Wednesday, January 9, 2008

From Russia, With Love

As you may have noticed, I've spent the last few weeks in culinary confinement, mostly cooking simple meals for my mom, in addition to making a few American favorites that she misses. But before she left for Spain this weekend, Mom was able to make me one of her favorite childhood dishes. She grew up in Madrid, at an all girls boarding school run by nuns. One day a week, the girls would get their favorite dish--filetes rusos ("Russian steaks")--small meat patties that are somewhere between a hamburger and a meatball. They're super kid friendly, probably because they're traditionally served over french fries or some other type of fried potato, and most kids eat them with their hands (unless, of course, there's a nun over your shoulder). My mom also has fond memories of her mother making patatas a la importancia ("important potatoes") for her as a kid, so we decided to make a full meal out of her favorites.

The potatoes are, for lack of a better word...really cool. Not to mention, the cooking method is something I've never seen before--slowly braised in chicken stock, but only after they're battered and fried (!). First, they're coated in flour and egg and carefully fried until golden brown, but still raw in the center. Then, the slices are layered in a pan and cooked slowly in a braising liquid like chicken stock. I thought this might lead to a mushy potato, but it actually resulted in a pillowy soft and juicy bed for the filetes. I'll have that potato recipe soon, since I was too busy reliving my childhood as the kitchen helper to write all of the measurements down exactly. We worked from the cookbook known as my mother's memory, and that my friends, is a very long book.

As for the filetes, they're super easy to make, not unlike meatballs. I like them streaked with moist, chunky breadcrumbs and cooked until there's just the tiniest hint of pink in the center. You'll notice in the recipe that I use garlic powder in lieu of fresh garlic, and that's because I generally find that no matter how small you mince garlic for this dish or for meatballs, the garlic never cooks all the way through and is way too pungent. But that's just me (and my mom). Give them a try, especially if you have little ones, they'll probably eat 'em by the handful. They can even help you make them just like my mom and I always have. I may be an adult, and about 4 inches taller than her, but I'm always happy to be mother's little helper. Here's how to make them yourself:

Filetes Rusos
1 lb ground beef
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs soaked in milk
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp parsley (I like dried best)
2 eggs, beaten
3 Tbsp flour
Light olive oil (or whatever light oil you like for pan frying)

1. Season ground beef with garlic powder and parsley and let stand in a cling wrap covered bowl, about 30-45 minutes. Afterwards, season beef with salt and combine with eggs and breadcrumbs (excess milk squeezed out).

2. Form meat mixture into 2 inch wide balls and coat lightly in flour. Brown in a skillet with light olive oil, carefully flattening each piece with a spatula as it cooks. Flip and brown on second side until cooked through, flattening once again so they resemble small, plump patties.

3. Remove each patty to a plate covered with paper towels to drain. Serve over potatoes. Enjoy!


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