From Stroganoff with Love
Stroganoff is very Russian. It’s robust, unpretentious, and hearty enough to weather a long, cold winter. As I’m staring out my window to the 3rd day of a continuous winter storm, this seemed like the perfect recipe to share.
For me, Stroganoff is a dish that invokes images of bear skin hats, St. Basil’s Cathedral, and why you should never start a land war in Asia. It also brings up memories of the Russians that I’ve spent time around over the years. You see, much of my formative years as an athlete were spent being trained around and by hardened Russians and others from former Eastern Block countries. They could be a little intense and unforgiving, to say the least. And this is coming from someone that looks like he should be wearing a bear pelt and carrying an ax. But underneath their sometimes icy exterior, they can also show an undeniable warmth that certainly helped them survive long and cold training sessions in ice rinks.
The first time that I made a version of this dish was a few years after getting out of college. For a stretch of several months I made it a point to try making one new dish every Wednesday and have a few friends over to help me eat it. I was still at a point in my culinary life where I had a few dishes that were always a hit, but most meals were just slightly above serviceable. I needed to expand my repertoire. Stroganoff turned out to be a solid place to start because it’s relatively simple, filling, and budget friendly.
Since then, I’ve tried out a few different delicious variations. A survey of the internets will show you a plethora of styles and difficulty levels, including a Hamburger Helper version. (You know, in case you hate things tasting good.)
However, I’ve found that using meatballs for the protein makes the meal much more easily scalable, depending how many you’re feeding. Also, meatballs refrigerate and freeze well for later use.
As mentioned in a previous post if you can get down a few basic techniques, you can make a whole world of different dishes that are delicious and not overly complicated:
Sear meat in pan
Use fond (the little crispy bits left in the pan after searing something) and/or drippings to make gravy
Finish in the oven until tender and super delicious
Viking’s note: My leftovers game is way strong and the way I’ve structured this recipe is to maximize leftover options for my consumption by keeping some components separate until final assembly. As I’ve mentioned before, no matter how good something is, you’re probably going to get tired of it by day 3. Ex: You can use leftover meatballs on top of some spaghetti, brown gravy on mashed potatoes, or you can use the caramelized onions and mushrooms on just about anything later on. In total, this should make about 4 very filling portions.
Some balls are held for charity and some for fancy dress
But when they’re made for dinner they’re the balls I like best.
1 lb Ground beef
1 lb Ground pork
⅓ cup ricotta cheese
¼ cup bread crumbs
½ medium yellow onion
3-4 cloves garlic
2 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp black pepper
Let’s start with some basic meatballs. I opted for beef and pork. Feel free to use whatever meats and seasonings you have on hand or tickles your fancy.
Start by finely mincing up your onion and garlic. Add them with a tablespoon of butter to a 12” cast iron skillet or appropriately sized dutch oven on low heat and caramelize until your house smells delicious.
Make sure to take this opportunity to add some more flavor with a pinch of salt and a couple grinds of black pepper. Once that’s cooked through, reserve and let cool to room temp before meat assembly begins. Oh, and don’t go washing or wiping out your pan. Flavors build over time! Also, cleaning is my least favorite part of cooking and I avoid it when I can get away with it.
Get yourself a really big mixing bowl and pretty much just throw all the ingredients in it. If, like me, you hate having anything slimy on your hands, you can try to use some manner of spatula or other utensil to mix everything together. However, that’s a bit of an amateur move. I’d recommend instead using some dust free vinyl food service gloves or just toughing it out. Your fingers should offer far more dexterity than a spatula and will ultimately mix everything together faster.
Once it looks like everything is well mixed, start forming balls! This recipe should be good for somewhere between 12 and 14 happy little meatballs. But this is your world, and you can make it whatever you want. Keep in mind that one or two giant meatballs might be fun to attempt, but they will likely cook unevenly and would be generally ill advised for this recipe. Place the shaped meat on a sheet tray or plate and cover until ready to cook.
Time to get some brown crispy bits! Add another tablespoon or two of butter to your skillet over medium high heat. Once the bubbles stop, place all your meat in the pan, pressing down slightly to get more surface contact and let it sit. Seriously, you need to wait a bit. If you keep fiddling with it, you’ll end up with a cooked, but dreary gray and less flavorful finished result. The idea here is that we want to get a beautiful brown crust created around as much of the meatballs as possible.
Once sufficiently browned on as many sides as the geometric integrity of your meat will allow, cover and toss in a pre-heated 325 degree oven for about 45mins - 1 hour to finish cooking them through.
All aboard the gravy train
2 cups beef stock
2 tablespoons flour
2 Tbsp butter
After the meatballs come out of the oven, remove them from the pan and set aside covered to rest. After all, they’ve been through a lot and all the liquid and crispy bits on the bottom of the pan are going to be put to good use.
Over medium-high heat, melt the butter in the pan and whisk in the flour until smooth. You’re going to want to make sure you scrape the bottom of the pan to get all of the fond liberated. I like to keep whisking until the roux (flour/butter mixture) darkens for a deeper flavor.
Start slowly pouring in the beef stock, which should cause the roux to seize up into a pasty mess. But keep whisking and pouring the stock. It will eventually loosen up into a watery gravy. Bring to a simmer while stirring and then taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper as needed. Then pour the gravy into another small saucepan or pot to reduce a little bit over low heat. Don’t forget to stir occasionally to keep it from getting all gunky.