A fabulous Russian classic

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ABOUT a decade ago I was patron of the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds).

I had to host a conference at one of the nature reserves in the UK and I was going to talk about my love of wildlife and about my new menu called Early Bird, which comes from the old English proverb… the early bird catches the worm.

True because when I go shopping for fish if I arrive early I get the best choice and prices. Arrive late and demand is greater, price is higher and choice is less.

Anyway to get back to the story I was to announce my new Early Bird menu sponsored by the RSPB and talk about the beauty of natural wildlife.

Two stories and only a few minutes to say both, so I started out by saying… let’s kill two birds with one stone, meaning to succeed in achieving two things in one single action.

Well the room was full of older people and their mouths fell open. The atmosphere turned icy as I tried to explain it was a joke, making it even worse!

The RSPB never contacted me again.

So on the early bird theme, we have a menu at The Little Geranium in La Cala to encourage early diners to eat great food and save them money.

In fact we don’t promote it by offering it in the restaurant (you have to request it when reserving a table) but that’s because whilst it helps turnover it doesn’t help profit!

It’s an offer to get people in early as otherwise a table might stay empty until say nine’ish.

Most early birds have wine and drinks and so I’m happy with that.

It’s a four-course menu with a breadboard selection, chef’s amuse, a choice of starter, a choice of main course and dessert for €35.

At the moment one of the main course choices is beef Stroganoff.

Stroganoff, or rather Stroganov, is a Russian recipe made with pieces of beef cooked in a sauce with sour cream (smetana), mustard and onions, originating from the mid 19th century (somewhere around the 1870’s.)

Over the years it has had many variations, the original recipe serves it with rice, but I have seen it served with pasta in New York and many recipes now include mushrooms, which mine does too.

My wife (Michele) loves Stroganoff but she doesn’t eat a lot of meat.

Last weekend we were out and it was on the menu so she chose it.

The meat was chewy, the sauce was over-thick and flavourless and it cost nearly as much as our whole Early Bird menu, just for that one plate!

We left the beachside restaurant and I promised to cook her my Stroganoff the next evening.

“Why don’t you write about it” Michele said?

“Maybe then other restaurants would read it and copy it and then I can eat it when I’m out!”

“Good idea” I said, so here it is, classic Stroganoff with a little twist.

For the Stroganoff (ingredients for two)

75g unsalted butter

2tbsp light olive oil

1 white onion, finely sliced

1 red onion, finely sliced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

200g wild or field mushrooms, sliced

400g beef fillet, cut into small strips

1 flat tbsp smoked paprika, a little black pepper and Maldon salt

150ml approx of red wine sauce made from beef stock Juice and zest of half a lemon ½ tablespoon of Dijon mustard

100ml double cream

1 glass of cooking brandy

For the rice:

500g basmati rice

Water to cover (see recipe)

25g butter or a little olive oil

Chopped fresh green herbs

Pinch of salt

Method

• Finely grate the lemon zest and prepare the onions and the garlic, clean and slice the mushrooms. Chop the parsley.

• Cut the trimmed beef fillet (ie no fat or sinew) into finger-width slices.

• Mix the smoked paprika, lemon zest, and a pinch of sea salt and black pepper together, and use to season the beef,coating it totally and leave the beef raw on the board ready to cook.

• In a large frying pan over a medium heat, fry the onion and garlic in a little oil until soft, remove and reserve on a plate. Now in the same pan turn up the heat and add the mushrooms, sauteing until they are golden brown, then add the butter and season and tip onto a plate with the onions.

• Clean the pan and add a little oil and heat the pan until very hot, fry the beef for two minutes, turning, until browned but still pink inside. Now remove from the pan and allow it to rest on a clean plate.

• In a saucepan reduce the red wine sauce/stock until thickish and while it is reducing whip the cream and add the lemon juice to the cream.

• Now add the mustard to the sauce and whisk in, taste and add the lemon cream mix, still reducing.

• Get a clean frying pan hot, and put in the beef and add the onions, mushrooms and the butter and now pour in the brandy and flame if you have gas. Finally add the hot reduced sauce to the pan and serve. Do not leave the beef too long in the pan in the sauce or it will overcook.

• Finish with the chopped parsley.

• Note: I deconstruct my stroganoff by serving the wild mushrooms separately as part of a design on the plate with various purees and reduced sauce, but the method above is far simpler!

How to cook perfect rice

This is the best way!

Preheat your oven to 200C.

• Put the rice in a sieve and wash off the starch three or four times under cold running water.

• Put rice in a saucepan and cover with water so that the water is the thickness of one finger above the rice. Stir in a little salt.

• Heat the rice first on the stove for two to three minutes and now put a lid on the saucepan and cook in the pre- heated oven for 25 minutes.

• Remove pan from oven carefully as it will be very hot. Stir in a little olive oil or butter and the chopped herbs and allow to rest with the lid on the saucepan for five minutes and serve.

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