Wine With . . . Beef Stroganoff
by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas
Beef Stroganoff is a dish of Russian origins that was wildly fashionable in the US during the 1950s and 60s. Today it seems to be undergoing a bit of a revival, with more than a couple of culinary Internet sites describing it as the “ultimate comfort food.” But at the height of its popularity a half century ago, Stroganoff’s image was very different. Far from being viewed as informal, feel-good fare, it was thought of as an elegant dish designed for fine dining. Over time, however, its basic structure changed, as James Beard described in his 1972 American Cookery: “To most people this well-known dish is a variety of stew,” he wrote, “and little wonder. When made with lesser cuts of meat and braised, as it frequently is, about the only resemblance it bears to the original recipe is in its use of sour cream.” Properly done, Beard explained, “Stroganoff is a dish that should be quickly prepared and served at once. It calls for tenderloin, which can be sautéed rapidly and gives delicacy to the finished dish.”
While we’ve got nothing against the long, slow-simmering version of Beef Stroganoff, we felt the urge to recreate it in a manner more closely reflecting its original character. This is actually an easy recipe to put together, and the finishing touches can be quickly assembled at the last minute, giving the host more time and freedom to interact with guests. One thing that hasn’t changed over the decades is that noodles remain steadfastly the standard accompaniment for Beef Stroganoff. We couldn’t resist trying out a recipe that we found in an old family cookbook for a “Georgian Noodle Ring.” We thought the resulting dish was quite attractive and very tasty, but of course cooking up a pot of plain egg noodles would be simpler.
1 and ½ pounds filet of beef
1 small onion, minced, or about 1/2 cup minced shallots
2 tablespoons olive oil (or other mild vegetable oil)
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons butter (divided use)
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
½ cup white wine
½ cup beef broth
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
1 teaspoon (or more, to taste) Sriracha, Tabasco, or other hot sauce
Salt and pepper
1 cup sour cream
1-pound package egg noodles, or a Noodle Ring (recipe follows)
2 tablespoons minced parsley (for garnish)
Place the meat in the freezer for 15-30 minutes (this will make it easier to slice). Sauté the onions or shallots in oil until they start to soften. Stir in the garlic and cook for another minute. Add 1 tablespoon of the butter to the pan, and when it has melted stir in the mushrooms. Cook over medium-low heat until mushrooms are soft, then turn up the heat and pour in the wine. Stir until most of the wine has been absorbed, then lower the heat and add the beef broth. Whisk in the mustard, Worcestershire and hot sauce.
Meanwhile, slice the meat into long, thin strips no more than 1/2 inch thick. Heat a cast iron or other heavy skillet (not non-stick). When it is very hot add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and some of the meat strips arranged in a single layer. Sear them quickly (2 or 3 minutes on each side at the most—ideally, they should rare to medium-rare). As soon as they are done remove them to a platter and continue cooking the rest of the meat in this fashion.
Just before serving, if you are not making the Noodle Ring, cook the noodles according to package directions. Whisk the sour cream into the mushroom mixture and cook only until it is thoroughly heated through. Arrange the meat slices on top of the hot, cooked noodles, and pour the sour cream- mushroom mixture over all. Garnish with parsley and serve at once.
GEORGIAN NOODLE RING
1-pound package of egg noodles
3 egg yolks, beaten
1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
Salt and pepper
½ cup grated cheddar cheese
4 egg whites, beaten until stiff
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cook the noodles according to package directions. Drain them and rinse with cold water. Chop the noodles coarsely and combine with the egg yolks. Stir in Worcestershire Sauce, salt and pepper, and cheddar cheese, and fold in the beaten egg whites. Grease a ring mold generously with butter and sprinkle the parmesan around the bottom. Spoon the noodle mixture in, place it in the oven in a pan of hot water, and bake for 35-40 minutes. Unmold on a deep platter.
Stir the strips of meat into the hot sour cream-mushroom mix and ladle it immediately into the center of the noodle ring. Sprinkle with parsley and serve at once.
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We tried thirteen different red wines with this dish, and our favorites all shared certain basic attributes. First, they were medium to full-bodied. A couple of the wines we are not recommending (a Rioja, for instance, as well as a Piedmontese Barbera) simply did not have enough heft to stand up to the Stroganoff. Second, they all have fairly firm tannins. The creaminess of the sauce, combined with the fairly rare strips of beef, demanded a structural counterpoint from the wine. (A sexy but very soft California Cabernet fell flat precisely because the tannins weren’t sufficiently tight.) Finally, even if they display sweet fruit flavors, these wines all have sufficient acidity to enforce the structure, and so do not seem flabby. A couple of otherwise tasty wines that we tried were not sufficiently focused, and so turned diffuse with the dish. In short, then, when choosing a wine to enjoy with this satisfying, cool-weather dish, body and structure will prove every bit as important as varietal flavor.