Why hello there, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes. Last week got a little weird, didn’t it? I was high on painkillers, and then a simple post about mocking vegans cited like three holy books and multiple biblical figures. And that is…well, I’d say it’s not me, but that would be a lie. Rambling over-educated conversations are essentially my core activity. So I won’t waste your time claiming we’re not going to have anything like that this week, since I haven’t planned this post at all. But you can rest assured, this post isn’t PLANNED to be like that. Instead, we’re going to look at some simple American food, which of course means it’s actually from Eastern Europe: Beef Stroganoff.
Where There’s More Than One Way to Stro
Beef Stroganoff is a complex little creature of a dish, because if asked, I would have listed off ingredients with pretty damn strong certainty: Beef Stroganoff is a dish of ground beef, in a whitish-grey sauce made from like, sour cream and cream of mushroom soup, and served over egg noodles. In fact, for years, Stroganoff and Chicken Noodle Soup were the only uses I KNEW for egg noodles. …A statement I’m forced to admit I can’t immediately contradict: I’m sure other foods CAN BE served on Egg noodles, but other than…maybe some time of pot roast, I can’t think of any that would DEFAULT to egg noodle.
Huh, good god, lord
What is it good for?
However, I swiftly learned that this was a…narrow view. Apparently, basically every country that makes the recipe does it somewhat differently. Ingredients like paprika, white wine, and pickles showed up in recipes in other lands. So clearly I had to dive a little deeper. And on the way, answer the most obvious questions: what the heck IS a Stroganoff?
Well, the answer to that is pretty simple, if a touch…messy: It’s a name, written in the wrong language. Remember the exonyms from the Japan post's rambling? It’s a VERY small version of that: The Stroganov family, with a V, was an incredibly wealthy and powerful family for centuries in Russia. But, due to some wiggle in how letters are pronounced, Russian surnames that end with a V were translated into French and English as ending in two Fs. Like famous missing princess Anastasia RomanoFF, of the Russian RomanoV family.
As recorded in the 1997 Don Bluth Documentary.
But yes, as noted, the Stroganovs were BIG names in Russia from basically the mid 1500’s until the FLED THE BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTION IN 1917. Shit like this is probably part of the reason people believe in the Illuminati: imagine if your culture had people who had been in power for CENTURIES. When your grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather was born, these men were rich and powerful, and they were rich and powerful still. I mean, it makes the idea that “secret powerful people control the world behind the scenes” seem more plausible!
So, the Stroganovs were, in essence, the Medicis of Russia. And, if you’re not up to snuff on your Renaissance politics, or at least haven’t played like, the Second Assassin’s Creed game: the Medicis, much like Wu-Tang, weren’t nothing to Fuck With.
They had the same moral code, too.
While I’d love to spend a couple hundred words on the Medicis, and the Rockefellers, and other people whose names basically MEAN “RICH”, and the kind of bonkers shit they got into, I do want to focus a little more on food this time. So just a quick history of the dish itself: For years, conventional wisdom held that the dish was developed by a French chef for a cooking contest in 1891, and when he won, he named it after his employer, Count Patel Alexandrovich Stroganov. That story is horse-shit, but, as with much horse-shit, is built around a kernel of truth: In 1891, a French Chef DID win a contest with Beef Stroganoff. But by that point, Patel had been dead for FORTY THREE YEARS, and, by the way, someone had already made the dish.
In 1871, a new edition of A Gift for Young Housewives included a recipe for “Govyadina po-stroganovski, s gorchichinyy”, a string of Russian syllables I can’t hope to pronounce, but that translates to “Beef Stroganoff-style, with mustard.” (Quick linguistic sidenote: you know how Americans add a “ski” sound to a normal word if they want to make something sound Russian or Polish? Like with a “brewski”? That’s because the “ski” sound is used in both Russian and Polish. In Russian, it’s how you turn a noun, especially a name, into an adjective. Like turning Poland into Pol-ISH, or history into historical. Ameriski, for instance, is “American”.)
