Published September 1, 2009.
To rescue this typically sorry combination of chewy meat and flavorless gravy, we chose a beefy cut and stopped washing the pan.
This dish promises juicy meat and hearty, satisfying flavors—but often features chewy, overcooked beef in a thin, generic brown sauce or a sludge of bland gravy.
We wanted tender, meaty pieces of steak in a sauce enriched by mushrooms and onions.
After some initial tests, we figured out a way to cook the entire dish in one skillet. We seared the beef and set it aside, then built the gravy, and finally added the meat back to the gravy to cook through. Not only was this method convenient, but it allowed time for the flavors of the beef and gravy to mingle.
Because we didn’t want to pay top dollar for a midweek meal, we narrowed our steak options to cheaper cuts. Sirloin steak tips (also known as flap meat), cut into pieces big enough to brown and not overcook in the sauce, were ideal. Their internal marbling melts and adds tenderness when the meat is cooked. Flank steak make a suitable substitute if steak tips aren’t available but aren’t nearly as meaty-tasting.
To bolster juiciness and steak flavor, we employed one of the test kitchen’s proven methods: a quick soak in salty liquid (in this case, soy sauce). The salty soy draws juices out of the steak, after which the soy, along with the moisture, flows back in, bringing deep flavor into the meat. We also added a bit of sugar to the soy sauce to boost flavor and promote browning.
For a sauce with meaty mushroom flavor, we added dried porcinis (hydrated in beef broth) along with white mushrooms, which we lightly salted immediately after placing them in the pan. This helped break down their cell walls and set their juices flowing; we used these as the liquid component of the sauce. Once the mushrooms had “deglazed” the pan with their juices and started to brown, we added a thinly sliced onion and more salt (to expedite the onion’s release of moisture), then waited until the vegetables were deeply browned, their liquid had cooked off, and even more browned bits, known as fond, clung to the pan. We now had a flavor trifecta: a classic meat fond and two layers of vegetable fond. A sprinkle of flour thickened our rich, lump-free gravy, and minced garlic and woodsy thyme finished our sauce.list of recipes