The Thursday Gourmet: Hungarian Goulash

24 September, 2009

When we lived in Arizona, my folks noticed that I had an affinity for mud.  Not the nice clean loamy mud of Maryland, but the sticky gluey clay mud of the high desert and pinyon-juniper forests.  The kind of mud which can pull off a pair of canvas All-Stars and then pull of the socks for good measure.  I loved the mud.

After a heavy rain, or as the snow melted, I could spend hours creating canyons, alluvial fans, oxbows and rapids in the muddy rivulets.  So my parents bought me a pair of galoshes.  And I galoshed through the mud for the five years we lived on the Coconino Plateau.  And, being a kid, I conflated Goulash and Galosh. 

So here is my recipe for

Hungarian Galoshes Goulash

2 pounds sirloin sliced 1/4 inch by 1 inch by 1/2 inch chunks (approximate size on the chunks)
4 Tablespoons flour
4 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 large strong onions, diced
8 cloves garlic, minced
32 ounces chicken broth (you can use beef broth, but (for me) that is a little too much)
3 bay leaves
1 stalk celery sliced lengthwise and then chopped
1 sweet red pepper, seeded, veined and diced
1 sweet green pepper, seeded, veined and diced
1 large carrot, roll cut*
2 cans (12 ounce or so) chopped Italian tomatoes, with juice
2 Tablespoons whole Carraway seeds, crushed in a mortar and pestle
1 to 4 teaspoons hot paprika powder
3 to 5 Tablespoons sweet paprika powder
16 ounces sour cream (make sure it hasn’t gone bad (then again, how would you know?))

1 pound wide egg noodles, cooked

Toss the meat in the flour until the meat is coated.  Heat the oil in a large pot until a light haze forms on the oil.  Brown the meat in batches until browned (do not let it burn).

Add the diced onion and saute until translucent (don’t let them burn — burned onions are bitter.  Onions are much better with a sunny disposition).  Add the garlic and saute for about another minute, then dump the meat back into the pot.

Add the broth and bay leaves, bring to a boil, then knock it back to a light roiling simmer.  Cook until the meat is fork tender, adding more broth if needed.   Remove the bay leaves (if you can find them (if you can’t, just remember to warn your eaters)) 

Add the celery, red pepper, green pepper, carrot and tomatoes.  Bring to a boil.

Add the Carraway seeds and both Paprikas.  Reduce to a simmer and cook the noodles.  Don’t over cook them.

As soon as the noodles are drained, dump the sour cream into the goulash and stir until it is fully incorporated.  Turn off the heat.

To serve, place noodles in the bowl and scoop some goulash over the noodles.  Add a dollop of sour cream and a bottle of good Pilsner for each consumer.  Consume and enjoy.

This  is a stew which brings back memories of snowy Arizona evenings, of me chilled to the bone and then taking a hot bath to warm up and remove the mud, of jokes about galoshes and goulash.

OPTIONAL:  Substitute a strong red wine for half of the broth.


*  To roll-cut the carrot, wash and scrape the carrot.  Chop off the ends and lay the carrot on a cutting board.  Slice through at an angle which intersects the flat cut end.  Give the carrot a quarter turn and slice again at the same angle 1/2 down the root.  Keep doing that until the entire carrot it chopped.  The carrot should be an odd shape which increases surface are and enhances flavour transfer.


  1. “Someone is WRONG on the internet!”

    Well, not wrong, per se, but as a Hungarian-American I am under contractual obligation to post on any recipes for the Hungarian national dish. Arguments abound among Hungarians as to the differences between gulyas, porkolt and paprikas. Actually, “arguments abound among Hungarians” is a complete thought…

    (As an aside, I’ve always wondered why the spelling was changed. I’ll be the first to agree that Hungarian is one difficult, ugly mofo of a language, but doesn’t “gulyas” look pronouncable?)

    Your recipe captures the essence of the Hungarian savory dish; meat, onions, tomatoes, paprika, bay leaf, caraway seed, sour cream. More traditional gulyas is a much simpler dish: beef, onions, paprika, pinched noodles. Kettle gulyas adds garlic and tomatoes, the plains version adds vegetables like potatoes, carrots or kohlrabi. Then, there’s gulyas soup, which is an entirely different animal.

    One thing, though, man, OLIVE OIL? Wine IN the food? (I guess that’s two things.) Do we look Mediterranean to you? It all started with Queen Beatrice bringing all those fancy spices with her from Italy when she married King Matthias…

    Hungarians drink wine, and cook with lard, and ride horses, and, well, there are some negative things, too, but we won’t get into that. The traditional Hungarian kitchen has a container of drippings sitting on the back of the stove. I save my bacon drippings for my Hungarian recipes.

    The recipe is spot-on in the amount of paprika used. At this amount, and using quality paprika ,(Szegedi and Kalocsai are good and there are some excellent Spanish paprikas that I’m not as familiar with) it adds a distinctive flavor to the dish.

    My (final) recommendation is to add the paprika at the same time as the garlic, or right before any liquids. Paprika does burn easily, but you want to brown it on the oil a little bit to get that distinctive red color to the dish.

    Can you tell I like to cook? Can you tell I don’t want to go to work?

  2. Ildi: Keep in mind that these are family interpretations of recipes, not the traditional recipes.

    I’ve had goulash with potatoes, but I just don’t want to double the carbs.

    As to the oil and wine, well, it’s a me thing. The only time I do not use olive oil is for deep frying or sweet baking. I love the taste of lard and, though my cholesterol is really low (my doctor actualy told me to eat more eggs), others in the family? Not so great.

    And adding the wine in the dish gives a different flavour. I don’t actually drink wine (bad memory involving some fermented grape juice when I was around 10) so I look for ways to cook with it.

    I’ve tried browning the paprika but haven’t seen enough of a change to make it worth the trouble. Maybe I could dry ‘fry’ it just until the colour turns. Hmm. Gonna have to try that.

    Damn. Now I’m hungry.

    As for being wrong, I would disagree. It ain’t traditional goulash, but a personal fusion of Hungarian and Billy-style cooking. Not wrong, just different.

  3. The “wrong” thing was a joke that seems to have fallen flat on its little face… poor thing…

    I love fusion cooking, and goulash is definitely one of those dishes with plenty of room for interpretation. Have you ever tried yours with venison? I’ve found that caraway cuts any wild flavor very well.

    My only point with the whole history of gulyas was to give an idea of what the dish in its original incarnation tastes like. Paprika is a subtle spice and really needs to stand alone to flavor a dish properly. People often don’t seem to realize that it actually has a flavor, probably because the only way they use it is by sprinkling a dash of Kroger brand onto their deviled eggs for color. I’m guessing that your dish is dominated by the caraway?

  4. Ildi: I got the joke. I was just trying to continue it. I’m not wrong, your culture is wrong. Or something.

    When I make my goulash, the paprika dominates. The carraway is pleasant aftertaste, but the smokey/sweet paprikash flavour dominates.

    I do (occasionally) use paprika for colour. If the food is good, and the ingredients are good, the colour will take care of itself.

    Never tried it with venison. Could be good.

    Somewhere I have a recipe for a bread made with paprika and (believe it or not) poppy seeds. I’ve never made it because it sounds so odd. I still probably won’t make it.

  5. Seriously! Take away the noodles and add potatoes,turnip and carrots. Guess what! Stew!!!

  6. Dax: Um, it is stew. Just Hungarian stew.

  7. I was studying some of your posts on this internet site and I think this website is really informative! Retain putting up.

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