If you type "Ameriski" into Google, you get a bunch of Russian dog-breed sites, because of how many breeds are "American X"
And that first dish is definitely something: sautéed cubes of steak tossed in a sauce of mustard and beef broth, with the sour cream added at the end. Why sour cream? Well, I suspect for two reasons: first, the Stroganovs were well known for spending TONS of time in France, so I think there’s an idea of nodding toward French mother sauces or crème fraiche in the move. Also, if you ask any chef, ‘When do you add sour cream to a dish’? There is basically only one answer: “when you want it RICH without being cloying”. So if you’re going to make a dish rich, why not use the name of the richest motherfuckers around? Which, by the way, is why WE have Oysters Rockefeller.
And trust me, once you name a dish off of the biggest bougie bad-boys you know, you’re gonna get imitators. The dish spread around the world, with different ingredients showing up, and sticking in different places: by 1909, it was made with strips of beef, tomato sauce, and potato straws. The potato straws stayed popular in Russia, being considered the traditional side there. France wrote, with notes from Auguste Escoffier, the father of modern French cuisine, that Beef Stroganoff stated it was cooked strips of beef and onions, served in a sauce of paprika, veal stock, white wine, and cream, optionally seasoned with tomato paste or mustard.
The Chinese from around 1920 to the 1940’s, served it over rice, without the sour cream. When it came to America in the 40’s, we added mushrooms, and served it over noodles. England and Australia made it like we do, but served it over rice like the Chinese. And BRAZIL did some weird shit with it, making Chicken or Shrimp Stroganoff, or finding Stroganoff Pizza. Around the world, it’s made with wines, tomatoes, a variety of meats (Nordic countries make Sausage Stroganoff), corn, mushrooms, sometimes with or without sour cream.
In short, while my mental picture of beef stroganoff was pretty standard for America, the INSTANT I left America, things would get dicey in terms of ingredients. And I was going to make some substitutions of my own. Let’s dive in.
Rain Rain Go Away, I wanna Cook Some other day.
So what motivated me to make a swanky Russian dish, named for the richest of their citizens? The desire to be frugal, of course. My mother has a little mental switch in her brain that flips up any time it rains during the fall, leading her to say “Oooh, this is perfect weather for a pot roast! Or a big pot of Chili, or…” and she will list any of a large number of long-cooked braises or stews involving beef.
And in case you forgot, we live in Western Washington, where the average November rainfall is SEVEN INCHES. It rains roughly twice a week from about mid October until it starts snowing in late November or early December. So we hear the statement “This is perfect pot roast/chili/boeuf bourguignon weather” a lot. Okay, not the last one. I think every time my mother tries to say bourguignon, she screws it up. This is common for her. My brother and I once spent 5 minutes trying to walk her through the sounds to “huevos rancheros”, and succeeding, only for her to abandon them the next day. I think her refusal to pronounce Spanish or French names correctly is a form of comedic performance art on her part.
But, in any case, at some juncture this November, it rained, as usual, and she was near a store, so she bought things for pot roast. And we made pot roast, and we ate pot roast. And then, a few days later, we had more pot roast, to use some of the left-overs. And we had some pot roast at lunch to eat MORE of the left-overs. And then, a few days later, we still had 3 fucking pounds of pot roast, so my mother asked me to figure out what to do with it, rather than waste that much meat.
So I just googled ‘Using left-over pot roast’, and found a recipe for beef stroganoff from livingonadime.com. It’s incredibly simple, and quite frugal. So I of course tinkered with it to make it more appealing to my sensibilities.
My beef is Bad and Boujee
First, let me summarize the recipe, so we can dissect it for what I changed: the recipe on teh site is “cook your beef until browned, stir these other 8 ingredients in, warm the mix up, and serve.” It specifically notes you shouldn’t really cook the mixture, just heat it through. And I’d be fine with that, if one of the ingredients weren’t sliced mushrooms.
Stupid sexy mushrooms!
