now, THIS is Goulash!
Updated: Oct 23, 2022
Likely the most iconic dish which people associate with Hungarians is Goulash. But, most people are under a false impression of what Goulash really is.
... what many people think Goulash is ... what Goulash really is
Goulash is NOT a casserole-like combination of elbow macaroni, ground beef, diced tomatoes, and tomato sauce.
Goulash is actually a hearty soup!
The word gulyás originally meant a herdsman. And now, gulyás (goulash) has also come to mean this hearty soup filled with chunks of beef, carrots, potatoes, csipetke (small pinch dumplings), and LOTS AND LOTS of Hungarian paprika. It was a soup that herdsmen traditionally cooked over open fires in suspended kettles, called a bogrács, across the vast plains of Hungary from the Middle Ages through the 19th c. They ate communally from the large kettle with wooden spoons. By the end of the 19th c, the soup became fashionable in the Hungarian kitchens of the wealthy and transitioned to the fancy European dining rooms, served in delicate porcelain bowls with fine silver cutlery.
The tradition of preparing and cooking goulash outdoors over open fires in large kettles remains to this day. Many social functions which involve the gathering of Hungarians center around this activity. Socializing, prepping, cooking, and sharing the meal all contribute to a very rustic and nationalistic experience revolving around goulash!
While Hungarians may have subtle variations in the flavoring of their goulash, the one ingredient that remains common and is never spared is a generous dose of GOOD QUALITY Hungarian paprika. This comes in both sweet and hot varieties and individuals can adjust the proportion of each to suit their desired heat level. Paprika is a spice consisting of dried, finely ground peppers. Although paprika is not unique to Hungary, it is grown there in large quantities and Hungarians use it liberally in many of their dishes. It is not uncommon to see garlands of red peppers hanging and drying in Hungarian kitchens. The most popular growing locations and best quality of paprika come from Szeged and Kalocsa. It is possible to find paprika from these locations at specialty stores within the USA or online.
In a nutshell, goulash begins with braising diced onions in oil, then adding cubes of beef. Next, generously cover the beef with paprika and allow the meat to fully render its juice. Thereafter, add water to the pot Later add the carrot pieces, then diced potatoes, and finally the csipetke.
Csipetke is similar to the German Spaetzle. It is a small pasta made of egg, oil, flour, and salt. It can be made by cutting small "bites" off of narrow strips of dough from a small wooden cutting board and dropping them directly into the boiling soup. When the csipetke rises to the top of the soup, then they are done.
The soup can be served either with warm, crusty bread or if you choose to be decadent, then with lángos, a fried dough (shown below), smeared with a roasted garlic clove and topped with sour cream and a sprinkle of salt.
2 medium onions, diced
2 lbs of beef stew meat, cut into small cubes
2 tbsps of Sweet Hungarian paprika
1 tbsp of Hot Hungarian paprika
1 fresh Hungarian banana pepper, cored and cut into slices
1-2 fresh tomatoes, cut into quarters
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
~10 cups of BOILING water
1 tbsp of ground caraway seeds
1 1/2 lbs carrots cut into slices
1 1/2 lbs of potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes
1/2 of a small can of tomato paste
1 tsp of oil
a pinch of salt
enough flour to make a soft, smooth batter
(*may need to add a little water to thin out the dough)
1. Begin by sautéing the onions in a couple of tbsps of oil in a pot.
2. Once onions are translucent, add the cubed beef, sweet paprika, hot paprika, banana pepper slices, tomato quarters, salt, and freshly ground black pepper.
3. Mix together, cover the pot, and let the meat render its juice on medium heat. Stir often, initially, so that it doesn't burn or stick to the pot.
4. When meat renders, what appears to be its maximum liquid, then add ~ 10 cups boiling water to the pot. (Adding boiling water prevents the meat from cooling down which would temporarily halt the cooking process and could toughen the meat.)
5. Add the ground caraway seeds, mix, cover, and let simmer on low for about an hour.
6. After an hour add the sliced carrots. Cover and simmer on low for another 40 minutes.
7. Then add the potato cubes and the 1/2 small can of tomato paste. Mix, cover, and simmer on low for another 20 minutes until potatoes are fork-tender.
8. In the meantime, mix up the csipetke dough in a small bowl. Transfer to a cutting board.
9. Once the potatoes are tender, increase the burner to medium to obtain a slight rolling boil, then drop the small "bites" of dough into the boiling soup. Csipetke will rise to the surface when done.
10. Decrease temp to low, again, and simmer for another 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, if needed.