Thursday, October 18, 2012

Limburgian Goulash

Goulash or Gulyás, is Hungarian and means 'Herdsmen', referring to the cattle drivers on the Puszta, who used to cook this dish. It can be traced as far back as the Mongolians who are said to have brought this dish to the Carpathian region in the 10th century. 

Today, this dish is cooked in many countries all over the world and in many varieties. If you order Goulash in Hungary, you are likely to be served the original Gulyásleves and probably heading for disappointment as this is more of a veal, potatoe and vegetable soup rather than the beef stew that is served outside Hungary. 

Marhapörkölt is the Hungarian dish that comes closest to what is understood to be Goulash in other countries. I really like to stick to the original recipes as much as possible. But with all the different dishes like Pörkölt, Gulyásleves, bográcsgulyás (Kettle Goulash), Lecsó, Paprikás and so on, there seem to be as many varieties of this dish as there are Hungarian cooks. Hence I am comfortable with adding one of my own: Limburgian Goulash.


2 kg Beef (shank, shin, or shoulder),
4 large onions, 
2 red bell peppers, 
200gr of concentrated tomato puree, 
4 cloves of garlic, 
1 tbsp of caraway seeds, 
2 tbsp of paprika, 
2 bay leaves (not shown in picture), 
2 large or 4 small potatoes
2 tbsp of red win vinegar
salt and pepper
and the secret ingredient: 1 30cl bottle of ‘Oud Bruin’ – Limburgian dark beer.

The ingredient that makes or breaks this dish, apart from the beef, is the paprika. Real Hungarian paprika cannot be found in The Netherlands. Compared to the real thing, the stuff they sell in stores over here, is more like red dust. So we need to improvise to get close to the rich, smokey, sweet taste of the authentic Hungarian Paprika!

Paprika or Pepper?

In many European languages, but not in English, the word paprika commonly refers to certain varieties of the Capsicum fruit itself. The spice, made from the ground dried fruits is called paprika powder. In English paprika only refers to the spice and the fruits are called bell peppers or chili peppers. 
It's all quite confusing, but as I want to keep this blog as international as possible, I will use the English terms: paprika for the spice and pepper for the fruit. 

Start by cutting the beef into dices (not too small: at least 2 by 2 cm). Remove the larger pieces of fat, but leave some of it as it will give the most flavor (Do not throw the fatty bits away! I’ll show you how to turn this into a fantastic beef stock in another post).
Goulash is one of those few dishes that in my opinion keeps well in the fridge. So whenever there is good quality beef on sale, I make a large batch and keep it in the fridge. This recipe is for 2kg of beef.

Fry the meat over high heat in small batches.
In Hungary, they will always use lard or pork fat to do this. I’m using some mild olive oil in a stainless steel pan here. The trick is to spread the meat in the pan evenly and NOT touch it until it has firmly browned. If you try and move the meat too soon, it will stick to the bottom of the pan and you’ll make a mess!

If it works well, you’ll get this: nicely browned cubes of meat and nothing sticking to the bottom of your pan.

Transfer the meat to a heavy casserole and continue frying small batches in the separate pan until all your meat is brown.

After you have finished frying your meat, your frying pan should look like this, with a great layer of fond in the bottom of the pan. Do not discard! This is were all the caramelized bits are that will bring super flavor to your goulash.
Note there is hardly any liquid in the pan coming from the meat at all. All the juices are kept where we want them!

Turn the heat down to medium and fry the tomato puree for a few minutes. This will take some of the acidity away and also deglaze the fond beautifully. I’m using that much puree to compensate for the lack of fruitiness and tanginess from not having real Hungarian paprika.

Peel and medium dice your onions. Important is to have the correct ratio between onions and meat. You should be looking for the same volume in diced onion as you have meat. Note: this is not the same weight. Here, there is approx 1.2 kg of onions against 2 kg of meat.
Not shown in the picture: peel and dice your potatoes into small cubes 1 by 1 cm. I’m adding potatoes at this point to bind the Goulash, as there is no other thickening agent like flour or starch used.

Peel the garlic, cut in half and remove the cores. They have a bitter taste and this is where much of the smell is.

Then dice the garlic and add to the pan. Never use a garlic press. It will give you twice the smell and half the flavor. So throw away your garlic press if you have one J.

Cook the onions, potatoes and garlic for a few minutes and add the beer. The ‘Oud Bruin’ has a nice sweetness that will add beautifully to the richness of this dish. It also adds a slight bitter taste that will balance the flavors. The original recipes calls for wine or beef stock to be added here, but I feel the beer gives it a nice twist and makes it a truly Limburgian variety (Thanks to Oma Blanka!).

Add 2 tbsp of red wine vinegar.

Now for the caraway seeds. I think the seeds are much better tasting than the powder, but I do not like the consistency. So I chop them into smaller pieces. A nice trick to prevent them from jumping all over the place while you’re chopping, is to add a piece of butter.
Add the caraway-butter paste to the pan.
Transfer the mixture to the casserole and mix everything together well. Make sure there is just enough moisture to cover the meat. If needed, add some water or beef stock.
Add the bay leaves. Use the fresh ones if you can get them.
Now, the Goulash has to simmer over low heat for 2 – 3 hours, depending on the meat you are using. I’m lazy, so I just put the casserole into the oven at 150˚C. You can go as low as 130˚C, but then it would take up to 6 hours to cook the meat, which I think is not very good for the environment. Anyway, the decision is yours.
Roasting the bell peppers can be quite the chore. The point is to char the skin but not to cook the pepper. Charring will make the skin come off very easy and will also give a nice smokey taste.

I’ve seen these roasted in a grill, baked, wrapped in aluminum foil in an oven or held over open flame on the stove. Downside of all these methods is that they are all quite messy and not only the skin is charred, but the meat of the peppers is cooked and turned into mush.

My trick is to go medieval on them with a skewer and a blow torch 
(thanks Marsellus Wallace!).
The result: nicely charred peppers in less than 2 minutes.
Put in a plastic bag for 5 minutes and the steam will soften the skin...
... which will now come off very easily.
Take out the core and seeds and dice into very fine cubes.
Wonderfully fruity, smokey, fresh paprika flavor. Wait until your meat is almost fork-tender and add the diced peppers to the Goulash.
Once your meat is tender, remove the casserole from the oven and place on your stove on medium heat. Only now add the paprika.

The error many people make, is to add the paprika too early and cook it for too long, which destroys the flavor. Unlike flour or curry powder, paprika does not need to cook. That is why the quality of the paprika is so important. If you buy paprika, please make sure it smells and tastes really nice. It should never taste bitter and should be bright red in color.

Add pepper and salt to taste, but be careful with the salt. Goulash should be sweet and tangy, but never too salty.

Traditionally, Pörkölt is served with nokedlivel (spaetzle), a wonderful intermediate between noodles and dumplings and a dish by itself. I will post this recipe later on.

And there it is! A rich, velvety beef stew. Soft, succulent meat. Lovely sweetness and tanginess from the paprika and tomatoes, with a hint of smokiness from the roasted peppers and malty sweetness from the beer. There is nothing that tastes quite like it!

I like my Limburgian Goulash with white rice and some pickled gherkin, which helps to cut through the richness of the Goulash.

I hope you give this recipe a try. Enjoy!

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