One of my favorite mom dishes growing up was Swiss Steak. It was a simple affair of round steak, tomatoes, onions, and celery cooked together. My mom would cook it in the oven, but she could just as well have finished it on the stovetop. Although thin cuts of round steak were used, it was more a pot roast than a steak, pure comfort food, served with mashed potatoes. It was also regularly featured in our high school cafeteria, and we had some good school lunches! I have a feeling most of those who read this article will be my age, having remembered the dish from their childhood, but never eating it since!
For Swiss steak, round steak, chuck, or beef shoulder was pounded with flour, salt and pepper. You would be forgiven for using cube steak, which is round steak or similar cuts run through a needle press. These are sometimes called “minute steaks.”
Swiss Steak Not from Switzerland?
It is this process of pounding, it is often claimed, which gave Swiss steak its name and that the dish has nothing to do with Switzerland. Instead, the name derives from swissing, which meant to pound or roll fabric to make them flat.
uriously, the fact that the recipe’s origin is not Swiss didn’t stop it showing up in a cookbook called 100 Swiss Food Recipes, but it turned out that this book sourced its recipes from questionable online sources.
According to David Rosengarten in It’s All American Food: The Best Recipes for More than 400 New American Classics, via food writer Jean Anderson, Swiss steak has been around since at least 1915 but didn’t feature tomatoes until the 1930’s. Also, Rosengarten writes that the claim that the dish’s name comes from swissing is pure speculation. The source of this speculation, he says, is John Mariani in The Encylopedia of American Food and Wine. Whether this was the original source of the speculation, however, I do not know.
Although the Swiss certainly do enjoy a good steak now and then, I have been unable to find any evidence that Swiss steak actually does come from Switzerland. Its rise to popularity was thanks in part due to Reynolds promoting its new aluminum foil in 1947 by including a recipe for Swiss steak, saying that lining the pan with foil made cleanup a breeze. Keeping to the quick and easy for busy housewives theme, the company advocated using frozen vegetables. Swiss steak certainly was the perfect dish to promote in this new era cheap and convenient food.
Swiss steak survived with help from the very popular Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, that familiar binder with the checkered tablecloth cover that still sits on many a cookbook shelf.
I don’t think you should go through life without ever having Swiss steak, so, if you would like to make it yourself, try the Swiss Steak Recipe from A Palatable Pastime. She adds green peppers just like my mom did.
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