Recipe: Whether it’s beef Stroganov or beef Stroganoff, take care flambéing this dish of sautéed beef with sour cream.
Diary: An ancient Oxford hostelry burns down after the chef flambés beef stroganov.
There’s some debate among chefs as to whether one needs to flambé the beef for an authentic beef stroganov, but at Oxford’s 150-year old Randolph Hotel they clearly stick to the traditional. It’s a five-star establishment near the University’s Magdalen and Balliol Colleges. Fire broke out early one Friday this spring, leaped up the chimneys to the roof, but missed the guest floors. All were evacuated and none were hurt. The manager said after the fire, with typical British understatement, that perhaps the chef had used too much cognac in the pan while sautéeing the beef. I read the report in The Telegraph over breakfast the next morning, during a recent visit to England, and at the end of the article, the newspaper had cheekily added a recipe for beef stroganov. I thought I’d follow suit with a dish I haven’t tried for years, but which I’ve always enjoyed.
It was popular in the 19th century and must have still been around in North America in the seventies, as I included it in my cookbook, How To Eat Well and Stay Single. Mine was a Hungarian version with paprika, which I’ve only found replicated by Jamie Oliver. In the 70s this dish was a staple of the frozen dinner section and I’m sure we all endured the suburban version made with hamburger and cream of mushroom soup. French recipes suggest serving it with rice or spaetzle, but our North American preference seems to have been to serve it with noodles. As always, the choice is yours.
This is really a classic dish. According to the stories it was created by a French chef attached to the Russian court of Count Pavel Stroganov (1774–1817) whose princely parents were travelling in Paris when he was born. Brought up in fabulous wealth, the count didn’t contribute much to history, but did find a liking for French cuisine. One of his cooks allied a French recipe for a basic mustard seasoning of beef with a dollop of sour cream in the Russian style and named the dish after his boss. Stroganov Palace, now one of the buildings of the State Russian Museum, is among the chief sights of Nevsky Prospekt in Saint Petersburg.
Checking various sources, there seems to be another disagreement, about whether to call the dish stroganoff or stroganov. Larousse Gastronomique uses the latter, but Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking uses the former. Wikipedia offers both, but the Stroganov family tree insists that the correct Russian ending is “v” and the other version is merely favoured among francophones. So we shall stick to the original here as the dish’s origins are clearly Russian.
by Nigel Napier-Andrews
- 800 g (1 ¾ lb) beef filet, pounded thin and cut into ½” strips
- ½ lb fresh white mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 1 large white onion, finely diced
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp cooking oil
- 3 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- ¼ tsp lemon zest
- ½ tsp dried thyme
- ½ cup beef stock, beef broth or beef bouillon
- 1 shot of cognac or brandy (about 1 oz or 2 tbsp)
- 1 cup full fat sour cream (or full fat yoghurt, or thick cream)
- Chopped fresh parsley
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Wide noodles, papardelle for instance, (about 250g) white rice or spaetzle
- Remove all tough and stringy bits from the beef filets and place them flat between two sheets of cling wrap. Pound the beef with a rolling pin until it is about ¼ in (1/2 cm) thin. (TIP: the best way to cut the beef is across the grain and after it has been thoroughly chilled.) Cut into strips about the width of your finger.
- In a heavy pan, melt half the butter and half the oil, reduce the heat and add the finely chopped onion. Cook for a minute or two until soft, then remove the onions to a bowl, leaving the liquids and fat behind.
- Add the thinly sliced mushrooms and cook for about 4 mins. Scrape everything into the bowl.
- Wipe the pan out and melt the rest of the butter and oil. Brown the beef strips on both sides. When the beef is well browned, about 5 mins, sprinkle it with the brandy and flambé it. (TIP: heat the brandy in a large spoon with a BBQ lighter, set fire to it safely and then pour the flaming brandy into the beef. Swirl it around until the flames go out. At all costs avoid setting fire to your residence!)
- Return the onions and mushrooms to the pan, add the beef stock, mustard, lemon juice, lemon zest and thyme and bring to a boil. (TIP: At this point you can stop, cover the dish and keep it cool until cooking it later, or keep it in the fridge until the next day.) Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Take the mixture off the heat (or reheat it if kept cool) and stir in the sour cream. Do not heat the dish further after the cream has been added, or the mixture may curdle. Serve at once with egg noodles, white rice or spaetzle and garnish with chopped fresh parsley.
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