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Empty Apartment Sauce

Friday, April 6, 2012

Sorry, guys, all photos were taken from my phone. I photoshopped them to look about as dazed as me :)

Tonight I cooked dinner for the first time in my blissfully empty Swiss kitchen. As the name of this post suggests, the kitchen is inside my new and almost entirely empty apartment, just about a 15 minute walk away from Zurich's local mountain Uetliberg. The apartment is empty, because I only brought a suitcase with me from New York, but in the suitcase I brought a loyal stainless steel pan!

Next time you are making steak when dead tired and wolf hungry after running around an unfamiliar city, trying to speak a foreign language with strangers, and sleeping on the floor because you don't have a bed, consider making this simple sauce to fortify your spirits. It's rich and satisfying and only takes two main ingredients - onions and sour cream.
What you need:
Meat and seasonings for your steak
1.5 Tbsp sour cream per person
1/2 small onion per person
oregano or another herb of choice (optional)

Making the sauce:
Sear your steak in a little oil in a stainless steel pan, as you normally would. Stainless steel pan grips the frying meat more tightly than Teflon and doesn't quite want to let go, so when you remove the meat dark brown residue remains as its footprint. This is called fond (see Wiki) and is the foundation of the famous French pan sauces.

When the steak is ready, remove it from the pan and set aside. Lower the heat and saute chopped onions in the same oil and same dirty pan until caramelized. Optionally add your chopped herb. Then, pour in just enough water so that not all of it evaporates at once, and scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon until all of the fond dissolves in the water (deglazing as this is called is typically done with more interesting liquids like wine or broth, none of which could be found in my empty pantry).

Salt generously and let the onions simmer for a minute until the sauce is nearly as thick as you'd like. Swiftly whip in the sour cream, making tight fast motions with a spoon as if you were beating an egg. That's it! Serve this sauce over your meat and side dish.

I have usually done deglazing with wine, beer, broth or juice and considered the pan sauce fundamentally French and fancy. Sour cream is a simple and homely ingredient from Russian cooking, where it is applied liberally to sauces, soups, salads and pancakes alike (just see our Beef Stroganoff, Beef and Mushrooms Stew and Classic Russian Borscht). Though French and Russian culinary traditions shy away from each other, this simple experiment worked out and so I will be on the lookout for more :)

My very Swiss kitchen (see my very loyal pan on the window sill).

A blanket is all the furniture I've got!