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Recipes and Stories

15 August 2019: An Old Dog Relearning Old Tricks

A Quick Sauté of Beef is done in less than tweny minutes, start to finish.

I am having to relearn how to cook on an electric range, and the one on which I am learning is working my nerves.


Crowded into the end of our apartment's galley kitchen, the thermostat of its large front burner is defective and will suddenly make it surge to high heat when it's set anywhere between high and medium-low. From medium-low to low, it practically turns itself off and is barely warm.


That can be fixed, but the undercabinet microwave that hovers a mere thirteen inches above the cooking surfaces (five inches less than standard upper cabinet height) cannot.


Tall pots won't fit on the back and if there's anything on a front burner, that has to be moved before even low pots can be moved at the back. Since the large front burner is unreliable, less than half the cooking surface is really usable, and slow simmers (the one really good property of an electric range) have to be done on a small front burner in a pot that's almost too small for it.


Suddenly, I'm getting a sharp, unpleasant reminder of what it feels like to be a complete novice in the kitchen: Browning things without scorching them has become a challenge; rice that's uniformly fluffy and separate and not half-grainy-half-mushy is unpredictable.

The good things are that water comes to a rolling boil in half the time it took on the old gas range from our last place and I get really intense heat for a stir-fry or sauté. Oh, and the oven works reasonably well, but then who wants to be baking or broiling in this weather?


What all that means is that, while I'm relearning how to manage electric heat and wait for the necessary repairs on that front heat source, we're eating a lot of pasta, quick sautés, and stir-fries with so-so rice.


That relearning ought, in theory, to be simple: after all, I learned to cook on an electric range and have used one for more than half my life. But while I've never put much stock in that old saying about how an old dog can't learn new tricks, I'm finding out that it really is hard for this old dog to relearn old tricks, especially on equipment that has such added challenges built-in.


But what can one do? We still have to eat and even if we could afford a steady diet of restaurant food, that would be tedious at best.


Fortunately, sautéing is a perfect cooking method for hot weather. It's simple, fast, and requires no special skill from the cook. Sure, tossing the food as a professional chef does requires the mastery of a technique that takes practice and finesse, but, after all, there's nothing that says a home cook needs to master something that was developed by line cooks in a hurry. Steady flipping with a spoon or spatula will most of the time do the job nearly as well.


A Quick Sauté of Beef for Two


It seems appropriate, on the indomitable Julia Child's birthday, to celebrate her memory with a quick sauté of beef inspired by her recipe from The Way to Cook. The basic technique is the same regardless of the kind of protein, whether it's red meat or poultry, so you also use it for chunks of chicken or pork loin or tenderloin. It's done start to finish in less than twenty minutes, including the back-prep.


Because this is fairly rich, serve it with steamed potatoes and simple green vegetable or salad.


Serves 2


12 ounces beef filet tips, sirloin tips, or rib eye, cut into 1½-inch cubes

2 tablespoons minced shallot

3-4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and whole black pepper in a mill

½ cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth

½ cup beef broth

1 tablespoon cream

1 tablespoon minced flat leaf parsley


1. Wrap the meat with several layers of paper towels, gently pressing to dry it. Unwrap it and heat 1 tablespoon of the butter and the oil in a 10-inch skillet or sauté pan over medium heat. Add the beef, raise the heat to medium high, and brown it well on all sides, about 3 minutes tossing it often. Remove the meat to a plate with a slotted spoon or spatula and season lightly with salt and pepper.


2. Return the pan to medium heat, add the shallot, and sauté until golden, about 2 minutes. Add the wine to the pan and deglaze it, stirring and scraping the bottom to loosen any cooking residue. Let it cook until its aroma is no longer alcoholic and add the broth. Bring it to a boil and let the liquid boil until it's reduce by a little more than half its original volume. Whisk in any juices that have accumulated in the plate holding the meat.


3. Whisk in the cream and let it thicken slightly, then take the pan from the heat and whisk in 2-3 tablespoons of butter a few bits at a time. Return the beef to the pan, add half the parsley, and gently toss until the meat is coated. Divide the beef among two warm serving plates, spoon the sauce over it and sprinkle it with the remaining parsley.

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