Beef Stroganoff is a famous Russian dish of sautéed pieces of tender beef served in a sour cream sauce. It has become popular around the world, with a considerable variation on the theme of the original recipe. Its story is related to a big historical personality of Odessa and his generosity.
The dish was named after Count Alexander Grigorievich Stroganoff and originated in Odessa, in 19th century. There’re two versions of the dish’s origin. According to the first one, Beef Stroganoff was invented by the French chef Andre Dupont for the elderly Count, whose teeth were no longer strong enough for chewing large pieces of meat. According to the other, more popular version, this dish was prepared especially for the recurring middle-class guests of Count Stroganoff.
Being a wealthy aristocrat and without children, Stroganoff offered the Odessa citizens to eat at the so-called “open tables”. Everyone could come in for lunch right from the street; the only condition was to be properly dressed and fairly educated.
“Boeuf á la Stroganoff” was a hybrid of Russian and French cuisines, with sliced fried meat, topped up with creamy gravy. Unlike the traditional French style, where foods are served along with gravy, the Beef Stroganoff gravy was to be served in the dish, along with the meat (Russian style). It was the ideal dish to be offered to the guests for such “open tables”: a tasty meal that could be easily divided into portions.
Count Stroganoff was a powerful figure in Odessa, military and engineer education, patron of the arts and a philanthropist. Originally, from St. Petersburg, where he was born on the 31st December 1795, he served as the Governor General of Novorossiya and Bessarabia, from 1855 to 1863, and died in Odessa in 1892. During his government many urban innovations took place: the first railway, a university, new water supply system, gas lighting and paved streets. When he died the grateful city granted him the honour of being the first “Honorary Citizen of Odessa for Life” in its history.
Portrait of Stroganoff by N. Kuznetsov (1882). Odessa Museum of Regional History
Recipe of Beef Stroganoff
The real Beef Stroganoff is made from filet mignon or beef tenderloin. It doesn’t require much time to cook. The recipe was thought as a simple one.
Ingredients: tenderloin beef cut into strips and coated in flour, butter, chopped onion, sour cream, beef stock, Madeira or cognac, olive oil for frying, freshly ground pepper and salt to taste.
The most time-consuming part of preparation is cutting beef into narrow thick and long strips. Always cut meat cross-grain to ensure tenderness. Then, sprinkle meat strips with salt and pepper. Coat strips with flour.
Heat oil in heavy large skillet over high heat until very hot. Add chopped onion and sauté for a few minutes and put aside. Sauté meat in a single layer and brown on both sides adding butter and Madeira. The meat browning should be quick and take about 3-4 min or less. Meat should retain juicy.
Combine with onion, then pour sour cream (or cream fraiche) and slow cook under the lid for 5-10 minutes. Add beef stock when the sauce starts thickening. The only spice used is freshly ground pepper. Beef Stroganoff is even more delightful when served with fried or mashed potatoes.