Hungarian Goulash: My Family Recipe
Goulash is the food most people associate with Hungary . . . well one of the top few anyway. It was the everyday soup of the whole region. It was a fast easy food to make. One needed little else to have with it for a meal. It used a small amount of food items. And, those food items were those that keep well and were inexpensive.
The trouble is that there are as many different ways to make this soup as there are households. I have seen some who make a version that is a stew with mostly meat and few vegetables. I have seen others that use little meat and more vegetables. My dad’s family make a slightly US version that has enough broth to sop up with some toasted rye bread. Yum!
A Bit of History
My dad’s family has been in the US since around 1910. They had better access to celery and carrots. I’m sure carrots were grown in Hungary but one rarely finds the vegetable used. More often than not parsnips were used. Parsnips are a hardier root vegetable. I do not remember my grandmother ever using parsnips in her soup. She did use a small amount of carrot. The celery is a nice choice to include.
Now my grandmother had a bit of an ornery streak to her. I spent an afternoon with her a couple of years before she passed. I thought that the recipes she was telling me were how she made her dishes. I learned later that one of my dad’s sisters tried to write down her extensive recipes too. My aunt caught my Grandmother sneaking ingredients in to what she was demonstrating behind her back. She was just a little clumsy by this point in her life and got caught. In my case, when I was writing down her directions and ingredients for Goulash, she told me that she used pork as the meat. Both of my parents told me that my grandmother used beef or veal but not pork. Still, I like the soup with pork as well or better than with beef. Susan Derecskey in The Hungarian Cookbook has a Goulash recipe using mutton. I think the meat was not an important issue for an everyday soup.
Advice and Recommendations
Remember that when you cook with paprika you need to brown it to bring out the rich complex flavor. Now the best way is to brown paprika at a medium heat, to keep it from burning, in a small amount of oil. Traditional Hungarian cooks would use saved animal grease or lard. Margarine is probably better than butter though butter works well. Vegetable oil will work in a pinch. Vegetable oil should be your last choice. There just isn’t enough flavor depth to compliment the paprika. I eat very little meat. I cannot duplicate the right flavors of this type of cooking without using animal products.
I have experimented with using a broth instead of water. I find that this makes a soup that is too rich. Using small amounts of vegetables and meat in this soup is what allows the paprika to gently accent the soup. Using a broth is just over kill in my opinion. Susan Derecskey’s recipes often call for broth. Perhaps her family liked the stronger richer flavor. I have added other vegetables on occasion too. Most of the time adding some left over vegetables will work. It changes the dynamics. This does fit in with the frugal cooking style of a Hungarian.
Goulash is typically a one pot soup. In the images for this hub you will see I have cooked the soup in a Crockpot. It is really cold today and the Crockpot warms the house better than stovetop. Be sure to rinse and include all the pan scrapings from browning the meat and include as part of the liquid if you do this.
This is a recipe that fits the family. Some of the quantity of ingredients may change because of the particular soup pot you use. For example, as long as you remember that the browned meat and vegetables will fill the pot about 2 / 3 full. Put enough water on the ingredients so that it covers them by half an inch to an inch you won’t go wrong. You can’t make a mistake.
Recipe and Directions
In your 6 quart soup pot over medium heat place:
2 T Margarine or Butter
3 / 4 pound small cubes of pork or beef or lamb
1 / 2 medium onion diced (about 1 / 2 c)
Pinch of salt and pepper
Cook this until the meat is cooked and the onions are translucent. You don’t really want to brown these too much. If the meat and onions are browning too quickly you should turn down the heat a bit.
Make a well in the center of these items. Add:
1 1 / 2 t paprika
Let this soak in the oil. You will notice a change in the color from a deep rich red to a brownish color. You will also get a whiff of aroma that will make your tummy rumble. It will be a rich smell. Shortly after this you will want to avoid burning by adding the rest of the ingredients.
3 / 4 c Tomato Juice
2 ribs Celery, sliced
2 medium Carrots, sliced
2 pounds of cubed Potatoes
Pinch more salt and pepper
4 – 6 c Water
Let this gently simmer for several hours until the potatoes are tender. The soup will change from red in color to a medium brown that is now a bit clearer too.
Goulash is even better the next day. Serve this with a nice seeded rye bread. Caraway is an important spice for Hungary. Some Goulash makers include about a teaspoon of Caraway in the soup too. If you want to go all out serve this with a grilled cheese sandwich. That’s what I’ll be doing tonight. I will be toasting both sides of some rye bread to make my grilled cheese sandwich. There just isn’t anything better than a bowl of Goulash and a sandwich for dinner on a cold winter day.