Origin Of Russian Dish Beef Stroganoff

Photo Russian Beef Stroganoff

        Russian cuisine is a collection of traditional food that originated from the farmers’ skills and professional chefs who cooked for aristocrats. Trends in other countries have also strongly influenced traditional meals. For instance, the French style made a considerable contribution to the Russian elite lifestyle.

       Beef Stroganoff (Russian: бифстроганов befstróganov) is a Russian dish that dates back to the 19th century. It has now become popular all over the world with different variations, but the original recipe consisted of sautéed beef and a sour cream sauce. There are different opinions as to when the first mention of “Beef Stroganoff” appeared in Russian sources. Some researchers claim that the first recipe was published in Elena Molokhovets’ cookbook “A Gift to Young Housewives” in 1871. However, others argue that the recipe existed many years before and was already practiced by the Stroganov family.

      Still, there are various sources and explanations of the origins of Beef Stroganoff; I decided to focus on a gastronomic history published by William Pokhlyobkin, the foremost expert on Russian cuisine. He had a passion for Russian cooking and a knack for collecting fascinating little-known information about its various stages in history, which we can find today in his publications. His books are a treasure in my cooking library; they teach me how to improve my cooking skills and help to understand the art of culinary. William Pokhlyobkin graduated from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, was fluent in more than four languages, and was known as a geographer, journalist, and specialist in diplomacy and international relations in Russia. He wrote over 50 books and numerous articles. He is also the author of the book “A History of Vodka”, published in different languages, including English*. When it comes to cooking, his cooking books are one of the best sources of inspiration and interesting Russian cuisine details.

*The photo of the book William Pokhlyobkin  “A History of Vodka” in English on the bottom of the page.

Where Did The Name Beef Stroganoff Come From?


@ Public Domain Source Wikimedia.org

      Why is beef stroganoff called stroganoff? According to “Culinary Dictionary”, written by William Pokhlyobkin, the dish was named after Aleksandr Grigorievich Stroganov (1795–1891). However, my research showed that two more members of the Stroganov family could be contenders for authorship of the Traditional Russian Beef Stroganoff recipe: Aleksandr’s father and his cousin. I decided to concentrate on W. Pokhlyobkin’s research since he studied Russian culture, history and had access to the Russian oldest libraries.

      Who were the Stroganoffs? Aleksandr Grigorievich Stroganov was the last of the Stroganov family – a Russian diplomat, ambassador to Spain, Sweden, and the Ottoman Empire. Aleksandr Stroganov was well known in the scientific community for granting a huge library collected over two hundred years by his family members (barons and counts) to Tomsk University. He was also the founder of The University of Odessa, originally called Novorossiysk University. Odessa was the place where he lived a considerable amount of time and was elected as a citizen of honor after retirement. Count Alexander Grigorievich, like many wealthy people of his time, had an “open table” in a house in Odessa. “Open table” was one of the Russian traditions when any educated, well-dressed person (Russians or foreigners) could come in uninvited to have a proper meal. “Open table” was usually served for 40 to 60 people and was at the owner’s expense. Poets, artists, actors, students, civil servants, and tourists used to attend these lunches. One of the dishes regularly served on Stroganov’s “open table” was beef stroganoff. Like every wealthy person in the Russian Empire, Stroganov had a French chef who invented this Russian – French dish: fried small pieces of meat with sour cream sauce. The authors of the Odessa cookbook appreciated the recipe and gave recognition for delicious beef stroganoff. They introduced it to wide circles and named the dish after Aleksandr Stroganov (Stroganoff à la française).

“Stroganov’s House For Vacation In Saint Petersburg Aria” A. N. Boronichin The Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg @Public Domain

       While studying the dish’s origins, I came across another version that explains why the dish is called Stroganoff. It comes from the Russian verb “strogat”, which means to chip or shave off beef. However, W. Pokhlyobkin’s story is the most popular and recognized theory, in my opinion, and explained where did the name beef stroganoff come from.

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Beef Stroganoff in Other Countries

      Photo Oriental Beef Stroganoff

        The dish has spread all over the world and adapted from country to country with its specific flavors and tastes that are typical to a particular region. Russian immigrants brought the recipe to the foreign countries and their tradition of hospitality serving homemade beef stroganoff. Also, tourists, who visited Russia at that time, popularized the dish across the borders. The first English translation of the recipe appeared in 1932 but only after World War II, authentic Russian beef stroganoff gain popularity, especially in China, France, and the US but with some minor adjustments. For example, my American husband told me when we just married beef stroganoff should serve only with pasta, and when I make my beef stroganoff he thinks it is a different dish, not what he used to eat. However, he likes my Russian beef stroganoff too.

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How To Serve Beef Stroganoff?

        Photo Russian Beef Stroganoff

        In Russia, traditional beef stroganoff is served with fried, mashed potatoes or buckwheat. Beef stroganoff noodles are the most common recipe in the US, served over pasta or noodles. Additionally, beef stroganoff with rice is another popular combination in different countries. The dish now has many variations on the original recipe; these are pork stroganoff, mushroom stroganoff, meatballs stroganoff, chicken stroganoff, ground beef stroganoff, turkey stroganoff. Another variation is vegan stroganoff or gluten-free stroganoff adapted for vegans or people who cannot tolerate specific products. The stroganoff sauce also has many modifications; for instance, in some countries, it is common to mix beef with tomato sauce and onions or substitute sour creams with heavy creams. In the US, stroganoff is often prepared with a mushroom sauce. If you are interested, you can find the beef stroganoff original recipe in Elena Molokhovets’s book “A Gift to Young Housewives”, which has been translated into English. The recipe is called “Beef Stroganoff with mustard”*, the sauce includes broth, mustard and some sour cream (сметана) but without onions and mushrooms.

*The photo of book Elena Molokhovets’s book “A Gift to Young Housewives” on the bottom of the page.

        Photo Beef Stroganoff Saute

“I am originally from Russia, and beef stroganoff reminds me of home as we used to cook it a lot. Homemade beef stroganoff is easy to make and can be served with different side dishes. It is a great meal for every day and any special occasion. Of course, with time way how I cook beef stroganoff for my family slightly changed, it is more spicy and flavorful than it was cooked many years ago. The reason is I live in the subtropical climate of Louisiana, the USA, and the cuisine here is much spicier and more flavorful than in the Northern part of the country, for example, Seattle Washington state. The same in Russia (I lived in Siberia), people from the South (I lived in Kuban State) put more spices when cooking, and in the North much less. The most reasonable explanation for this interesting fact is then spiced food helps resist heat in warm climates. I heard this from one of the famous chefs and agree with his opinion. My suggestion, if you live in the North and serve your dish to guests from the South, add more flavorful spices to your dish than usually.

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Photos Of Books Mentioned In The Article

          The photo below of the book William Pokhlyobkin  “A History of Vodka”

       Pokhlebkin History of Vodka Book Photo

This book available in English as you can see in the photo below. I bought my book for a few dollars with shipping free on Ebay.com, if you are interested to learn about Russian cuisine, Joyce Toomre not only translated the book, she adds a lot of her explanations, which makes this book more adjustable for English readers.

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         Photo A gift to Young Housewives Book

E. Molokhovets’ cookbook “The Gift to Young Housewives”

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