rooted in foods | Grease your bowl | Food and cooking

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A mixture of truth and tale, beef stroganoff has a history as rich as the dish itself. This dish of tender beef cooked in a broth rich in onions, mushrooms, and sour cream is a favorite of many Americans. It’s also the subject of great consternation among foodies, likely because the authentic Russian recipe has been reinvented several times over the past century—more than a decade or so.

Food historians generally agree that beef stroganoff hails from the kitchen of the Russian Stroganov Palace, but its true identity is difficult to reveal. It is not agreed on how beef stroganoff will appear. One story is that Beef Stroganov was invented by Count Alexander Sergeevich Stroganov (1733-1811) who introduced this dish to the students he invited to his house.

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Another version attributes the creation to a French chef working for the Stroganoff family. Count Alexander Grigorievich Stroganov (1795-1891) served the dish to guests who attended an “open table” at his home in Odessa. The open table was a Russian tradition where uninvited guests – up to 60 guests at a time – could sit down to a proper meal. This often included students, tourists, actors, and civil servants.

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Regardless of Stroganoff’s responsibility for the dish, it was served with thin and crunchy French fries instead of the egg noodles we use in America. So where have potatoes been replaced with noodles? This is also a bit of a mystery.

When Russians fled to China after the communist revolution of 1917 and the ensuing civil war, their beloved beef stroganoff recipe escaped with them. This migration likely caused the pasta to be swapped for potatoes. Rice was also used as a substitute for potatoes.

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Around 1935, these same Russians began leaving China and many found their way to America. Once again, I followed the recipe for beef stroganoff, and it eventually became a popular meal in mid-century homes.

Today, it is a dish that many home cooks keep in their repertoire. There are countless recipes available and so many ways to prepare the dish from stove top to oven-baked. More modern recipes have been adapted for electric pressure cookers.

Even among the most authentic recipes, the ingredients differ. Some call for tomato paste while others use mustard powder. Heavy cream or cream can replace sour cream. There is some debate about whether mushrooms were part of the original recipe, although Americans always add them. Mushrooms are also included in many modern Russian recipes.

During the 1950s, when convenient canned foods were the savior of mid-century home cooking, canned mushrooms and canned condensed tomato soup were used to build the onion and mushroom sauce. Noodles and rice often appear with these recipes as a base for stroganoff, a possible nod to the Russians who arrived here from China in the past decade.

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The use of beef tenderloin, very thinly sliced ​​and browned in the skillet, goes well with early beef stroganoff recipes. Beef tenderloin was replaced by the generic “beef” in recipes sometime in the 1940s, likely due to the high cost of beef at the time. This eventually resulted in beef, which takes longer to cook, to become tender.

Looking at today’s stroganoff recipes, you will find different types of meatballs, venison, pork, chicken and only mushrooms. Some include tomato paste or sauce, and some substitute paprika for mustard powder. With so many latitudes, it’s no wonder beef stroganoff suffers from an identity crisis, albeit a tasty one.

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