With Love From Odessa
It’s an inevitable fact, winter is coming. For some of you it might just mean light coats and long pants, and for you all in the Southern Hemisphere, it means more skin and plenty of sun. For the rest of us, it means snow, cold, and much more time indoors.
Of course for foodies, winter is when the light dishes of summer are cast aside for hearty stews and heavier food, designed partially to comfort but also to warm the body (and spirit) in these chilly months.
That leads us to the Ukraine, specifically the warm and sunny city of Odessa. Far from the notions of cold, bland Communism, the 3rd largest city in the Ukraine carries a vibe more reminiscent of Vienna or Athens. It's an art and cultural center with a majestic coast important for both business and pleasure.
Now I can see the irony in talking about the upcoming cold winter and then taking you to a sunny coastal city. Beyond Odessa being a hub for shipping, industry, and tourism, the city also carries a culinary claim to fame known as Beef Stroganoff. It’s a Ukrainian feast of succulent beef stewed in a tangy, creamy mushroom sauce. Served atop potatoes or noodles, it’s the ideal winter comfort food.
In America, the dish was mainly known in the 1950s, despite it first appearing in cookbooks around the mid-1930s. The real origin of beef stroganoff dates back to the 19th century, although there have been several stories of how it came about, all involving the famously wealthy Stroganov of the Ukraine.
The only real knowledge we know is that the recipe first appeared in the classic Russian cookbook A Gift to Young Housewives, written/compiled by Elena Ivanovna Molokhovets. Many chefs, restaurants, and hotels had utilized variations of the recipe as their own, but the basic ingredients of beef, mushrooms, and sour cream have remained until this day.
Growing up, I’ve only encountered beef stroganoff as frozen dinners in the grocery store, and they honestly didn’t look too appealing. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I actually tried the dish, homemade at my father’s last restaurant. I’ll admit...it was heavy, but I was hooked. The savory, creamy, yet slightly acidic tone melts in your mouth and fills you up, only making you want more.
Homemade is definitely the way to go if you want to enjoy beef stroganoff. Here’s the traditional way to make it with a more healthier method I like to follow:
- 2 lbs of lean beef, sliced into strips
- 1 oz (1/4 stick) of butter
- 2 small yellow onions, diced
- 1 package (8 oz) of sliced mushrooms
- 2 tbsp of flour
- 1/2 cup of beef stock
- 1/4 tsp of dry mustard
- 3/4 cup of sour cream
- 2/3 cup of white wine
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Using a paper towel, pat the beef dry and then season with salt and pepper.
- In a stockpot or large sauté pan, melt the butter on medium-high heat.
- Working in small groups, place the beef into the butter and sear all sides, removing from the heat when finished. Set aside.
- In the remaining fat, sauté the onions until soft.
- Add in the mushrooms and cook until they collapse (2-3 minutes).
- Place the seared beef back into the pot.
- Stir in the flour, then pour in the beef stock.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low.
- Mix in the dry mustard and simmer until the beef is done (15-20 minutes).
- In a separate bowl, mix together the sour cream with the white wine and a few ladles of the liquid from the pot.
- Add the sour cream/wine mixture to the pot and stir.
- Season the final mixture with salt and pepper, and heat until the liquids thicken into a sauce.
Patting the beef dry ensures a nice sear, as liquids left on the meat will cause it to steam and boil.
The “doneness” of the beef is entirely up to you. I would refrain from overcooking it, as it’ll have a rubber-like texture. Be sure to check by touch.
Putting in some of the hot liquid when you combine the wine with sour cream is called tempering. This will keep the sour cream from curdling when it hits the heat.
You can variate in many ways with this. One interesting way would be to use chicken, as well as chicken stock.
Some also like to add tomato to their stroganoff. If you want to, try using 2 tbsp of tomato paste when you add in the beef stock.
The wine is purely optional, but I like it.
Healthy It Up
Beyond using lean beef, I actually skip on the butter and use 3 tbsp of olive oil. I’ve also used fat-free sour cream or Greek yogurt, Works perfectly and lowers the fat count.
The traditional way to serve beef stroganoff is on fried grated potatoes, similar to hash browns. I more prefer oven-roasted potatoes, or egg noodles.
Try topping your plated stroganoff with fresh parsley for color.