Traditional Hungarian goulash is a prime example of how a few simple ingredients, cooked properly, can yield an incredible flavor. Though many variations of Hungarian goulash exist, and every cook makes it just a bit differently, this is a traditional, authentic recipe from the heart of Hungary.
You already know how much I love Hungary from previous Hungarian recipes I’ve posted so I’ll spare you some of the sentimentality this time. Needless to say, Hungary holds a special place in my heart, in my family’s hearts. My brother lived there for 2 years as a young man, regularly wrote home to us about his experiences there, the beautiful scenery and breathtaking buildings, his love for the Hungarian people. When I visited Budapest I immediately fell in love with it. It has become one of my most favorite European cities. Its name comes from the two sides of the city (Buda and Pest) separated by the Danube River running through it. I don’t know that any city has a more breathtaking site than Budapest’s famous chain bridge, its parliament building, and the incredible Buda Castle.
Hungary’s history has been one of hardship and heartbreak. But the passion and stamina of soul has remained in the hearts of the Hungarian people. I’ve always been touched by Hungary’s national anthem, Himnusz, or “hymn”, written by the poet Kölcsey. Their anthem is a poetic prayer and unlike most anthems that focus on an expression of national pride, the Hungarian anthem is a direct, heartfelt plea to God. In the mid-20th century, during the years of strongest communist rule in Hungary, the words were not song, only the music was played. The communist government asked two of the most acclaimed artists of that time, a poet and composer, to rewrite the national anthem. Both refused. The next communist leader also tried, unsuccessfully, to have it changed. Hungary’s national anthem remains Himnusz. The first three lines:
O God, bless the nation of Hungary
With your grace and bounty
Extend over it your guarding arm
I also love Hungarian food. Their breads and smoked sausages are fantastic, as are their meats, stews, sauces, desserts. Today I’m going to share the national dish of Hungary: Goulash, or, as Hungarians call it, gulyás, meaning “herdsman.” Its origins date back to the 9th century Magyar shepherds as a simple meat and onion stew prepared in heavy iron kettles known as bogracs. In the 15th century invading Ottoman Turks introduced a new spice to Hungary, paprika. While the rest of Europe remained lukewarm towards this red chili pepper from the New World, Hungary embraced it and paprika has since become a defining element of Hungarian cuisine.
Goulash is kind of in between a soup and a stew. Unlike some stews, Goulash is not overly packed full of beef and vegetables, it is a little more brothy. But through the cooking process, the broth becomes thicker and more like a rich sauce.
And no, contrary to popular belief here in the U.S., goulash is NOT made with ground beef or (heaven forbid) macaroni noodles!
To achieve the ultimate flavor, the cooking method is important and quality Hungarian paprika is essential. And lots of it! None of this “2 teaspoons of paprika” jazz. Hungarians use very generous amounts of paprika, and that’s key. A Hungarian once told us, “however much paprika the recipe calls for – at least double or triple it!” For this size batch of Goulash, you want to use a full 1/4 cup of it. When I lived in Germany Hungary was just a few hours away and I would stock up on it when I visited. Now I order it online and recommend this imported Hungarian paprika. I mentioned earlier, many variations of goulash exist. Some include turnip or wine or caraway seeds, to name a few. But this recipe is the traditional, old-fashioned way of making Goulash that my brother and I learned from older generations of Hungarian women and it needs no embellishments. It’s simply delicious!
But before we get started, let’s take a quick peek at Budapest and it’s famous Great Market Hall.
Courtesy Wilfredo R. Rodriguez, Creative Commons
Images Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy Flickr vi4kin, Creative Commons
Okay, let’s get to that goulash!
Chop up the bell peppers. We don’t have the kinds of peppers they use in Hungary, at least not that I’ve been able to find anywhere. The best ones to use in their place are red and some yellow/orange. Avoid green bell peppers as the ones we have over here have a completely different flavor profile. Chop up up the onions.
Chop up the carrots, tomatoes and potatoes. (Question of the day: How do YOU pronounce them? “Po-tay-toes” or “po-taw-toes”?
Dice up the beef. In Hungarian goulash the beef chunks are usually fairly small compared to other beef stews. Dice it into 1/2 inch chunks.
Heat the pork lard (or whatever fat source you’re using, though pork fat is traditional) in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until they’re beginning to brown, about 7-10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the paprika. This will bring out its flavor but you don’t want to fry it or it will turn bitter.
Add the beef and garlic, return to the heat and cook over medium-high heat for about 5-7 minutes or until the beef is no longer red. The beef will release enough juices to keep the paprika from scorching.
Add the bell peppers and cook for another 5 minutes.
Mmmmm, it’s already starting to smell so good!
Add the carrots, tomatoes and potatoes (however it is you choose to pronounce them).
Add the beef broth, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer for 40 minutes. If you’re using a tougher cut of beef, simmer the beef first without the carrots, tomatoes, potatoes and bell peppers, for 30-45 minutes, then add the veggies and simmer for another 40 minutes.
It’s ready to eat! That gorgeous reddish-brown broth is so flavorful – you’re going to love it!
Dish it up and serve hot with a dollop of sour cream and some crusty bread. Traditionally also served with a cool cucumber salad.
For a delicious variation, check out the Daring Gourmet’s Hungarian Chicken Goulash:
- 3 tablespoons pork lard or butter (pork fat is traditionally used)
- 1½ pounds yellow onions, chopped
- ¼ cup ]good quality sweet imported Hungarian paprika
- 1½ pounds beef (see note), cut into ½ inch pieces
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 red bell peppers, seeded/membranes removed, cut into ½ inch chunks
- 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded/membranes removed, cut into ½ inch chunks
- 2 tomatoes, diced
- 2 carrots, diced
- 2 medium potatoes, cut into ½ inch chunks
- 5 cups beef broth
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Melt the butter in a Dutch oven over medium high heat and cook the onions until beginning to brown, about 7-10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the paprika. Add the beef and garlic, return to the heat, and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the beef is no longer pink.
- Add the bell peppers and cook for another 7-8 minutes. Add the carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, beef broth, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer for 40 minutes (see note). Add salt to taste.
- Serve with a dollop of sour cream, some crusty bread, and a cool cucumber salad.