I am NOT a fan of the texture of raw mushrooms. So, of course, I modified the recipe by cooking them first, since I know they take a while to brown up and cook down. Then I added the chopped pot roast, in order to get it browned. Mine mostly dissolved into strands of beef, which I was fine with. After 20 or so minutes of cooking, my mixture was looking pretty sweet.
You know, if you tilt your head back and squint a little.
Here I once again veered off the rails from the original recipe, though my reasons are much simpler than before. This recipe calls for a lot of aromatic and flavorful ingredients: garlic powder, onion salt, Worcestershire, cream of mushroom soup…there’s a lot going on. And I wasn’t looking to tame that potency, oh no. However, I did have one stupidly simple problem: I don’t own onion salt. I own onion powder, dried minced onion, onion soup mix, raw onion…I own basically every form of fucking onion EXCEPT salt. How the hell am I supposed to fix a mistake like this?
With Garlic salt, dumbass. If the recipe calls for garlic powder and onion salt, just swap which is the powder and which the salt. And while that hopefully seems incredibly simple, laughably obvious, even, I’ve seen people lock up while cooking because of errors like that. “It says I need garlic salt, but all I have is garlic powder!” “…Do you also have salt?” “Yeah, but what good will that do me?” It’s like watching a computer freeze because it’s searching for a misspelled word.
I solve computer problems by throwing garlic on them, is the point.
In principle, I get the concern: a comedian I liked once said “I don’t trust people who say they can’t cook, because what they’re really saying is ‘I can’t follow a set of simple directions.’” I wish I could be more precise in that attribution, but I’ve never been able to find who said it. I thought it was Louis CK, but I can’t find any proof of that…a sentence that’s taken on a tragic overtune in recent history. But, again, I get the idea: the recipe are the instructions, you should follow the instructions. But that’s Cooking 101. We’re here to move past that. The same way that eventually, when you draw or paint, they take the lines away.
After the salts and powders are sorted, the dish comes together quite quickly: you pour in Worcestershire sauce, cream of mushroom soup, and ketchup, an ingredient I initially viewed as tantamount to heresy. What the hell was ketchup doing in beef stroganoff? Now that I know tomato sauce is a common variation, it’s more intelligible, but at the time, I was so put off by it, that I may have left it out. I don’t honestly know. I do know that once the mushroom and sour cream went in, there wasn’t much in the way of color.
Not much in the way of visible appeal at all, really.
I served the stroganoff on egg noodles, of course, with a side of Caesar salad. The salty but crisp nature of the salad I figured would be a good contrast to the rich and meaty main dish. And honestly, I really liked the whole thing. I specifically had to stop myself from eating the left-overs multiple times because my brother hadn’t gotten a chance to have any. Proof that even on a budget, you can eat like a Tzar. Or at least, the kind of people who could afford their own PALACE.
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THURSDAY: JON FINDS OUT JUST HOW INTOLERANT HE REALLY IS, AS WE DISCUSS FOOD ALLERGIES, FOOD INTOLERANCES, AND WHY THEY DON’T MAKE CHEESE IN CHINA.
MONDAY: WITH CHRISTMAS ON THE WAY, JON BRINGS A DESSERT THAT SHOWS UP AT ALL OF HIS HOLIDAY CELEBRATIONS. GET READY TO ROCK AND PUMPKIN-ROLL!!
Budget Beef Stroganoff
2 cups Mushrooms, sliced
1 lb left-over pot roast (or round steak, if you haven’t cooked pot roast recently.)
1 tsp garlic salt
½ tsp onion powder (or vice versa)
1 tbsp Worcestershire
1 tbsp ketchup (optional)
1 cup sour cream
1 can (10.75 oz) cream of mushroom soup
Egg noodles for serving
1. Over medium-high heat, cook mushrooms until browned to your liking. Add beef and brown for 5-10 minutes.
2. Add the garlic salt, onion powder, Worcestershire, and ketchup, if using. Stir into beef-mixture, and cook roughly 1 minute.
3. Add sour cream and soup, and stir to combine. Once everything is unified, heat through, and serve over noodles.