Trying a Beef Stroganoff Recipe at Home
Sometime within the last week, Aaron and I were talking and he brought up a dish many of you will probably remember: Beef Stroganoff. We talked about how it seemed like nearly everyone raised in the 1980s and 1990s (at least in the Midwest) ate it regularly, often of the Hamburger Helper variety. It was ubiquitous, reaching worldwide popularity after emerging from Russia during the 19th century. You could not get away from this stuff – you ate it at home, you ate it when visiting family or friends, you at it at school, you ate it at church events.
During this conversation, we realized that decades had passed since we could last remember having it; that somehow, someway, it had faded into the background, going out of vogue and disappearing from our consciousness. (It reminded me of that observation: there was a day when your parents picked you up in their arms for the last time. Neither you, nor they, likely knew it was happening at the time. In this case, when did we last each have Beef Stroganoff? It probably would have been with each other given that we first moved in together when we were eighteen years old but neither of us can ever remember making it. Maybe in the dining colleges at university? High school? It’s a mystery.)
Aaron said he wanted to find a recipe – if we were going to do this, we were going to do it right with fresh ingredients and real steak, not settle for boxed seasoning and hamburger – setting to work. When all was said and done, the particular Beef Stroganoff recipe he selected after reviewing the choices, like so many other favorite recipes in our family, came from America’s Test Kitchen. I know we’ve praised them over the years but it is hard to say enough good things about their process and results. If life were a video game, and you wanted to level up your cooking skill set, I can think of almost nothing that would give you the return on investment you could likely achieve from picking up a low-cost subscription from their site. Right now, they are even offering 14 day free trials. They approach cooking from a scientific or engineering perspective, relentlessly testing everything from kitchen equipment to cooking techniques to try and find the ideal trade-offs between quality, efficiency, and cost. You can save yourself time, money, and frustration by outsourcing a lot of decisions to their scientific method approach.
Anyway, the recipe made four servings. We decided we would prepare it on our lunch break at work one day (dividing our lunch period into two sessions because there was a 30 to 35 minute simmering process that occurs during one of the steps), then eat the leftovers the following day. The ingredient list was straightforward it looked simple enough so we made it happen this past Wednesday, May 8th.
For that next step, we had to prioritize efficiency. You know that we love making handmade pasta. Not only does it taste better, there’s something comforting and magical about it. There is no doubt in my mind that this recipe would have been even better had we included hand-made egg noodles. However, as I mentioned earlier, we were making the dish during our lunch break at the firm so we had to stick to a deadline. Making the pasta by hand would have added some time due to the additional clean-up and prep it would have involved. That wasn’t going to fit within the allocated part of our day so we, instead, decided to use part of a box of De Cecco Egg Pappardelle no. 101. Some of you might remember the first time we tried this company’s products in a recipe, six years ago, after hearing it was one of the best packaged pasta brands available in the United States. We’re glad we discovered it. All else equal, it is still our preferred boxed brand. Both Aaron and I highly recommend it.
The verdict? It was a delicious Beef Stroganoff recipe. You can definitely tell the brandy enriched the sauce. The serving sizes are reasonable but the dish is heavy – we calculated each of the four servings at a bit more than 900 calories, which was slightly more than America’s Test Kitchen estimates – but for most people on a 2,000 calorie-a-day diet, that should be fine if they ate a reasonable-sized breakfast and dinner. Aaron pointed out that we should have baked fresh bread with it – something crusty that could be used to sop up the delicious drippings left behind after the bowls had been emptied.
If I were going to alter this recipe, I’d want to find a way to make it even more concentrated, flavor-wise. I’m not sure what that would take. Maybe a touch more brandy. Maybe adding a beef demi-glace, though that begs the question: at what point have you converted a Russian dish into a traditionally decadent French dish? At some point, you really begin to approach something like the flavor profile of beef short ribs braised in Cabernet with pasta, pearl onions and mushrooms.