Goulash (Pörkölt)

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).

Ingredients

Yield: 4-5 servings; Total time: 2 hours

For the goulash (pörkölt)

  • 800 grams (1 ¾ pounds) beef shank or chuck, cut into 2 cm (¾ inch) cubes

  • 1 tablespoon lard (if you don’t have any, you can render pork belly or bacon fat or use vegetable oil)

  • 1 ½ tablespoon Hungarian sweet paprika

  • 1 onion, minced

  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 2 pinches freshly ground pepper

  • 1 ripe medium tomato, peeled and cut into very small pieces (or puréed into smooth paste using an immersion blender)

  • 1 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

  • Optional: splash of dry white wine (alcohol will evaporate)

  • 1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped

For the egg dumplings / galuska

  • 3 eggs

  • 400 grams (3 ¼ cups) all-purpose flour

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 100 ml (½ cup) water

  • 3 pinches of salt

Directions

  • 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, 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 simmer for 1 ½ to 2 hours, until beef is very tender. Add more liquid if it 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 runny dough, then using a strainer board, 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

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.

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.