In the 1970s, it was dinner-party de rigueur to serve small plates of beef stroganoff atop tiny shell noodles. Guests could eat the dish while standing; as they mingled and discussed the state of play on topics such as Gough Whitlam's leadership, the $1.3 million spent on Jackson Pollock's squiggly artwork known as Blue Poles, the aftermath of Darwin's Cyclone Tracey, and the inaugural Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras held in Sydney as part of International Gay Solidarity Day.
As the hostess faffed about in the kitchen preparing a platter of smoked oysters on Jatz crackers, her husband, the host, might be opening a cask of Ben Ean moselle; or perhaps a bottle of Blue Nun or Cold Duck [yes, by all means, feel free to shudder].
Fast forward a few decades, lifestyles have changed and our palates have come of age. But good things will rarely go out of fashion. Indeed, they become classics. Beef stroganoff, or stroganov, is among them.
According to Larousse Gastronomique, stroganov is "a preparation of thinly sliced beef coated with a cream-based sauce and garnished with onions and mushrooms." The dish originated in Russia and may have been created by a French chef who worked for the rich and powerful Stroganov family. The first known recipe is said to have appeared in A Gift to Young Housewives, a Russian cookbook by Elena Molokhovets, published in 1871. Although her version was prepared with mustard, beef broth and just a little sour cream; later recipes include onions, mushrooms, paprika, nutmeg, cognac and tomato paste.
Modern versions suggest low-fat substitutions for the sour cream, such as yoghurt or light evaporated milk mixed with cornflour. Some recipes go so far as to include Worcestershire sauce (!) and beef stock cubes. My preference is for the old-fashioned, slightly retro method given by the late Tess Mallos in her 1976 Meat Cookbook. I have adapted it over the years to suit my own taste.
500g beef or veal fillet steak
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 large brown onion, thinly sliced
1 small clove garlic, finely chopped
250g Swiss brown or button mushrooms, sliced
a pinch of nutmeg
1 teaspoon Noble Sweet Hungarian paprika
sea salt and black pepper, to season
1 cup sour cream
cooked shell noodles, fettuccini or rice, to serve
Trim any gristle or sinew from the meat and cut it into strips. Melt two tablespoons of the butter in a heavy-based frypan and sauté the onion until soft. Lower the heat slightly, add the garlic and mushrooms and cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Using a serving spoon, transfer the onions, garlic and mushrooms to a bowl and set aside.
Now add the remaining butter to the frypan and quickly brown the beef strips all over. Do this in batches, otherwise the meat will stew and turn grey. Remove the pan from the heat briefly and spoon the onions, garlic and mushrooms back into to the pan. Stir in the paprika. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a little grated nutmeg. Pour in the sour cream and heat through very briefly, taking care not to allow it to boil. Serve immediately over cooked noodles or rice. This quantity will serve four.
Image source at top of page: Unsplash (beef stroganoff does not photograph particularly well). See my Instagram feed if you'd like to see the finished dish, photographed at dinnertime last evening).
Your turn now, dear readers. Do you agree that beef stroganoff is a good thing? What are your memories from the 1970s (if you were born before then)? What other dishes are on your list of culinary classics?
Cooking and writing have been a lifelong passion.
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- Liz Posmyk
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.