By Mark Wieser
One funny thing about my Mom—her cooking got better as she grew older. Everyone said she was a great cook and had learned that from her mother, who ran a boardinghouse and even the Central Hotel at one time where she offered a daily lunch. (She also had the contract to feed the inmates at the county jail. Rumor has it many insisted on serving their full sentence!)
Actually, I think my mom got to be a better cook after finishing rearing her five kids. For one thing, she was willing to try new things and when Beef Stroganov became the rage in the late ‘60s, she made it quite often. And, it wasn’t German at all.
The commonly accepted version of its history is that a French chef created Beef Stroganov while working for a wealthy St. Petersburg family in 1891 and named it for his employer, the Count Pavel Alexandrovich Strognaov. Unfortunately, the Count had been killed in 1817. So, that wasn’t true, but the rumor still persists. The French chef allegedly was Charles Briere and with his recipe did win a St. Petersburg cooking contest, but several researchers point out that the recipe is simply a refined version of older Russian dishes. Moreover, Elena Molokhovels’s classic Russian cookbook, A Gift to Young Housewives, gives the first known recipe for “Beef á la Stroganov, with mustard”, in its 1871 edition. So Briere wasn’t introducing anything new after all.
Apparently, the upper crust Russians living under the Czars were particularly fond of the city of Paris and its fabulous cooking. Many sent their sons and daughters to take cooking classes there—not necessarily that they cooked upon returning. Beef Stroganoff first did become a sensation in Russia, then, to the surprise of many, China! Not until 1927 was it offered in tea rooms established by former members of the Imperial Ballet in New York City. And, it made its first appearance in an English language cookbook in 1932.
Like many recipes, the original was adulterated with the inclusions of tomato paste, Worcestershire, and even condensed cream of mushroom soup. Remarkably, what had started as a peasant dish, being a common way for simple Russian peasants with enough Rubles to buy any meat at all to make it last, now became a world sensation.
Actually, the early versions involved lightly floured beef cubes (not strips) sautéed, sauced with prepared mustard and broth and finished with a small amount of sour cream: no onions, no mushrooms and no alcohol. Other versions added the onions and tomato sauce, and suggest it be served with crisp potatoes straws (French Fries), which were considered the traditional side dish in Russia. Different variations have appeared in countries around the world. Here is the basic—add your own flare to it!
1 ½ pounds round steak, sliced into thin strips
¼ cup flour
dash of pepper
¼ cup butter
4 oz. canned mushrooms, drained and sliced
½ cup onion, chopped
1 small clove garlic, minced
10½ oz beef broth
1 cup sour cream
3 cups noodles, cooked and drained
Dust strips of steak lightly with flour and pepper
In a large skillet, brown meat in butter
Add mushrooms, onions, and garlic
Then stir in soup, cover and cook for about one hour or until meat is tender.
Gradually blend in sour cream.
Cover and cook over low heat for another 5 minutes.
Serve over prepared noodles.
Yield about four generous servings.