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Sunday, November 02, 2008

Hungarian Beef Stew

I borrowed this recipe from the December 2008 issue of Cook's Illustrated. According to their experts this dish, aka Goulash, was originally made with just three ingredients, beef, onions and paprika so I went with that. I did follow the recommendation of the magazine and blend the paprika with some roasted red peppers to cut the grittiness of using so much paprika (this doesn't really interfere with the integrity of the dish since paprika is merely finely ground dried red bell peppers).

1 3 lb. chuck roast cut into 1 inch cubes
6 cups of chopped onions (about 5 medium onions)
1/3 cup of sweet (Hungarian) paprika - the regular store-brand paprika will not work. Open Harvest has good, fresh Hungarian paprika available in bulk.
12 oz. roasted red peppers
2 tsp. white vinegar

Preheat your oven to 300°. After chopping the beef, salt it evenly and set aside and blend the paprika, red peppers and vinegar in a food processor until smooth. Cook all the onions (chopping this much onion will definitely have you reaching for your hankie and taking many breaks) over medium heat with just a little oil in a Dutch oven (I used my extra big antique cast-iron skillet) until soft but don't let them brown (about 10 minutes). Add the paprika mixture and stir for a couple of minutes then add the beef cubes and stir until the meat is coated. Put the lid on your Dutch oven/big pot and put it in the oven for about 3 hours. Enjoy with potatoes or egg noodles. Add other veggies or sour cream if you must.

What's amazing about this dish is how so much liquid is produced from the beef and the onions. The Cook's reciped called for adding beef broth late in the cooking process but it wasn't necessary.

I remember the "goulash" served in my school cafeteria on a semi-weekly basis. It was just hamburger and tomato sauce with overcooked elbow macaroni. That had kind of colored my perception of goulash for years. It's still made dozens of different ways with many additions to the basic recipe which will always include cubes of beef, onions and paprika. Mine is below. I added some delicious little canned white potatoes (the most underrated canned veggie available in every grocery store) after snapping the pic.

You might notice that this goulash looks eerily similar to the chili I made a little over a week ago. There's not that much difference. Tomatoes and spices. One could argue chili is just a busier version of traditional goulash. If I had a lot more time to research the issue I might even find a connection.

Really, meat stewed with various vegetables and spices is probably one of the most universal dishes on earth. Once Neolithic man figured out how to make a fire and keep it going it was only a matter of time until he discovered applying the heat from that fire to the tough raw meat he had been eating made it more tender and added flavor. It must have occurred, once boiling water was mastered, that adding meat to liquid over heat cooked it, made it even more tender and could keep cooking for a long time as long as the fire was kept alive. Every culture has its own version, from the beef stew of our western European ancestors to east Asian beef and potato stews flavored with ginger and anise to Goulash to west African peanut and chicken stews to lamb vindaloo.

The one thing about stew of any kind, it's easy and it's always good.


Anonymous Jesse said...

We had an excellent goulasch today at Gerda's B├Ąckerei on Leavenworth in Omaha. We had the real thing in Hortischon, Austria, which is only about 9 km from the Hungarian border, but we actually preferred Gerda's.

8:31 PM  
Blogger Swoof said...

Never heard of Gerda's but I'd like to try it. When should I come up and have dinner with you? It looks like you're going to be busy very soon.

11:21 PM  

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