There are many so-called ethnic dishes that actually bear little or no resemblance to any native food from their country of origin. One example of this is the pseudo-Chinese dish Chop Suey. It was invented to satisfy American palates. Beef stroganoff, however, is another matter entirely. It was invented in St. Petersburg, Russia, by a Russian chef, according to legend. It is beef cooked with mushrooms in a sour-cream based sauce and served over egg noodles.
The story goes that, in the 1890s, a culinary competition was held in that city and an inventive chef took home first prize with his dish. Also according to the story, the chef’s main patron was Count Pavel Alexandrovich Stroganov, and the dish was named in his honor. Other sources say the basic recipe had actually been around much longer than the apocryphal chef and acquired Stroganov’s name because he was a celebrity in Czarist Russia. In fact, a similar recipe appeared in a Russian cookbook in 1871. Beef stroganoff started catching on in American households in the 1940s. Whatever its origins, beef stroganoff is a tasty, hearty dish enjoyed in Russia and around the world.
A good beef stroganoff uses stew meat or sliced steak cubes, beef broth, mushrooms, sour cream and paprika. A standard recipe calls for 3 pounds (1.37 kilograms) of cubed meat. Brown the meat in hot oil in a heavy saucepan and set aside. Finely chop 1/3 cup shallots or onions and brown in 5 tablespoons of butter. Add 1 1/2 pounds (680 grams) of sliced button mushrooms and sauté. Season the mixture with salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture evaporates. Pour in 1 cup beef broth and stir, adding 1 teaspoon of cornstarch to thicken, if necessary, and stir until liquid thickens. Add 1 cup sour cream, 1 1/3 tablespoons Dijon mustard and meat to the mixture and simmer until the meat reaches the preferred state of doneness. Add paprika and black pepper to taste. Serve over wide egg noodles. Some recipes add wine or cognac with the broth, but this is optional.
Beef stroganoff undoubtedly became popular because it could be made with what cooks had on hand in the kitchen. It was a good way to extend meat for a family, which was scarce among the proletariat in those days, and also was a warming, filling dish. Beef stroganoff is still a good dish for chilly autumn or winter days. Like most good recipes, beef stroganoff has far outlived those who originally concocted it and still remains popular.