Hungary's national dish originated among herdsmen — the goulash — who spent months on end tending to the cattle in the Hungarian Plain (Alföld), away from all signs of civilization. The gulyás would sprinkle szalonna (pork fat) and onions into large cast-iron kettles called bogrács and roast morsels of beef over fire. The addition of paprika appeared later, in the 18th century. Although fewer people make it in bogrács these days, goulash is still popular across the country. The classic side dish to both the goulash and its sister dish, the paprikash, is egg dumplings (galuska) or egg "barley" (tarhonya).
Yield: 4-5 servings; Total time: 2 hours and 45 minutes
For the goulash (marhapörkölt)
800 grams (1 ¾ pounds) beef shank or chuck, cut into 2 cm (¾-inch) cubes
2 tablespoons lard (if you don’t have any, you can render fatback or pork belly fat or use vegetable oil)
2 tablespoons Hungarian sweet paprika
2 medium onions, peeled and minced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon salt (more to taste)
1 teaspoon ground caraway seeds
3 pinches freshly ground pepper
2 medium tomatoes, peeled and cut into very small pieces (or puréed into smooth paste using an immersion blender)
1 large Hungarian wax pepper or yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into very small pieces (or puréed into smooth paste using an immersion blender)
1 cup water
1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
Optional: splash of dry white wine (alcohol will evaporate)
Optional: pickled vegetables for the side
For the egg dumplings / galuska
400 grams (2 ¾ cups) all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
150 ml (⅔ cup) water
3 pinches of salt
Step 1: Heat lard or oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high, then add minced onion and sauté until translucent, about 6-8 minutes.
Step 2: Add meat and sear until it’s lightly browned, about 5-6 minutes.
Step 3: Reduce heat to medium-low and stir in paprika, salt, pepper, ground caraway seeds, minced garlic, and the small bits of tomato and yellow pepper. Pour in 1 cup of water, splash of dry white wine, and place lid on pot and let it gently simmer until beef is very tender, about 2 ½ hours. Add more liquid if it all evaporates so meat doesn’t burn (but not too much — beef should stew rather than cook in its juices).
Step 4: When meat is almost done, prepare the egg dumplings by mixing egg, flour, oil, water, and salt. Knead them into a wet dough, then using a wetted spaetzle maker or a cutting board and a knife (or the holes of a colander if at least ½ cm or ¼-inch thick), shave coarse bits of dough into a large pot filled with 3 liters (3.2 quarts) of simmering salted water. Scoop out the galuska with a strainer when they appear on the surface a few minutes later. Drizzle with a generous amount of oil and mix well so they don’t stick together, then put aside.
Step 5: Taste the goulash for salt and add more if needed. Serve the meat and the dumplings side by side on a dinner plate. Garnish with a sprinkle of parsley and serve with pickles on the side.
Words of advice
(i) You can adjust the final consistency of the sauce at the end by either adding a bit more water to it (if too dry), or letting steam evaporate from the pot with the lid off (if too watery). (ii) Although a classic goulash is made with beef, many people in Hungary use pork instead since it takes less time to cook and is cheaper. If you go with pork, pick a fatty cut, for example pork shoulder.
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I created these recipes with the help of nearly a dozen historical Hungarian cookbooks, adjusting ingredients, cooking times, and methods to reflect my own preferences and tastes of the current day. Do you have any feedback? Please let me know!