Two Step Slowcooker Stroganoff was probably the second dish I adopted for the family rotation way back when our girls were younger and too busy to feed in any conventional way. I would pile the ingredients into my trusty crockpot and off we’d go. Coming home hours later the house was filled with wonderful aromas that everybody loved and everybody knew would be filling and yummy. Those busy little girls have since grown into equally busy young women who still get excited when I pull this slowcooker standby out for a Sunday (or Saturday) family sit down dinner… even though they have both largely abandoned meat, especially ground beef.
If you wish you can really just pile the ingredients from step one described below into your slowcooker, set it, and go. Then, hours later a second step to thicken the sauce will take you five extra minutes to prep and an hour or so more in the slowcooker. Many, many times I did just that, taking care first to simply brown the ground beef first. That was as fussy as it got. I’d pour everything in and set it for six hours. It never failed and will do just the same for you. But, if you want to take a little extra time at the beginning you can seriously step things up and ratchet up the flavour quotient.
First, and foremost, the question of whether or not to brown the meat in the first place. Many experienced crockpot enthusiasts will tell you don’t bother. A serious amount of research leads me to believe that provided your machine doesn’t suffer any malfunction, you’ll probably be okay food safety-wise. In the old days, at first, that was the main reason I always followed the advice in the book and browned the beef. It was a food safety issue. But, close to two decades later that seems not to be an issue. As mentioned in an earlier post: Veteran Tools #2: The Slowcooker, these machines are all designed to reliably reach a steady temperature of 210 degrees and stay there. You can absolutely rely on the meat reaching a safe internal temperature provided you follow the established cook times set out in the recipe.
So, why do I still recommend browning the beef first? Well, it’s a Veteran Move actually. It is guaranteed to punch up the final flavour of your dish and lets you drain off any fat released in in cooking that will end up as an oil slick on top of the finished product if you don’t. There is general agreement in the cooking community that browning first lets you lower the fat and equals tasty. And, to push it a little further, follow one important lesson my dear old sainted mother taught me. Season the meat, when browning or searing. It’s ingrained. I do it all the time and it really works. People notice. You should do it too! I go so far as the lightly saute the onions with the mushrooms before adding them to the crock. Then I brown the beef… yum!
Years later though a good friend and fellow home cook (who’s family still owns and operates a venerable Pizzeria in my children’s hometown) encouraged me to abandon my mom’s advice in favour of seasoning the sauce not the meat. But, I’m as much a big mama’s boy as I am a good friend, and having also been raised in Canada, I compromise and do both. It’s a second Veteran Move that I actually cut the seasonings in half and put a little on the meat and a little in the sauce. Everybody wins right?
Finally, if you sprinkle a little cornstarch or flour (say one or two tablespoons) on the beef while seasoning it as it browns in the skillet, the final result will be a thicker, richer sauce. Yet another Veteran Move.
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