By/Por Chef Dominic Kern
Edited by Leah Bergman
Stroganov (Stroganoff) is one of the most recognizable dishes from the Russian culinary files, and is one of the few Russian stews. What is nice about stroganov is that it can be made with any kind of beef; though, I would suggest a less expensive cut. When I worked at the Russian dinner club in Studio City, CA; we used beef tenderloin which is a VERY expensive cut of meat for a stew, but it was good.
My beloved One (MBO) picked up a “family pack” of Top Round from the grocery store. We got it home, cut the three steaks in half, and vacuum packed it into 3 separate portions: a perfect dinner for two. The vacuum pack will keep it fresh for a long time, so it is a good investment.
I pulled out one of the steaks last night and thawed it out in the refrigerator overnight. (Remember a few columns ago when I talked about pre-planning your next day’s dinner?) I had some mushrooms and half an onion in the vegetable drawer. I also found a kiwi.
Chefs call kiwi one of “The Seven Deadly Fruits”. Why is it called a Deadly Fruit? Because of the enzymes in the fruit that break down tissue. These fruits are: Mango, Papaya, Passion Fruit, Guava, Pineapple, Kiwi, and Fig. And here’s a little trivia for you to go along with this lesson. Workers in the pineapple processing plants in Hawaii must wear, by law, protective gloves while on the job. Apparently, continuous exposure to pineapple juice and pulp will eat away at the fingernails.
I began prepping for dinner by quartering the mushrooms, putting them in a Ziploc bag, and setting them aside. I sliced up the half brown onion into ¼” slices from the root end to the top, and put those in a Ziploc bag, and set those aside. I grabbed the can of tomato paste in the door of the refrigerator and put the mushrooms, onions, and tomato paste in a Tupperware into the fridge.
After I returned home in the evening and let the dogs out, I was ready to get back to the stroganov. I grabbed the russet potato off the counter, washed it well, and diced it into ½” cubes. I tossed it with olive oil, and put them single layer onto a cookie sheet into a 450oF degree oven.
I pulled the top round out of the fridge, and it was still slightly frozen. I like meat that way if I have to slice it thin before cooking it. I sliced the steak in half lengthwise and then again width-wise. Each piece was about 2” wide. I sliced the steak about ¼” thick and put it in a bowl. Next, I cut off the ends of the kiwi and peeled it. With the kiwi peeled, I sliced it in half from top to bottom and sliced it width-wise into 1/8” pieces. I threw the kiwi into the bowl with the meat and mixed it well making sure to cover the meat with the kiwi.
I grabbed the onions and mushrooms that I already prepared. I caramelized the onions in a high-sided skillet on medium heat, with a lid on the pan, and for about 5 minutes. On the bottom of the pan I saw what I wanted—fond, those little brown bits that are left in the bottom of the pan from whatever you just cooked. I have said it before–color begets flavor.
I pulled the onions out and let the skillet heat up again, but this time on high heat. I added a little more olive oil and tossed in the mushrooms. Here is a tip: if you are going to sauté, you need high heat, a little oil, and a pan that is not crowded. Otherwise, you will steam the food and not sauté it. The mushrooms were in and sizzling away. They were starting to get a nice color on them. About 2 minutes later, I took them out of the pan and put them in with the onions.
After being in the bowl with the kiwi for 10 minutes, the meat was ready. I reheated the pan, and added a little more olive oil to it. The meat went into the skillet in three batches because I wanted to sauté the meat to give it some color and not steam it. Once each batch was done, I put it in with the mushrooms, onions, and all the fond on the bottom of the pan.
It was time for the tomato paste, so I put about a tablespoon in the skillet. You have to cook the tomato paste. It is a must because it gives depth of flavor to the dish. I then added a little more olive oil in the pan and some chopped garlic. I let the garlic cook until I started to smell it. I then added a splash of beef stock to loosen the fond off of the bottom of the pan and thin out the tomato paste a little. In went the meat, mushrooms, and onions stirring to coat them with the tomato paste. I grabbed the soy sour cream from the refrigerator and scooped it into the skillet. (The only reason I used soy sour cream is due to MBO’s lactose intolerance. I would normally use regular sour cream, but this was a good substitute.) I combined everything together in the pan and tasted it. It needed black pepper and a little salt, so in they went.
The potatoes were finished, and they came out toasted and crispy. Stroganov is classically served over fried potatoes, whether they are French fries or baked like I just did. I have seen them both ways. Here in America we serve them over wide egg noodles. That works, too, but I prefer the diced potatoes. I divided the potatoes into two shallow bowls and then poured the stroganov over them.
Dinner was ready. It was filling and creamy. The sour cream gave it a tang, the potatoes gave it a crunch, the mushrooms added meatiness, and the tomato paste gave the flavor a depth. The top round was tender.
So try this out. Use the inexpensive cuts of meat with one of the Seven Deadly Fruits. Taste the difference by experimenting with each of them.
Eat. Drink. Laugh. Love.