Beef stroganoff

because tenderloin … Beef stroganoff

Beef Stroganoff is a Russian dish that

Somehow got itself onto the menu of every fancy french-style restaurant in the early 20th century.

Now it's seen as kind of an

Embarrassing old relic.

It looks like an all-day stew, but it's not. It's actually expensive, tender cuts of meat quickly fried off and then enrobed in a fast pan sauce based on sour cream. You could make it with any bits of beef tenderloin they have at the butcher. But I reckon the reason. Stroganoff got so popular in restaurants is the same reason it is suddenly popular in my house — it's a great dish for using the smaller bits leftover from a whole tenderloin. This is the hundred-dollar vacuum-packed tenderloin I roasted for Christmas dinner. And before I did so, I had to take off the two extra muscles that come with the actual tenderloin.

There's the Iliacus muscle up here. Take that off. And then back here is the psoas minor, AKA the chain. Peel that right off. And then I'm left with the psoas major, the main attraction, which I roasted whole with a nice sauce made from the inedible trimmings. Merry Christmas. Days later, here's all my edible trimmings, my extra muscles, frozen solid. I could thaw that in the fridge overnight, but because I forgot, I'm just doing a speed thaw in trickling water.

The other standard thing would be some button mushrooms — just cut them in half or something. But I'm skipping the mushrooms today because Lauren doesn't like them. The only other thing I need to do is pick some fresh thyme.

I'd better get my bag of egg

Noodles boiling in salted water.

That's the standard side to me, but some people have it with rice or potatoes. Here are my tenderloin scraps, including the thin tip that I trimmed off of the main tenderloin roast. You can see I've already shaved off the silverskin, but with the chain muscle and everything else I have a lot of cleaning up to do. Almost all of the silverskin and other connective tissue has to go, along with any really big globs of fat.

Remember, this isn't a stew. In a stew, you can leave a lot of this stuff on and it will just melt away over the hours. In contrast, this beef is gonna cook hot and dry for just a few minutes so it has to start off pretty pristine. Shave off everything that's chewy or otherwise gross, and then cut it into bitesize chunks. The pieces are not going to shrink as much they would in a stew, so cut them only a little bit bigger than you want them in the end. I'll drain my noodles after they've been cooking for about two fewer minutes than what the package recommends. Melt some butter in there to keep them from sticking, cover and they can hold for a long time. Post-trimming, we've got about two pounds of tender beef cubes here, just under a kilo.

That'll feed at least four people. Season very heavily with pepper and salt — enough to cover every cube. And then I'll toss them all in plenty of oil, though clarified butter would be even better. You just need a fair bit of any fat on the meat to act as a thermal interface — to transfer the heat of this screaming hot pan into the surface and quickly develop a nice brown crust before the interior of the piece overcooks. Think of these as miniature steaks rather than stew meat. They'll be ready to scrape off the surface when browned. Try to get the pink sides facing down and get as much color as you can on all sides, but pull the meat back out again while it's still a little raw. It'll probably finish cooking just as it rests on this plate, and if it doesn't it'll finish in the hot sauce later.

Second batch of meat goes in. If I put in all the meat in at once, a bunch of water would come out and the pan wouldn't be able to evaporate the water fast enough to maintain a dry cooking environment. The meat would stew instead of browning. Gotta go in batches for this. Pull that meat out and now is the time when you would fry off your mushrooms. You could make the recipe with only mushrooms, but I'm skipping those and going straight to my shallots. They'll need some more oil so they can cook before the fond at the bottom of my pan starts to burn, which would spoil my sauce. This is why it's great to use shallots instead of onion.

Shallot layers are thinner so they cook a lot faster. You could deglaze with anything, but I'm gonna turn off the flame and hit my pan with some cognac. Barrel-aged liquors massively improve almost any creamy sauce. With the bottle away, it's safe to turn the flame back on again. No explosions, like last time.

Now we just need maybe half a

Carton of stock.

Just eyeball enough liquid to generously coat

All the meat.

Beef stock would be traditional, but I'm using chicken because I think store-bought beef stock makes everything taste like canned soup.

The traditional starch thickener would be a butter and flour roux. I think this is just a lot easier to make with a cornstarch slurry instead — starch dispersed in just a little cool water or stock. If the liquid is hot it would clump. With slurry, you can really easily eyeball how much starch you actually want. Slowly drizzle some in while you stir aggressively, let it come to a boil and thicken and just keep doing that until it looks as thick as you want it. Make it a little too thick, because the sour cream is gonna loosen the sauce up a fair bit. The slurry also gets you a texture that's smoother than what you'd get with a roux, and I think smooth is nice for this dish. Time now to stir in sour cream — as much as you want.

I'm using a lot. I like things acidic, as you know. It'll seem like it's not gonna stir in, but just let it melt. You can get sour cream pretty hot. The proteins have already curdled in the fermentation. A big spoonful of mustard would be very traditional at this stage. Just mind the total acid content of the sauce. Season to taste — I don't think garlic powder is traditional, it's just good.

What is traditional is sweet paprika, and it gives the sauce a nice golden color. Plenty of salt and pepper in there, of course. And now the meat can go back in, along with any resting juices. Just stir to coat and reheat everything. If the beef is still a little raw in the center it'll finish cooking really fast. I want the chunks to still be slightly pink in the center, so I'm not going to give this more than a couple minutes at a simmer. At the last second I'll stir in my fresh thyme and that is that. Noodles on the plate and just slop on the saucy beef.

If your upbringing was at all similar to mine, there's a good chance you're gonna taste this and you're gonna think to yourself, "Hey, this tastes like fancy Hamburger Helper.". Well yeah, Hamburger Helper was invented to emulate the taste of Beef Stroganoff, which mid-20th century American moms would have regarded as the height of sophistication. The box democratized the dish, which is probably why Stroganoff is the height of sophistication no longer. But it remains a great way to use leftover tenderloin parts, which is why I made it and I have zero regrets about that...