Named for a 19th century Russian nobleman and celebrity, Count Pavel Stroganov, beef stroganoff actually appeared in recipes prior to the count's time. The dish was attributed to him because he frequently served it at parties. It has been popular in America since the 1940s, with versions that have included canned soup mixes; ground beef instead of beef cubes or strips; and sweet cream instead of sour cream.
1. The Meat
Beef stroganoff is generally made from beef tenderloin, which is cut into strips or cubes before sauteing. The chefs at "Cook's Illustrated" prefer the more beefy-tasting sirloin tips, which they marinate in soy sauce to tenderize it and give it a meaty umami flavor. They also cook the meat in large pieces to keep it juicy. For this method, pierce the steak in a few places to help the soy sauce penetrate, and let the meat rest before slicing it.
2. The Sauce
The sauce for stroganoff is not a flour-thickened white sauce, but rather a pan sauce incorporating the meat drippings and thickened with sour cream. The high sodium content and artificial taste of canned mushroom soup is no match for using fresh mushrooms and making your sauce from scratch. Typical ingredients in American recipes also include white wine, Worcestershire sauce and, for an authentic Russian addition, a tablespoon or so of mustard, preferably Dijon.
After browning the meat and setting it aside to rest, saute a few tablespoons of green or white onions and plenty of sliced mushrooms. To speed up browning, microwave the mushrooms for a few minutes until their moisture is released before adding them to the pan. After the onions and mushrooms are browned, add enough white wine and a splash of Worcestershire to scrape any bits of food clinging to the pan. Add the meat to reheat, then remove the pan from the heat to stir in a cup or more of sour cream.
4. Variations and Garnishes
Stroganoff is just as tasty made with chicken or pork cubes as it is with beef. Serve it with rice pilaf for a traditional Russian presentation or with wide egg noodles. Some recipes include minced garlic, and some cook the meat in a slow-cooker. A sprinkling of chopped fresh parsley, dill or even basil tossed on just before serving gives the dish freshness and adds a pop of bright color.
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