There’s a lot of hate circilng around the dishes that defined the 70’s; Duck à l’orange, scampi, prawn cocktail, cheese and onion on sticks… Some of the hate is, to be fair, more than justified. And what is key to the hate in this debate (and it really is a strongly fought debate) is not for the potential of those dishes, rather than the quality of them during the 70’s. There were restaurants, which genuinely served duck à l’orange by placing a dry, shriveled half roast duck on a plate and making a sauce from gravy granules and orange squash. I dream of thinly sliced duck breast with melting fat and crispy and salty scored skin, bathed in a sauce of good stock, fresh orange juice and sherry vinegar. Likewise stroganoff, the pillar of school dinners plays its part in the hated dishes; and yet it is a delightful dish that is truly delicious and easy to make.
Start with the meat; it can be cheap beef frying steak, chicken breast (thinly sliced), pork escalope or veal escalope. I like beef for this recipe, so start by seasoning each steak in smoked paprika, salt and pepper. Next heat up a pan on the highest heat you can and fry the steaks for a minute on each side. You want them golden brown but still rare in the middle.
Thinly slice one onion, 4 mushrooms per person and a clove of garlic. Put these into the same pan and stir-fry on a high heat. Now prepare a cup of stock (from a cube is fine) and add to that a squeeze of tomato purée, a teaspoon of smoked paprika and a tablespoon of corn flour*. When the vegetables are softened add this liquid to the pan and stir. The corn flour will thicken the sauce.
Whilst this is happening slice up the steak into thin strips and place back into the sauce. Simmer for 5 minutes and then add a half-cup of double cream or crème fraîche. Taste the sauce and, if needed, season with salt, pepper and more paprika. Some people like to add green peppercorns to it; this adds a fiery burst of heat to the dish. A similar effect can be made by using some chilli sauce or thinly sliced chilli. Whatever you do add, leave it for a further 4 minutes and then spoon over freshly steamed rice and sprinkle some freshly chopped coriander atop.
*A footnote on corn flour:
Corn flour is the chef’s worst kept secret. Chefs use it across the world to make sauces that would otherwise be thin and pale into thick, luxurious sauces. In the traditional French tradition, the chef uses a technique called ‘monter au buerre’ which literally means to add a huge amount of butter to a reduction of wine and stock and whisk until the emulsification thickens the sauce. That’s all very well and good, and a technique I love to use. However, corn flour is a healthier and easier option. Whatever you do, whisk in a few teaspoons of corn flour (mixed into a few tablespoons of water) into a sauce and stir constantly as it thickens. It works especially well in gravies, curries, stroganoffs… The dream ingredient!
Image: Naotake Murayama @ FLICKR