Remember Beef Stroganoff? That grey mushroomy stuff your adult caregiver made a few times back when you were a kid, and then it vanished off the face of the earth, and then you completely forgot it existed, and now you're going, "Oh, yeah—Stroganoff! Whatever happened to that stuff?"
The world came to a crossroads with Beef Stroganoff, at some point in the mid to late 1980s: Half the population flounced away with Hamburger Helper, that cheap powdered imitation; the rest went off with an even more insidious mistress known as Avoiding Heart Disease; and poor Beef Stroganoff was left behind, alone, to wander the darkness and wail for its lost love, only, like, metaphorically or whatever, I mean obviously a heap of hacked-up beef in cream sauce can't really wander the darkness or wail or love, or anyway the techniques for making a heap of hacked-up beef in cream sauce that can do that stuff are known only to sorcerers.
The point, here, is that nobody really makes Beef Stroganoff anymore. Which is a shame, really, because this means that your impression of the stuff calcified back in 1987 (if you were alive then) when you were a kid and didn't like mushrooms, so you kinda remember it as this gross crud that you prodded with a fork for a while until your parents gave up and let you get back to playing Gyromite or arranging your leg-warmers or whatever. Now you're a grownup and you love mushrooms (or you do not love mushrooms and deserve to be pushed into a gorge), and Beef Stroganoff isn't a part of your life, even though it is a glorious showcase for mushrooms. And also beef. Kinda right there in the name.
So hey, let's reintroduce ourselves to Beef Stroganoff. In a nutshell, it's sautéed beef with mushrooms and aromatics in a sour cream sauce. It is also that outside of a nutshell. I'm not totally sure I even understand the whole "nutshell" thing. Maybe we should just make some Beef Stroganoff.
The first thing to do is acquire a large piece of cow. No, not half a cow, but maybe a couple of pounds of beef. If you have a favorite cut, feel free to use it; if you don't (or even if you do but aren't weirdly hell-bent upon shoehorning it into every goddamn beef preparation you encounter, you psycho), consider the skirt steak: it can very easily be transformed into strips and doesn't require a ton of cooking to become pleasingly tender between your teeth. Flank steak is also OK for turning into strips, but it'll tend toward chewiness in this preparation. Also, yes, beef jerky does come in strip form right out of the bag, but, man, I feel like I shouldn't even have to tell you that beef jerky is not going to work for this, and the fact that you even asked is really very disappointing.
(A note, here: You may be familiar with Beef Stroganoff preparations that use ground beef instead of sliced beef; if that's the way you wanna go, here, that's perfectly fine—but, if you've never had Beef Stroganoff with sliced, sautéed beef, please do consider giving it a try. The beef is just so much more engaged in this incarnation, these whole satisfying bites of it, with their own beefy, juicy life, contrasted with the mere grey chewiness you get from the ground-up stuff.)
Anyhow, as indicated above, you're now going to cut your piece of beef into strips. You're not aiming for cheesesteak-thinness, here; if you can accomplish the proportions of the average hunk of "beef" in the average origami cup of cheap-shit Chinese delivery beef-and-broccoli, that's grand. If you wanna stick your big hunk of beef in a sealed plastic bag and sock it in the freezer for a few minutes to firm it up before you slice it, that'll make things a tad easier, but please do not freeze it solid. Gather your beef-strips in a bowl when you're done slicing.
Now, melt a couple tablespoons of unsalted butter in your biggest skillet or sauté pan or saucier pan or flat-bottomed wok, and brown your beef strips over medium-high heat. Remove the beef from the pan to a bowl or plate as soon as there's definitely more brown than pink in there. You're not looking to fully cook your beef, here, or even close to it. You want some browning (for flavor and appearance), and you want your beef nice and warm so that later, when you add it back to the other stuff that you will be cooking in this pan, the beef will finish cooking quickly, rather than cooling everything down to room temperature.
So you got the beef out of the way and now you've got this nice hot skillet just sitting there. Melt another tablespoon or two of unsalted butter (or hey, use some olive oil if you must pretend to care about living a long life) and sauté some other stuff in it. One whole yellow onion cut into thin slices, first of all; sprinkle it with a pinch of salt and let it sweat for a few minutes, moving it around occasionally with your Implement Of Kitchen Action. When the onion is translucent, chuck in a couple cloves' worth of minced garlic. As soon as the garlic gets fragrant, add—
OK wait. We need to pause here and discuss something. Many Beef Stroganoff preparations require the inclusion of brandy, often specifically Cognac, in comically tiny amounts. This will strike you as acutely ridiculous if you happen not to be the sort of person who keeps a bottle of brandy around the house—which is to say, if you happen not to be the sort of person who is hosting a candlelit dinner party for nine strangers in a murder mystery radio serial in 1952. (Which, I mean, we are making Beef Stroganoff, here, so I am not ruling out the possibility that it is, in fact, 1952.)
