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Sunday, August 29, 2010


When I was a kid living in Vienna Austria, Frau Olga would take me to the Naschmarkt every Saturday morning to shop for her cooking supplies.  Frau Olga was a big woman.  A big Czeckosloviakian woman.  Eastern Bloc big.  We would ride trollies through the tree-lined streets of Vienna until we got close to the market before walking along the banks of the Wein river to reach the market..  She clasped my tiny hand in one gigantic palm while her other arm crooked her market basket.  We strolled from stall to stall shopping for goods.  The colors of the produce and array of products always amazed me, although I was more taken by the intricately hand-painted tiny medieval soldiers sold by toy makers.  On rare occasions she would buy me one if I was a "God" boy.  It was never about shopping for me, though. We were there to buy our food.

On Saturday mornings in the fall, or after a period of heavy rain, Frau Olga would take me to the Vienna Woods to forage for wild mushrooms.  "Mushroom picking", we called it.  It was serious business for her and delightful fun for me.  We waded through leaves and shadows with gnarly sticks in hand, tipping over leaves and turning over  logs in search of mushrooms.  They sprouted in clusters, so if one was discovered, more were to be had.  Because  I was much closer to the ground, I was in charge of slicing the mushrooms from their grasp to the ground. You didn't really pick mushrooms, you sliced them from their roots. I was always covered with dirty moss when we finished; and loved it.  Permission granted to get boy-dirty.

Frau Olga knew her mushrooms. Chanterelles, porcinis, and creminis were her targets. We foraged for hours until she felt we had enough.  When fully stocked, we exited the dark forest, hopped a trolly, and returned home. She prepared her mushrooms very simply, sauteed with fresh herbs as a garnish in our nightly supper starters, consomme.  But, every once in a while they gilded her beef stroganoff.

Yesterday, I took a heartfelt mental stroll with Frau Olga through the Vienna Woods.  I foraged through the local grocery produce section, snagging fresh creminis and dried chanterelles. I wanted to use them as she had.
Not for consomme, but for Beef Stroganoff.
A lot of people assume beef stroganoff is a long simmered dish. It isn't. Last night, it came together with a quick saute.

I steeped the dried chanterelles in boiling water for 30 minutes to reconstitute, pulled them out of the water to drain, strained the liquid through a coffee filter to trap any residue, and set them aside.  After slicing a large onion and the  fresh creminis, I cubed tender sirloin steaks into 1 inch pieces.  Everything was in place.  Mise en place.
Working quickly, I seasoned the beef with salt and pepper, dredged it in flour, dusted off any extra flour, and
and tossed the cubed beef into a very hot skillet with butter and olive oil. I let the beef pieces sizzle to a dark crunchy brown to seal in the flavor before fishing them out with a slotted spoon, and setting them aside to rest.

While the oil was still screaming hot, I tumbled in the sliced onions to soften and cook.  When the onions were almost caramelized, I dropped in 2 cloves of minced garlic and a tablespoon of tomato paste. After the onions and garlic collapsed and the tomato paste cooked down, I deglazed the pan with a cup of dry white wine, letting the mixture simmer until the wine reduced by half before adding a knob of butter to melt through for richness and shimmer. Once the butter melted into the onions, I added a cup of beef stock and the reserved mushroom liquid to simmer and reduce  for 20 minutes. While the stock reduced, I brought a large pot of water to a boil, heavily salted it, and dropped in the egg noodles.
In a seperate hot buttered skillet, I sauteed the rehydrated chanterelles and sliced creminis with fresh thyme and parsley.  After the mushrooms released their liquids, softened, and caramelized, I salted them and deglazed the pan with fresh squeezed lemon juice.

When the pasta was cooked to al dente, I added the reserved beef to the reduced stock, swirled in a couple of tablespoons of sour cream, and removed it from the heat.
I plated the pasta, topped it with the sauced beef, and spooned the herbed sauteed mushrooms over the beef.  Sea salt and fresh parsley finished it off  along with gorgeous sliced tomatoes from our garden.

Cooking everything seperately before combining them was very Thomas Keller-esque.  It maintained the integrity of each ingredient before they were married onto the plate.  The stroganoff had a very intense deep complexity. The al dente pasta swirled through the sauce like ribbons, capturing the crunchy unctuous beef bits with soft grabbing tentacles. The rich sauce was a gentle barrier between  moist tender meat and  intense earthy herbed mushrooms. When all the elements combined into a single bite, is was insanely sensual. Velvety soft and intensely deep.  Crazy good.  Lick your plate good.  The lone Fresh Market buttered yeast roll was not enough bread to sop up the happiness.
Licking ensued.

 I didn't forage mushrooms from a forest. As a cautious adult, I'd be afraid to. I didn't even make the pasta from scratch. Who cared?  No One.

Inspired by Frau Olga, it couldn't have gone wrong.

And didn't.

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