The time has arrived for me to post my very traditional beef goulash recipe. My first post on this blog was for Chicken Paprikash, another Hungarian staple. After trying it, many of my readers requested my goulash recipe. Goulash is the most famous Hungarian dish in the world. It’s one of Hungary’s national dishes -- the symbol of their country. And it is for a good reason. It’s a dish made with basic ingredients like meat, peppers and root vegetables elevated to perfection by the use of Hungary’s most famous spice: paprika. Goulash can be made with beef, pork or even chicken, but the traditional way of making it is with beef.
Speaking of traditions, goulash is usually made by men. Hungarian men take a lot of pride in making this dish. They are often cook-offs where the best Hungarian goulash cooks measure their skills. When I lived in Hungary, goulash was my go-to dish when I had a large group of friends over for dinner. Also, every time my friends and I went camping, I was the one responsible for making bográcsgulyás, which is a goulash made in a huge enamel cast iron or stainless steel cauldron, outdoors over wood fire.
Making the dish also goes hand-in-hand with drinking pálinka, Hungary’s national drink. There is something about getting smoky while standing around a huge kettle of goulash that’s slowly cooking over a wood fire while sharing a bottle of homemade pálinka with your best friends that makes you feel fulfilled and happy. Stories starting flowing, and playful teasing and bantering follow. That’s what goulash is about: friends, laughter, drinks and flavorful food.
If you ever get to Hungary ask a local to cook goulash for you (preferably outdoors in bogrács). You’ll experience something beautiful, and you’ll get a good understanding of their culture, even if you aren’t able to understand their language. Hungarian is very unique, so don’t get too downhearted if you’re unable to pick it up right away. It’s unrelated to any other language in the world, and it’s rather difficult. A friend of mine, Erin, attempted to learn it after making a dumb bet (when she was drunk of course) with my other friend, Alex. She was so excited about learning Hungarian for about two weeks, after which she gave up.
Hungarians are the proudest people you will ever meet. Although only half-Hungarian, I identify with Hungarian culture. We take pride in our traditions, language, food, and drinks. Our food consists of simple dishes made with simple ingredients turned into delicious, fragrant and hearty dishes. Chicken paprikash (paprikás csirke), Pork stew (sertéspörkölt), and Beef goulash (marhagulyás) are just a few of our most famous dishes. The basic ingredients are the same: meat, onions, peppers, and paprika. Even the cooking technique is similar for all three of them -- sauté some onions, add a bunch of Hungarian paprika to it, add some meat, and follow with peppers. You basically make a stew. From there it’s the final touch that makes a paprikash, paprikash and a goulash, goulash -- add sour cream for the former, and water and root vegetables for the latter.
Hungarian paprika is the signature flavor in most famous Hungarian dishes. It is very different than let’s say Spanish paprika. Hungarian paprika is sundried, whereas its Spanish counterpart is slowly smoked over a wood fire. As a result, the flavors differ significantly. Hungarian paprika is known for its rich, bittersweet, and intense red peppery flavor, whereas the Spanish one is more delicate and smoky. It’s worth the money to buy the Hungarian variety for this dish to get an authentic Hungarian flavor. Jó étvágyat!
TRADITIONAL HUNGARIAN GOULASH (GULYASLEVES)
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 2.5 hours
Inactive time: 2 hours
- 4 Tbsp. pork lard (or bacon fat, or vegetable oil)
- 1 large onion, roughly chopped
- 1 ½ tsp ground caraway seeds
- 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 2 ½ Tbsp. Hungarian paprika
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 2 cups low-sodium beef broth
- 2 lbs. beef shoulder, cut into ½ inch cubes (chuck and shank are also good)
- 5 cloves garlic, crushed and roughly chopped
- 2-3 Roma tomatoes, diced
- 2 Hungarian waxed peppers (or Anaheim peppers), deseeded and cut into half rings
- ¾ lb. carrots (about 2-3 large carrots), peeled and cut into rounds
- ½ lb. parsley roots (about 2-3 parsley roots), peeled and cut into rounds (or parsnips)
- ½ lb. celery root (1 small celery root), peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes
- 1 lbs. potatoes, peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes
- 3-4 sprigs of fresh parsley leaves, tied together
- 4-5 cups hot water
- 1 ½ tsp wood smoked salt, optional
- ½ TBS kosher salt
- sour cream, optional
- ½ cup fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
- In a large cast iron Dutch oven, heat lard over medium-high heat. When the lard starts shimmering, add onions and cook for 8 minutes. Stir often so they don’t burn. If they start browning, add a tablespoon of water.
- Stir in caraway seeds, black pepper and bay leaves, and cook for 2 more minutes.
- Remove the pot from the heat, and sprinkle paprika all over the onions. Stir often! (Burnt paprika is bitter.)
- Return the Dutch oven to the fire. Add ½ cup beef broth, and cook for 5 minutes.
- Add beef cubes and garlic. Stir well until each piece is coated with paprika gravy. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the beef cubes start browning.
- Mix in tomatoes, peppers and the remainder of the broth (1 ½ cup). The broth should cover the meat and vegetables by an inch or two. If it doesn’t, add hot water.
- Reduce the heat to low, cover the Dutch oven, and let it simmer for an hour and a half.
- Add the root vegetables (carrots, parsley, celery, and potatoes) and the tied parsley leaves to the pot. Add 4-5 cups of hot water to cover by an inch or two.
- Season with salt, and bring soup to a boil over high heat. When it starts boiling, reduce the heat to medium, and cook for 30 minutes uncovered.
- Using a sieve, skim off the scum. Remove the parsley sprigs and the bay leaves and discard them. Taste and adjust saltiness.
- Serve goulash hot with fresh bread. You can add an optional dollop of sour cream to the top and sprinkle with chopped parsley.
- I usually add the salt at the end when cooking with beef, so that it stays tender rather than becoming chewy.
- Recently I discovered wood smoked salt at my local grocery store, so I used a bit to simulate the subtle smoky flavor that comes from traditional goulash. Historically, goulash was made on wood fire in a cast iron enamel cauldron.