Grim's Grub: What's actually Russian about stroganoff?

Read about the confusing history of a French ... er ... Russian dish.

Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

I'd say there are few food names that sound more Russian than "stroganoff," especially if you spell it with a "v" at the end. Certainly the history of the dish is largely Russian, though the recipe might not be all that Russian after all.

Here's where it gets confusing. Some say French Chef Charles Briere invented the dish for a contest or for his employer whose teeth were failing. I'm not sure - this part of the story doesn't make a lot of sense to me - so I'm going with the history presented by Bon Appetit instead with a twist ending.

The dish was supposedly named after the wealthy Count Pavel Alexandrovich Stroganov, whose backstory is important. Stroganov's family was rich thanks to trade, land acquisition and salt mining. They were favored by Ivan the Terrible and put in charge of all of Siberia due to that favor. I'm sure there are nice parts of Siberia, but my own theory says Siberia probably has nothing on living in Paris, which was why Pavel Alexandrovich was born in Paris.

To vary the dish, serve stroganoff over rice, chow mein noodles or potatoes, instead of egg noodles.


Russian upper class families apparently loved France and French things, so the Stroganov family developed a taste for French cooking. That's also why the family had its own French chef on staff, but national pride dictated that when the family's chef cooked their favorite French dishes, they had to add Russian influences to those dishes.

One favorite French dish was a simple recipe for beef cooked in a French mustard sauce. Of course, this recipe was too French, so the chef had to "Russian it up." Apparently the easiest way to do so was to add a dollop of sour cream, and hence beef stroganoff was born. The only problem is that a recipe by the same name appears in a recipe book from 1861, long before Pavel Alexandrovich came into the picture. But, given the name is still "Stroganov," it seems likely that someone invented it for or while working with the family.

Of course, nobody now likely cooks stroganoff with mustard - not in Minnesota - but that's because the dish has changed, likely some time around or after World War II.

Stroganoff traveled the globe and became popular in Shanghai in the 1920s. When waves of Russian immigrants attempted to escape the Tsars, they brought the recipe to the United States. Some founded the Russian Tea Room in New York in 1927, according to, and it is likely this is where the dish first started to spread into the U.S.

It first appeared in an English language cookbook in 1932, but it started to skyrocket after World War II when returning service members came home with a taste for foreign cooking. As mentioned in another food column, the Great Depression had made cream based dishes into staples in American kitchens and Campbell's Soup had released cream of mushroom soup to take advantage of that demand in 1934. So by the time service members returned and made stroganoff a household favorite, recipes likely already strayed from their French/Russian roots.

It was likely around that time that the mustard became less important, and cream of mushroom soup became the base for this classic dish, though many households make it without the addition of either. I'm not sure where the Worcestershire came in, but that's likely my favorite part of the dish.

Mustard Based Stroganov

Adapted from "A Gift to Young Housewives," by Elena Molokhovets, 1861


  • 2 pounds beef
  • 10-15 allspice berries
  • 1/4 pound butter
  • Salt
  • Pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups beef bouillon
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon mustard

Cube the beef and sprinkle with salt and allspice. In a pan over medium heat, melt the butter (reserving two tablespoons), then stir in the flour. Mix well to make a paste and allow to brown slightly. Next, add the bouillon, mustard and some pepper. Whisk together and bring to a boil. Add the sour cream and stir well. Fry the beef in the remaining butter until browned on all sides and cooked to your preference (it was likely left a little red back in the day) before adding it to the sauce and bringing to a boil once again. Serve this with some variety of starch. I prefer egg noodles; you can also use potatoes or rice.
Modern Beef Stroganoff

  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 pound beef (or venison)
  • 1 cup mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 medium onions, cubed
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups beef broth
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (sometimes I add a second)
  • 2 cups sour cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a saucepan over medium heat, saute the venison in oil. When about half cooked, add mushrooms to allow them to release their liquid. Cook this until most of the liquid is reabsorbed, then set aside the mushrooms and beef.
In the same pan, melt the butter over medium heat, then add onions. Saute them until they are transparent before adding the garlic. Cook about 30 seconds, then add the flour. Stir until this becomes a consistent paste or roux. Do not brown this more than necessary.

Stir in the beef broth. Try to scrape anything browned in the pan into the liquid. Then add the venison and mushrooms and Worcestershire sauce.

Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the sour cream until fully dissolved. Return to medium low heat and allow to simmer to thicken up. Serve over egg noodles.

Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at

Beef Stroganoff in a cast iron skillet.

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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