Every society has at least one food which everyone knows how to make, and which no one else knows how to make correctly. Recipes are carved on stone tablets, and jealously guarded in the Ark of the Kitchen. Wars are fought over deviation from scripture. In much of North America, this food is chili. You can’t throw a brick without injuring someone whose chili recipe is better than yours. I once got the finger from a woman who drives a Prius with a “Coexist” bumper sticker merely because I suggested that her chili needed more salt.

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In Russia, this food is Beef Stroganoff. And before you switch off, let me say that you don’t know from Beef Stroganoff. North American Beef Stoganoff is the equivalent of Hamburger Helper in an inner-city school lunchroom. Eat that stuff, and your life will be a combined 1020 SAT followed by forty years of intermittent manual day labor. Eat some true Russian Beef Stoganoff, the ambrosia of the gods, and you’ll be ready to write a snarky reply to the Sultan of Turkey.

Cossacks after enjoying Beef Stroganoff.

Let’s get cracking. You’ll need the following:

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  • 3 pounds of beef. Filet tips, top sirloin, or boneless Porterhouse work best.
  • Couple of onions.
  • A stick of unsalted butter.
  • 2 cups beef stock.
  • 3 tablespoons flour.
  • 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard.
  • Couple tablespoons of tomato sauce.
  • Sour cream.
  • Salt.
  • Pepper.

Cut the beef into long slices, maybe half an inch thick. OPTIONAL: put the beef in between 2 slices of wax paper and pound gently until they are somewhat thinner. Now finish by cutting the beef slices into individual pieces maybe 2 to 3 inches long. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a heavy skillet and sautee the beef slices over medium-to-high heat until brown but not fully cooked. Let’s call it 5 minutes. Don’t be an idiot and cook all the beef at once, because you’ll end up with too much juice which turns the whole thing into stew. Sautee in small groups. Add salt and pepper to taste as you go. Set the beef aside when you’re done.

Finely chop two medium onions and sautee them in 2 tablespoons of butter until they are golden-brown. Set them aside also. Feel free to dump the sauteed onions into whatever container is holding you sauteed beef.

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Bring the beef stock to a light boil in some useful pan. Once it’s boiling, turn the heat off.

Now for the main business. You’re going to do everything else in some deep skillet. You want to start with a clean, dry skillet, so if this is the same one which you used for beef then clean it first. Put the flour in the dry skillet and stir it over low heat for a couple of minutes. If it starts to turn light brown, then that’ll do. Add 2 tablespoons of butter, stir, and cook for a couple of minutes until the mixture bubbles. Add half the hot beef stock, the mustard, and the tomato sauce. Stir. Once the stuff is mixed well, add the rest of the beef stock and stir some more. Add the beef/onions. Cook slowly over medium heat until the beef is relatively soft. Could be 5 minutes; could be 25 minutes. The thing to do is taste. If the beef is really tough to chew then it isn’t ready yet. Have patience; let it cook.

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Once the beef is just about ready, add sour cream. Don’t go dumping a whole boatload of the stuff in there. A good Russian will use maybe 4-5 tablespoons. Cook for another 2-3 minutes, and you’re done.

Beef Stroganoff is frequently served atop some cooked starchy thing. I swear to God, though, if you serve this over noodles then I will personally throw you off the sledge in the wilderness north of Tomsk just as the wolves are closing in. Do yourself a favor. Cook some buckwheat and serve the Beef Stroganoff over that. The taste is a revelation, and you will thank me later.