Saturday, January 7, 2012

Day 7: Beef Stroganoff

Beef and Mushrooms over noodles sounds like a typical weekday meal of any Midwestern household. I am sure that Campbell's soup or a noodle company spread it across America in the 70s with their versions of beef thicken with cream of mushroom soup and canned mushrooms.

But somewhere along the way, I tasted a real stroganoff, laden with fresh thick mushrooms, a rich beef flavor in the broth - and real congnac or sherry. My memory of that taste was tickled when I read the Food and Wine back page feature Top Chef Top 10: Jonathan Waxman. In the article, Waxman, asked about his 10 obsessions said, " Beef Stroganoff. In my quest to be a chef, I first attempted beef stroganoff at age 12, with a receipe from a cookbook. This version is more luxurious: I make it with beef tenderloin and creme fraiche."

Waxman also served his Stroganoff over rice. Mine memory however is strictly over flat egg noodles, since some form of noodle, potato or dumpling was the major staple of every Midwestern Russian German family.

I decided to see how Waxman's recipe stacked up against the recipe and taste in my memory. 

In researching Beef Stroganoff, it was interesting to see how roots perhaps started in Russia, but then as it traveled to Europe and America became adapted. It is easy to see how this could simply become creamed beef and mushrooms over noodles. Three things are key to distinguish it: 1). A bold beef taste 2). Fresh thick mushrooms and 3). soured cream.

In the end, I combined the recipe from Waxman with that of Tyler Florence. Waxman's recipe calls for a faster method of cooking. Instead of using a chuck roast, and slow cooking for hours, he uses tenderloin, which is very tender already.

The recipe is below.
And I have also added a set of notes after the recipe I would encourage you to look at (which also now go in my own recipe book for the next time I make the dish).


This is a meal that requires a little time to prepare in order to do it right. The recipe tasted very good, but mine ended up a little thin, and I realized my addition of extra beef broth was probably a mistake. The mushrooms were thick and delicious. I was satisfied with the taste. But there was still something nagging at me with each bite that I could not figured out. What was the taste that I seemed to be missing? 

I went to my Rombauer Becker "Joy of Cooking" cookbook, which was my bible as a young chef. The recipe for Stroganoff is short. But the recipe mentioned an ingredient that I likely used when I made it the first time was missing. Rombauer suggested splashing a touch of sherry and a sprinkling of nutmeg on top of the finished dish. It also called for quite a bit more cream as the finishing liquid as compared to beef broth. That would have thickened it up and made it the creamy memory from childhood. I will make a few adjustments (as noted below in my notes) the next time.

(Photo: My final version of Beef Stroganoff)

Beef Stroganoff with Buttered Noodles

Adapted with in put from Tyler Florence and Jonathon Waxman
Prep Time: 25 min. Cook Time: 3 hr if you do your own beef broth. Servings: 6


  • 3 cups beef stock
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Meat:
    Long time available: 2 lbs beef chuck roast, 1/4 inch thick and cut into 2-by-1/2-inch strips
    Short time available: 2 lbs pounds beef tenderloin, sliced 1/4 inch thick and cut into 2-by-1/2-inch strips
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons cognac
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 pound mushrooms, sliced thick (I prefer a mix of white and darker button type mushrooms)
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 cup crème fraîche or
    1/2  cup sour cream, plus more for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves, plus more for garnish
  • 1 (1-pound) package wide egg noodles

Heat the beef stock with the carrot, 3 thyme sprigs, and bay leaf.

  • Pat the beef dry and season it with salt and pepper.
  • Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large heavy bottomed skillet over high heat.
  • Fry the meat in batches so that it is browned on all sides.
  • Lower the heat to medium and return all the meat to the pot.
  • Add the onions and cook until they are soft, about 5 minutes.
  • Pour in the cognac and cook until the alcohol has burned off, about 5 minutes.
  • Add the beef stock, discarding the carrot, thyme sprigs, and bay leaf.
  • Cook, partially covered, over a very low flame for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

  • In a large skillet over medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons butter in the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil.
  • Add the mushrooms, garlic, and remaining 3 thyme sprigs and cook until the mushrooms are browned and cooked through.
  • Remove from heat and set aside.

  • When the meat is done, remove it from the heat and fold in the mushrooms  crème fraîche or sour cream, mustard, and parsley.
  • Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
  • Meanwhile, cook the noodles in a large pot of boiling, salted water until tender. Drain the noodles well, toss with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, and season with salt and pepper. 
  • Serve the stroganoff over the noodles; garnish with more sour cream and chopped parsley. 
Rick Von Feldt notes on Beef Stroganoff
  • In my version, I opted for tenderloin, but followed the Tyler Florence two hour cooking suggestion using a chuck roast. I also followed one idea of cutting across the grain when cutting the meat into strips. What I ended up with was very tender pieces of meat that were nearly falling apart by the end of the two hours. Next time, if time, I will use the two hour cooking method, but use the tougher (and less expensive) chuck, and cut with the grain. If you don't have time, then I will also use tenderloin, cut with the grain, but cook for less time.
  • Waxman, as many others, call for  crème fraîche. I used sour creme, as  crème fraîche isn't available at the nearby market. Next time, I will purchase  crème fraîche to see how this extra creamy and more earthy European style sour cream (whipping cream cultured with buttermilk) adds to the flavor.
  • Homemade flat thick noodles would taste oh so much better. A reminder to myself though is that you want the noodles to be al dente - with enough "chew" to hold up to the sauce.
  • I was worried about having enough beef broth to cook the beef, and used 4 cups instead of the called for 3 cups. That creates a nice broth, but ends up being too thin as a sauce. I will trust the three cups of broth - and potentially add in cream to the final mixture if I need more broth.
  • Both Waxman and Florence added dijon mustard to their recipes, which were not present in older versions. Instead, older versions used Worcestershire sauce. Either way - it needs this "umami" flavor. I will stay with the dijon, but I think I will add a splace of worchestershire sauce next time.
  • Browning the meat is really critical. Not only because you want the sear on the meat, but it is the "flavorful bits" left in the pan that help bring much extra flavor. Be sure to give time to this part of the process.
  • Hmmm. Which is the best alcohol? My childhood versions used sherry (probably because most 70s home chefs had some sort of cooking sherry). I had brandy, which I used. But when you take brandy, and age it for two years in oak barrels, you get that taste you find in cognac. The recipes call for cognac. Next time, I want to try the cognac to see if it added some extra flavor from the oak, which I think I was missing. I will then decide if I still splash the sherry on top just before serving.
  • And lastly, in my leftover version currently in the fridge, I am going to use a sprinkling of nutmeg just before eating.

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