Published March 1, 2010.
The usual choice for stroganoff—tenderloin—makes for a bland (and expensive) dish. But beefing up this classic took more than a different steak. We had to rethink our sear tactics.
Tenderloin’s lack of beefiness means contemporary stroganoff recipes compensate by either overloading the dish with flavor enhancers or opting for a beefier cut that doesn’t cook up as tender.
Even if it took more work, we wanted a stroganoff that was tender, rich, and beefy.
Given the advantages of its texture, we were reluctant to abandon tenderloin as our cut of choice. But after numerous tests, we realized that no matter what we tried, we couldn’t attain the beefy flavor we were after. Instead, we rounded up the beefier suspects and were most impressed by the cheapest of the lot: sirloin steak tips (also sold as “flap meat”).
Most recipes call for cutting the meat into strips before searing it, but we found the risk of overcooking too high with pieces that small. Instead, we left the steak in four equal, larger pieces and pan-roasted them. This way, the meat could stay on the heat long enough to develop rich, dark fond without overcooking, and we could let it rest before slicing it into strips, further improving its juiciness.
The only downside to steak tips is that their texture, while not tough, is still a far cry from that of tenderloin. Marinating the meat in soy sauce was the solution. The salt in soy sauce works just like a brine, breaking down proteins in meat and helping them retain more juices, creating the illusion of added tenderness. Soy sauce also contains glutamic acid, which boosts meaty flavor. In order to allow the soy sauce to penetrate the meat more deeply, we poked holes in the pieces before marinating.
Next we moved on to the sauce. Traditional recipes don’t contain mushrooms, but they’ve become such a common addition that tasters demanded they be included in ours. Microwaving the mushrooms released enough of their moisture (which we then drained off) so that they quickly browned along with the onions. As for the mustard, the traditional Russian choice, Sareptskaja (a sweet-hot blend), isn’t widely available, so we replaced it with a paste made of dry mustard bloomed in warm water, seasoned with sugar and black pepper. We also found that the sauce benefited from the subtle depth provided by a small amount of tomato paste.
The last essential ingredient was sour cream. Because its acidity causes its casein proteins to become so unstable that even a little heat makes them clump, it’s important to add the sour cream only after taking the sauce off the heat. We used enough to provide body and tang (which we enhanced with white wine), but not so much that it overwhelmed the beef flavor.list of recipes