A Budapest restaurant invented this hefty dish in 1846 using leftover pork goulash (pörkölt) and sauerkraut. The mixture quickly became a hit and spread across Hungary. Despite what many people think, székelykáposzta has nothing to do with Transylvania; while székely people do live in Transylvania, the dish’s moniker actually refers to József Székely, the person who first ordered it.
Yield: 4-5 servings; Total time: 1 hour and 15 minutes
600 grams (1 ⅓ pounds) boneless pork shoulder or spare rib, cut into 2 cm (¾ inch) cubes
750 grams (1 ⅔ pounds) sauerkraut, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon lard (if you don’t have any, you can render pork belly or bacon fat or use vegetable oil)
1 tablespoon Hungarian sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground caraway seeds
1 onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
Salt to taste
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)
250 ml (1 cup) water or chicken broth
200 grams (¾ cup) sour cream
Slices of crusty bread
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, caraway seeds, minced garlic, and the small bits of tomato and bell pepper. Add ½ cup water or chicken broth to almost cover the meat, place lid on pot and let it simmer for 30 minutes.
Step 4: Add drained sauerkraut to the pot and combine with the meat (if the sauerkraut is very salty, first rinse in a few changes of cold water and drain). Add ½ cup water or chicken broth so that liquid almost covers it, then continue cooking at a low simmer until sauerkraut has softened but still a bit crunchy and meat is very tender, about 30-35 minutes.
Step 5: Turn off heat, then add ½ cup sour cream to the pot and mix well. Taste the sauerkraut goulash for salt and add some if needed.
Step 6: Serve in shallow soup bowls, garnishing each plate with a dollop of sour cream on top. Add slices of crusty bread on the side.
Words of advice
(i) The thickness of this dish should be between a stew and a soup, so try adjusting the added liquid accordingly. (ii) Be careful not to oversalt. The sauerkraut is already salty so you may not need to add much.
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.