Sunday, February 27, 2005

Sliced sirloin in red wine sauce

I got inspired by Cuisine Capers and the recent recipe for venison tips over brown rice. However, I didn’t have four cups of fresh mushrooms (nor any venison) in the pantry. As a result, I decided to make a simple beef dinner with red wine sauce and mushrooms.

The last time I tried this kind of thing was for a vegetarian dish from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, and it came out way too watery. I also used shiitake mushrooms, and concluded that their dark earthy flavor was too intense to work well with a red wine sauce.

I went looking for a simple recipe for red wine sauce. Every recipe I found, however, was written for more meat than I wanted to use; I was just working with some sliced-up sirloin strips intended for a stir-fry. Normally, I turn up my nose at meat pre-sliced for stir-fries; I can do my slicing myself, thank you very much. What keeps me coming back to this meat is that it’s flat-out good beef that turns out very tasty when I cook it. As someone with a long history of boring overdone steaks and hamburgers behind me, I appreciate a cut of beef that can stand my lack of technique. Or maybe I’m just a better stir-fry chef than steak chef.

Finally, after scanning many recipes and a final trip over to trans Fatty’s post on finishing sauces, I decided to wing it. A basic theoretical understanding would have to be enough.

I started by melting a blend of olive oil and butter in the skillet; the butter chunks splattered quite impressively when they hit the oil. I browned the sirloin pieces in the hot oil and butter, then removed them. Then I added half a cup of red wine (Yellowtail merlot) and the soaking water from the porcini mushrooms. At some point, I added a teaspoon of cornstarch, which promptly turned into starch nuggets because I had neglected to dissolve it in fluid first. Oops! Another teaspoon of dissolved cornstarch and some mashing of starch nuggets with the spatula came to the rescue.

Once the sauce was hot and had reduced a bit, I added the porcini mushrooms. Then the sirloin pieces went in and I cooked them until they looked done, the sauce had reduced some more, and I got impatient (I’m starting to think I lack the patience to create really tasty creamy sauces). I poured it all over a plate of spinach fettucini.

It was fine for a first try without a recipe, but it needed something, as usual. Even with the cornstarch, the red wine sauce was more toward the au jus end of the spectrum rather than the gravy end of the spectrum (not that this is a bad thing, I just wanted something more like gravy). More mushrooms, less assertively-flavored mushrooms, would be a good addition. Maybe if I served it with mashed potatoes next time, the potatoes would soak up the sauce better than the pasta. Ah, well, it was better than I'm making it sound.

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