A Brief History of Beef Stroganoff

Beef Stroganoff was the epicurean dish of the 1950s and 60s. In fact, I think it might have been the first gourmet dish my mother learned to make when she was first married. This dish was always the one that my siblings and I requested for our birthdays, and the meal that my mother served at her dinner parties. So how did this simple stew of beef and mushrooms become so popular?

Well, during World War II, beef was highly rationed, and folks living in that era would consider a rich, succulent all-beef stew to be an extravagance! So that’s why it became a dish that was only served for very special occasions, even long after the war had ended.

The original recipe for Beef Stroganoff dates back to Russia in the late 1800s, created by a chef who cooked this dish for his employer, Count Pavel Alexandrovich Stroganov. The Count was considered a celebrity and a true connoisseur of food. But legend has it that the poor Count didn’t have any teeth and so his chef created this special dish so that his master would be able to eat it without any effort. The original dish contained beef, mushrooms, and sour cream, just like today’s, but many Russians argue that mushrooms were not traditional, and that our present Beef Stroganoff is really an Americanized version of the original. No matter, Beef Stroganoff was found on the menu of the famous Russian Tea Room in New York City in the 1930s, and in hundreds of other famous restaurants throughout the years.

Nowadays, Beef Stroganoff seems pretty pedestrian – I mean – it’s just a beef and mushroom stew served over wide egg noodles, right? But when you put all these simple ingredients together the correct way, it’s a luscious meal, perfect for any occasion. Here are a few suggestions to make your Beef Stroganoff come out perfect every time. First off, I suggest using boneless top sirloin steak for this dish, even though I’ve read a lot of recipes that call for beef tenderloin. I think the steak has much more flavor, and it’s certainly more economical than beef tenderloin. The steak should be cut thinly on the bias, into 2 inch strips – that way your guests should only need a fork to eat it. Although most recipes suggest cooking the beef and mushrooms together until the beef is tender, I like to cook the mushrooms separately by sautéing them in butter until they are golden brown. Then I add the mushrooms to the stew the last 15 minutes of cooking. The buttery mushrooms add a unique richness to the dish. The other key to success is to add the sour cream right before serving, stirring it in gently. Do not let the Stroganoff come to boil after you add the sour cream or the sauce will break, and it won’t look very pretty.

Because Beef Stroganoff is kind of a “vintage” food, I like to serve side dishes that reflect the era of the 1960s. That means maybe an iceberg lettuce salad with Good Seasons Salad Dressing (yes they still make that today!) and a side dish of Green Beans Almondine, flavored with butter, lemon juice, and toasted almonds. In the 1960s, tiny yeast rolls were also popular, and if you really want to go all the way, you could serve lime gelatin with Cool Whip for dessert. But personally, I’d prefer a piece of chocolate cake.

Music credit: Once Tomorrow (Instrumental Version) by Josh Woodward is used under CC BY 3.0.