Take some lean chewy beefsteak, pound it until it cries for mercy, simmer it slowly in a little wine and water until it gives up and falls to pieces and you will end up with one of the most wonderful simple main courses you will ever find. Mom had a wooden mallet with a waffled surface that she used to tenderize the cheap cuts of meat we grew up on. I can still see her slamming the mallet down on a defenseless piece of round steak.
We have a metal meat tenderizer today. It’s smaller than Mom’s but it does the job. However, as I have become older, wiser and lazier, I now buy cube steak, which is round steak that has been tenderized by a machine at the butcher shop. Starting with cube steak, you can put a meal on the table in well under an hour, even allowing a few minutes to peel the potatoes and catch your breath with a sip of the wine you use to help tenderize the beef.
1 to 1 1/2 lbs. cube steak
2 to 3 T vegetable oil
1 small carrot
1 small parsnip
1/4 cup grated onion
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1 3/4 cups water, divided
2 beef bouillon cubes
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 four oz. can mushrooms
2 T corn starch
1/4 cup cold water
Mix the flour, salt and pepper together. Clean, peel and grate the onion, carrot and parsnip.
Put two tablespoons of oil into a covered skillet over moderate heat. Cut the cube steak into serving-size pieces and dredge them in the seasoned flour. Brown the meat and remove it from the skillet. Put the vegetables into the skillet and sauté them over moderate heat for five minutes. Add more oil if necessary.
While the vegetables are cooking, you will notice that the flour from the meat is continuing to darken. This will give a rich brown color to the sauce. Dissolve two beef bouillon cubes in 1 1/2 cups hot water.
Pour the water and wine into the skillet and use a wooden spoon to scrape the flour from the bottom of the pan. Return the meat to the skillet, cover and simmer for fifteen minutes.
Drain the mushrooms and add them to the skillet. Stir two tablespoons of corn starch into a quarter cup of cold water and stir it into the skillet. Simmer for five minutes to cook the starch and thicken the sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Serve with bread, boiled potatoes and a green salad. If you enjoy wine at dinner, pour a glass of the wine you used for the meat.
NOTES: Cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel or merlot are all good wine choices for this dish.
A pound of cube steak will give you three generous servings. A pound and half will serve four or five diners. You might want to use a medium carrot and parsnip and increase the amount of water, wine and flour slightly to give you more gravy if you use the larger amount of steak.
Many people have told me that they have never eaten parsnips, but it is almost certain that they have eaten sauces or stews that include this cousin of the carrot. Parsnips sweeten in the ground after a hard frost and are sometimes harvested when the top inch of soil is already frozen. They are so sweet that they were used as a source of sugar before cane and beet sugar became available. The Romans valued parsnips so much that the emperor Tiberius accepted parsnips as partial payment of tribute from Germany.
When you buy them in the market, they are usually dipped in wax to keep them from drying out. Peeling removes the wax and the outer skin of the parsnip. The parsnip, carrot and onion need to be finely grated and sautéd to flavor the sauce without calling attention to themselves.