Russian Cuisine — Бефстроганов, Beef Stroganoff

Russia is the largest country in the world by land area, and as you might expect there is a large variety in available ingredients and how they are used.  Classic Central European influences, like roasted meats, rich sauces, and potato dishes exist alongside aspects of Central Asian cuisine like grilled, skewered meats and rice pilafs.  Russian, and later Soviet, imperialism led to not only greater lands and resources for Russia, but the import of new food preparations from the conquered territories, especially those of Ukraine, Armenia, and Uzbekistan.

Russia quick facts:

  • Capital: Moscow
  • Population: 143,500,000 (2013 estimate)
  • Notable Russians: Vladimir Lenin, Yuri Gagarin, Leo Tolstoy, Ivan Drago

Russian culinary culture was built on importation of cuisines from their vast sphere of influence during the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries and one result has been Russia’s most famous culinary export: beef stroganoff (recipe follows).  Consisting in its most basic form of sauteed beef strips or cubes with a rich sour cream and mustard sauce, stroganoff’s origins are hotly contested.  It seems likely that the dish is named after the prominent Stroganov family of Imperial Russia.  The Stroganovs had among their ranks many diplomats and foreign dignitaries who would frequently travel to Central Europe and France, among other places.  That beef stroganoff’s thick sauce is so reminiscent of various Czech and French influences is likely no coincidence.

During the Soviet Union and China’s brief BFF period after the fall of the Russian Empire in the first half of the twentieth century, beef stroganoff became popular in Chinese hotels and restaurants.  American servicemen stationed in China prior to Word War 2 probably brought the dish home with them to the United States, where the famous spirit of American innovation added all kinds of additional ingredients like onions (an improvement which occurred in Russia as well), mushrooms, bell peppers, and garlic.  Wanting to get as close to the original as possible, we kept the onions and left out all the other extra ingredients.

Beef Stroganoff

adapted from A Taste of Russia: A Cookbook of Russian Hospitality by Darra Goldstein

SERVES 2 TO 4

  • 2/3 pound beef petite sirloin, cut into thin strips
  • 3 Tbs butter, divided
  • 1/2 medium onion, sliced thinly
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 Tbs flour
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • 2 cups beef stock, reduced to 1 cup
  • 1/3 cup sour cream

Before getting started with the rest of the recipe, we set two cups of beef stock to reduce in a saucepan over medium-high heat, then prepped the rest of the ingredients.  Once the stock had reduced down to a little less than one cup it was set aside for later use.

Everything now ready to go, first one tablespoon of butter was melted in our trusty cast iron pan set over medium heat, then the onions were added to cook:

onionsinpan

Once the onions had softened and were beginning to brown, about four minutes, the beef strips were added:

beefinpan
We got a good price on petite sirloin, but any sirloin cut or tenderloin would do.

Stirring nearly constantly, the beef and onions were sauteed until the meat was fully browned, about five minutes:

brownedmeat

The pan was taken off the heat and set aside while we worked on the sauce.  First we made a roux out of the remaining two tablespoons of butter, the mustard powder, and the flour:

darkroux
Trying to take pictures and cook at the same time sometimes leads to totally intentional recipe decisions like not turning the heat down to medium-low like proper roux-making technique dictates, then cooking the butter and flour long enough to make a dark roux instead of a light one.

To our roux we added the concentrated beef stock and whisked thoroughly to combine:

stockadded

The sauce was whisked constantly until it was almost simmering, then we added the sour cream:

sourcreamadded

The sauce was whisked together off the heat, then added to the meat and onions.  The pan we used to hold the beef and onions was put back over the heat just enough to warm up the meat:

stroganofffinished

In Russia, beef stroganoff is served almost exclusively alongside French fries, which we did not have the ambition to make at home.  Instead, we served our beef stroganoff alongside fried potatoes and broccoli:

russiandinner

Beef stroganoff is familiar to most of our readers in one form or another.  The basic, most Russian version is rich and beefy (and great to dip your fried potatoes in).  The various international versions of the dish, especially the additions of mushrooms or bell pepper strips, add interesting options in its preparation, but there is a case to be made for the original.

Russian cuisine is up against Swiss cuisine in the first qualifying round of The World Cup of Food, for which we made cordon bleu and rösti

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