In any case, if you should happen to have a bottle of brandy near to hand, way to go, Gramps: You can add a couple of splashes of it to your onions and garlic, now, and then figure out what you are going to do with the rest of this entire goddamn bottle of brandy.
On the other hand, if you do not have a bottle of brandy, do not go out and get a bottle of brandy, because your Beef Stroganoff really doesn't need two stupid splashes of brandy, and any more brandy than that would make your Beef Stroganoff taste like a goddamn beef cordial.
So. Where were we? Ah yes. The onions are translucent, the garlic is fragrant; bump up the heat and add many big fistfuls of sliced mushrooms to your pan. Go with your favorite mushroom variety, here: Cremini are wonderful, as are shiitake and oyster mushrooms; psilocybin mushrooms are somewhat less so; death caps, I mean, they're not called "death caps" for nothing. Use lots of mushrooms. For one thing, they're wonderful; for another, they'll add yet more meaty substantiality to your finished product. Those are two good reasons. Do it.
Toss the mushrooms and aromatics around with your implement, and add a generous fistful of finely-chopped tarragon and a bunch of freshly-cracked black pepper to the pan. You want the mushrooms to soften a little and to brown here and there (I mean, they're already brown, but they can get browner), and you want them to become fragrant, so that you will smell the amazing aroma of cooking mushrooms and your eyes will go all spiral-y and you will enter a state of heightened receptiveness to suggestion in preparation for the ungodly quantity of sour cream you are about to be instructed to add to your food.
So the mushrooms are fragrant and somewhat cooked-looking; between them and the sautéed onions, if you added an armload of shredded cheddar and, like, 15 beaten eggs to the pan you would have a really frighteningly enormous, and delicious, omelet. But you mustn't! Instead, return the beef to the pan and move its contents around while the beef heats up. If the beef left any liquid behind in the bowl or plate where it was resting (hint: it did), add this liquid to the pan as well, for it is delicious.
Now. Look. I know, OK? I know. You like your health, you like to feel like a responsible, healthy person, but you came along for the whole cooking-beef-in-butter thing anyway, against your better judgment. You furrowed your brow a tad but maintained your essential good cheer for the part where we added yet more butter to the pan to cook the aromatics. The spiral-eyes thing was weird and gratuitous and possibly some druggie vision-quest shit, but hey, you gritted your teeth and got through that, too. You've been very brave. And this next bit seems like it's just too much—it's just too goddamn much, you're asking too goddamn much!—and you just can't go any farther. You can't—you won't! Please. You can do this. Just this one last thing, and then no more. OK? OK.
Stir two (2) entire goddamn 16-ounce tubs of real-deal full-fat sour cream into the pan.
[whistling desert winds]
We don't have to talk about it, if you don't want to.
Taste this stuff with the tip of a wooden spoon and add salt if it needs any. It does. Add some salt. There. Let's just get this over with.
Now, about serving your Beef Stroganoff: The familiar way to do that is to toss the Beef Stroganoff with some cooked wide egg noodles—either the short ones commonly packaged in plastic bags and sold in the kosher section of your local supermarket, or the longer ones (pappardelle) to be found with the pasta and Italian stuff. This is familiar for a reason, and that reason is that it's fucking delicious. Another tasty and somewhat traditional way to do it is to toss the Beef Stroganoff with some cooked, sliced potatoes, or even to ladle a portion of it atop a baked potato. Rice is perfectly fine, too. In any case, serve it with lots of very cold beer.
No matter how you accompany it, the Beef Stroganoff itself—the hearty beef, and the mushrooms, and the onions, and the creamy, fatty, ludicrously indulgent sauce—is the star, here. And what a star it is, dense and heavy and almost overwhelmingly rich; were it an actual astronomical star, it would be bending light back onto itself and violating all manner of seemingly immutable physical laws. Alas, it is a foodstuff and not a celestial body, and so instead of curving rays of light, it will curve the outline of your torso, outward, a lot, because you are going to eat a lot of it, because it is delicious. Enjoy.
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Albert Burneko is an eating enthusiast and father of two. His work can be found destroying everything of value in his crumbling home. Peevishly correct his foolishness at firstname.lastname@example.org, or publicly and succinctly on Twitter @albertburneko. You can find lots more Foodspin at foodspin.deadspin.com.
Image by Sam Woolley.