Haute Cuisine meets midweek convenience in this fusion of a classic Imperial Russian recipe and a handsfree favorite.
Count Stroganoff would probably have a heart attack as would his famous French chef at the idea of this kind of riff on Beef Stroganoff, their signature dish, but guess what? We’re not going to stress about a Russian count and a French chef who have been dead for 200 years. Not when there are meatballs to make.
I’ve written before about Beef Stroganoff’s invention and round-the-world there-and-back journey. But that was a while ago, and I thought it was time to revisit this Russian classic that made its determined way into the global culinary canon. And then I was visited by one of those culinary accidents that produce the best family classics.
I’m in the midst of working on developing an updated recipe for a funny sort of Estonian meatball soup and the meatball part of the equation was driving me up the wall. All of the Estonian recipes gave me meatballs that fell apart in the broth or were too tough to be enjoyable. To be successful, meatballs need to have that almost-impossible to achieve texture: tender but firm.
And so, I went wandering, as I tend to do, through the Internet and a stack of cookbooks for a solution and was surprised to learn that the solution was to freeze the meatballs raw, then cook them low and slow in a slow cooker or braise them in a Dutch oven in a bit of broth before adding them to the soup. I was skeptical but desperate, which is the moment when many truly great recipes come in to being.
This worked a treat and I’m happy to say that Estonian meatball soup is now delectable! But now I was on a serious meatball jag — there is something really satisfying about having a bag of meatballs in a Ziplock in the freezer that you can pull out in an emergency. These are great with Bolognese Sauce or in chicken broth with a bit of spinach and grated Parmesan.
This past week we celebrated Men’s Day in Russia — that most masculine of holidays. This is arguably the most important holiday of the Russian calendar year in terms of the need to have a really great, super hearty showstopper menu ready!
Readers of Lenin Lives Next Door will remember that Men’s Day is the moment when Jesus and Alexei get engaged, with the Cartier rings and the Pratesi sheets. They may be the only men to ever celebrate Men’s Day in this particular way, but as they are fictional, I think they’re safe! In a sequel, I’m working on (very slowly) Jesus gets a friend (me, who else?) to make a big pot of Beef Stroganoff (which is Alexei’s absolute favorite) to serve when his mother-in-law arrives from the Crimea. You can imagine what happens next. (Hint: not a cozy family dinner).
Beef Stroganoff is always a crowd-pleaser, but it’s fussy and messy and you can’t really do a lot of ahead-of-time heavy lifting. These meatballs fuse the flavors of Beef Stroganoff with the meatballs for a “get it going, then leave it alone” type of main course that frees you up to scour your apartment from stem to stern before your mother-in-law arrives to stay for seven or eight months. You know the sort of thing. Meatballs somehow make this classic imperial Russian dish a little bit more accessible; you might not pack the remains of Beef Stroganoff in your lunchbox, for example, but you certainly might stick these babies in.
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Beef Stroganoff is usually served with fingerling potatoes, rice, or egg noodles but these meatballs worked equally well with “zoodles” or “zucchini noodles” — a much lighter alternative to traditional starch for those of us who are trying to watch the carb intake.
So, go on a meatball jag and have fun! And report back here!