all, into thin lengthwise slices.
Heat half the butter over high heat in a large heavy (preferably cast-iron) skillet. When it is sizzling and fragrant, reduce the heat to medium-high, add a few strips of meat at a time, and brown them very quickly on both sides, stirring with a wooden spoon. As each batch is done, remove it to a plate and add a few more strips. From time to time add a little more of the butter to moisten the pan. The trick is not to crowd the pan (which makes the meat stew in its own juice) and to brown the meat rapidly without letting the flour scorch; keep adjusting the heat as necessary.
When all the meat is browned, saute the onion in the same pan over medium heat, stirring, until translucent and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook, tossing and stirring, until they begin to release their juice, another 5 minutes or so. Raise the heat to high and cook until the liquid is nearly evaporated. Stir in the broth and mustard; cook, stirring, over medium heat until the sauce is a little thickened, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the browned meat with any juices and cook, stirring and tossing, until it is heated through, 2 to 3 minutes. Now reduce the heat to very low and stir in the sour cream. It will curdle if it is too cold or if the sauce boils, so you must let it warm up for only a minute or two. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve at once, garnished with a bit of minced parsley or snipped dill.
Excerpted from Milk by Anne Mendelson Copyright © 2008 by Anne Mendelson. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Buy the book: Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk Through The Ages by Anne Mendelson, $20 on Amazon.
(Images: Emma Christensen for the Kitchn)