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"It's a fine combination of French method and Russian ingredients. It also has the advantage of being quick and simple to prepare. Some versions of the dish, what has become so popular in Europe and America in the last few years, include tomato, and flour to thicken the sauce. I have even seen a suggestion that minced meat should be used. Such things are an insult." Jane Grigson

This rather gorgeous looking Russian aristocrat is Count Pavel Stroganov who is often said to be the person this 70s favourite is named after (Jane Grigson's version is on show here). Not so it seems.

Beef Stroganov is one of those dishes that people get all hot under the collar about with all those arguments about what is authentic and what is not. Having now read all the various birth stories I think it is very probably one of those dishes that has evolved through the centuries from way way back, and which became standardised at one particular point in history - in this case two. And even then, not standardised because cooking being what it is every chef wants to make their own version of a 'classic'

Although various writers still ascribe the dish to a French chef called Charles Brière, saying that it was named after his employer - the above mentioned Count Pavel Stroganov - this cannot be true. For one thing Pavel was long dead - he died at the age of 43 in 1817. Mind you a couple of other Counts - Grigory and Alexander are also mentioned as the source of the Stroganoff name. Charles Brière entered his dish into a competition in 1891. And we don't actually know that he was employed by the Stroganovs anyway - possibly Alexander. Then there is the 1871 Russian Cookery book, A Gift to Young Housewives, by one Elena Molokhovets who included a dish called Beef Stroganov, and accepted as the first time a recipe was written down.

The relatively uncommitted now think that it was given the name Stroganov as a compliment to what was one of the most powerful families in Russia at the time - witness their palace in St. Petersburg - just one of many they had.

At one time they owned virtually all of Siberia, which, it seems to me is most of Russia.

Mind you I am a bit confused because the 'original' recipe from Elena Molokhovets does not include either mushrooms or onions, and the amount of sour cream is relatively low. Felicity Cloake in her roundup of the options gave it a go and the result is shown at left. Which supports the notion that this particular version is really somebody writing down a recipe for something that had been cooked for centuries - beef in a sour cream sauce. Not what you or I would think of as Beef Stroganov I think. What we think of as Stroganov is more like Robert Carrier's description, and it's quite a jump:

"Surprise your guests with quickly made Beef Stroganoff, thin strips of lean beef simmered in butter and sour cream with mushrooms and onions." Robert Carrier

I mean adding mushrooms and onions to the mix surely makes for a completely different dish? And although nobody mentions what was in Charles Brière's recipe I suspect that he did not include the mushrooms and onions either. I think his contribution was to sauté the beef. I believe the mushrooms and onions came in at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, which is when the traditional Russian accompaniment of straw potatoes was added. This picture is from the wonderful Time/Life series, - this one on the food of Russia - and its authors Helen and George Papashvily - are very snotty about it"

"The recipe that follows is the classic Russian version. The numerous European and American variations called Beef Stroganov do not in any sense represent the dish as it was originally made."

But it's not classic and not 'as originally made', if you go with the two nineteenth century recipes because of the mushrooms and onions. If you consider the mushrooms and onions to be essential (I do), then yes it is authentic and pretty delicious sounding. I think I made this version way back then too, though without the straw potatoes. They sauté the onions and mushrooms first, drain them, sauté the meat briefly in another pan, add to the vegetables, add sour cream and mustard and heat through. Mustard was in the 'original' recipe by the way and is indeed crucial. They also added a bit of sugar near the end. Oh salt and pepper too of course.

And I think that is probably what we today would recognise as a 'classic' beef stroganoff.

But even Robert Carrier has several different versions. When I am making Beef Stroganov his Beef Stroganoff I from Great Dishes of the World is the one I turn to. It is indeed extremely quick and extremely easy and always works. It's very similar to the one from the Time/Life book. His version 2 includes the aforesaid and decried tomato paste and is simmered for a bit in stock, so much less authentic. I think I have tried it in the past but always go back to the first. Interestingly in his book called Entertaining in which he is trying to encourage novice cooks - doing a sort of 70s Jamie Oliver in somewhat higher style - Beef Stroganov is one of a handful of dishes right at the beginning of the book that he uses to demonstrate how easy it is to cook something fabulous - a very Robert Carrier word.

He also has yet another version in his book Cooking for You which is similar to his version 2 but also includes sherry, which ends up looking like this. Very inauthentic, but shows how a chef can play around with a traditional dish.

And indeed why shouldn't we play around with something? Is there ever a perfect version? Which isn't to say that those earlier versions can't be perfect too - just different.

And what of the moderns? Well I can't leave this topic without giving you one of Delia's three versions - Pork Stroganoff with three mustards. This is one of my very favourite dishes which we have fairly frequently. It's what it says it is really and is finished in less than half an hour. We eat it with rice, but I guess you could eat it with noodles, or mash or just bread. It's the three mustards that make it.

Delia also has two other Stroganovs - a kidney version, that I suspect you wouldn't be interested in, even if she does think it's the best one, and a Poor man's Stroganoff with wild mushrooms, for which there is no picture and which is more of a slow-cooked stew using cheaper cuts of beef - but porcini mushrooms as well as ordinary ones.

I also found this Smoked paprika chicken Stroganoff from, I think, Gordon Ramsay. An inauthentic meat, inauthentic paprika, garlic and sugar snap peas, but looking pretty nice. It looks like tomato is in there too.

And don't all of these inauthentic dishes show that actually the 'authentic' things are beef, mushrooms, onions, mustard and sour cream - cooked fast. And really none of those things were in the 'original' 'authentic' recipes - well just the beef and the sour cream.

To finish off I had a quick look at and found 104 recipes for stroganoff - including vegan, pasta bakes, cottage pies ... It seems that nowadays stroganov or stroganoff really just means a particular kind of sauce that includes those items I mentioned above. Like the steak that I talked about the other day. You will find it in the frozen foods aisle, the precooked meals, as a sauce in a jar and probably in packets too. Interesting isn't it that a dish that was originally supposedly intended either actually for, or in homage to, an obscenely rich aristocrat in an autocratic society is now an everyday dish for ordinary people.

And just out of interest here is the version from Recipe Tin Eats. She adds beef stock to the sauce, thickens it with flour and serves with pasta. Not very authentic at all.

Personally I really don't think you need the stock or the flour. Sour cream on its own is perfectly sufficient. I think I have also seen crème fraïche and even just ordinary cream.

Beef stroganov though is very yummy - or Delia's pork version. Might try it for one of my cooking lessons with my granddaughter.


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