Saturday, June 22, 2013

Goop 2: An Evolving Recipe for Pepper Steak

June 16, 2013

Goop over steamed rice


My mom cooked without recipes. Diane's mom cooks without recipes.  Diane cooks without recipes. I cook without recipes, except for the Sunday dinners and desserts that I write about here. Most people who cook every day meals probably do so without recipes. They may start with a recipe, perhaps using it only as a guideline, adjusting it to fit the season, pantry contents, and family tastes. If the recipe is popular it is made regularly, soon the cook needs no written directions at all, and the recipe evolves. It improves as failed variations are discarded in favor of those that work. My mom was a very good cook and my dad would say the spaghetti sauce, for example, was never the same twice. Before she died, my sisters went to great efforts to record ingredients and instructions so her recipes would not be completely lost when we lost her.

This is the story of a recipe and my first attempt to duplicate it and record instructions so others can enjoy it. The dish is called goop. It comes from Diane who got it from her mother, Delphine. Delphine says the recipe goes back about 50 years, when they were living in Los Angeles. A friend, Glenn Hess, was the Sunday School teacher for young married couples. She liked something that she was served at a restaurant, she analyzed it, and came up with what she called "goop". Delphine thinks of it as a pepper steak.

Diane has a recipe card–old, beaten up, stained, hard to read–which served as my starting point. That plus Diane's knowledge and experience with the recipe. Like many home recipes, it lacks precision and detail. This is "Goop 1". 
Laminated steak
   brown beef seasoned with garlic salt (powder + salt)
1 can mushroom pieces (save juice)
Add 4 onions
  1 green pepper
  4 stalks celery
  ½ teaspoon chili powder
  ¼ teaspoon allspice
  2 tablespoons sugar
  Worcestershire sauce
  Tabasco sauce
  1# can tomatoes
  Mushroom juice
Serve over rice
My favorite part of this dish is the sauce. It soaks into the rice and gives it a delightful, savory flavor. It's has a hint of heat but it's the allspice that provides its unique character. The tomatoes, pepper, and onions are cooked down so they are sweet and tender. One of Diane's favorite modifications is to use frozen bell peppers; they come in assorted colors which adds to the visual appeal of the dish, as well as being convenient to keep on hand.

We don't know what "laminated steak" is. I found a reference to a product by this name produced by  a since defunct Southern California company, but Delphine thinks it just means the meat is sliced very thin.

Working with Diane, I came up with the recipe ("Goop 2") which I have recorded so you can try it, too. To be frank, it is not as good as what Diane has made for me many times. The meat was not cut correctly and the sauce did not have the distinctive flavor that I am so fond of. It was far from being a total failure, though, and a good start to developing a good goop recipe. The balance of steak and vegetables was correct even though the original recipe doesn't say how much meat to use.

I will make it again, maybe sooner rather than later, while the memories are fresh. Here are some of the changes that we'll consider for Goop 3:
  • Cut the meat into smaller pieces. They should be thin strips instead of squares. This piece of beef should have been cut parallel to the counter so the two halves are ¼–½-inch thick, and then sliced across the grain into ¼-inch slices that are long and skinny. We should try very thin slices, too.
  • The amount of heat was good but the flavor of the hot sauce overwhelmed the allspice. Decrease the hot sauce to ⅛ teaspoon, or eliminate it entirely, and increase the allspice to 1 teaspoon (though that seems like a lot).
  • Brown the meat in two batches, the pan was too crowded and the meat stewed rather than browned.
  • Use fresh garlic in place of the garlic salt.
I hope that it won't take too many iterations before I have a recipe that you can use to duplicate what Diane serves to me. (If you try it now or have suggestions, I would love to hear from you! You can use the comments form at the bottom of this post.)  If you find you like it enough to prepare it often, its continuing evolution will then be up to you. It will continue to change and evolve and adapt to the tastes of your family. And it will be good.

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