now, THIS is Goulash!
Updated: Jun 23
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 people think Goulash is ... what Goulash really is
It is NOT a casserole-like combination of elbow macaroni, ground beef, diced tomatoes and tomato sauce. 😱
It is actually a hearty soup!
The word gulyás originally meant Herdsman. And now, gulyás (goulash) has also come to mean this hearty soup filled with chunks of beef, potatoes, carrots, csipetke (aka spaetzle) and LOTS AND LOTS of Hungarian paprika. It was a soup that herdsmen traditionally cooked on 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 dining rooms, served in delicate porcelain bowls with fine silver cutlery.
The tradition of preparing and cooking Goulash outdoors on 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 have subtle variations in the flavoring of their goulash, the one ingredient that is never compromised is a generous dose of GOOD QUALITY Hungarian paprika. This comes in both sweet and hot variations and individuals can adjust the proportion of each to suit their desired heat level. Paprika is a spice consisting of dried, finely ground peppers. While paprika is not unique to Hungary, it is grown there in large quantities and Hungarians use it liberally in nearly all of their dishes. It is not uncommon to see garlands of 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.
All recipes begin with braising diced onions in oil, then adding cubes of beef. Next, generously covering the beef with paprika and allowing the meat to fully render its juice. Thereafter, some water is added to the pot (I recommend that the added water be boiling, such that the meat doesn't cool down and temporarily halt the cooking process, as that could toughen the meat). Once the water is added, I soon add the carrot chunks, later the potato cubes and finally the csipetke. I prefer to add a little ground caraway seed and salt to enhance the flavor of the soup. If the broth appears too thin, then a small amount of tomato paste can be added to thicken the soup a little and give it a deeper red color.
Csipetke is also known as spaetzle in the German culture. Americans may be more familiar with that terminology, but both words refer to the same item. It is a small pasta made of egg, flour, salt and a little water to thin out the dough. This can be made by scraping small "bites" off long, narrow strips of the dough from a small wooden cutting board directly into boiling water. When the csipetke rises to the top of the water, 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, smeared with a garlic clove and topped with sour cream.
My Goulash Recipe
1 large onion, diced
1 1/2 lbs of beef stew meat, cut into small cubes
2 Tbsp of Sweet Hungarian paprika
1 Tbsp of Hot Hungarian paprika
1 fresh Hungarian banana pepper, cored and cut in half
1 fresh tomato, cut in half
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 Tbsp of ground caraway seed
1 1/2 lbs carrots cut into slices
1 1/2 lbs of potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes
1/2 of small can of tomato paste
csipetke (made with 1 egg, a tsp of oil, a little salt, enough flour to make a batter; may need to add a little water to thin out the dough)
Begin by sautéing the onion in a couple Tbsp of oil in a pot. Once translucent, add the beef, sweet and hot paprikas, banana pepper, tomato, salt and black pepper. Mix together, cover 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. When it lets what appears to be the maximum liquid, then add boiling water to fill the pot (about 3/4 full). Add the ground caraway seeds, mix, cover and let simmer on low for about an hour. After an hour add the carrots. Cover and simmer on low for another 45 minutes, then add the potato cubes and the tomato paste and simmer on low for another 20 minutes, until potatoes are fork-tender. In the meantime, mix up a thin csipetke dough. Once the potatoes are tender, drop the small "bites" of dough into the boiling soup. Cook for another 10 minutes and csipetke will rise to the surface when done.
That is it! Enjoy... or as we say in Hungarian,