For some reason, I must be feeling nostalgic for my Vienna days as I keep coming back to the dishes I made during those years. Perhaps it’s the cold weather that calls out for the hearty cooking of Mitteleuropa. In any event, here’s another favorite from that time and place: Viennese Goulash. Goulash is a simple beef stew that employs the usual dry followed by moist heat method, but with two twists: the use of lots of onion—half as much by weight as the meat—and, of course, Hungarian paprika. The cooking fat can be oil, lard or even rendered beef fat.
- 1 kilo (2 lbs.) stewing beef, cut into cubes
- 500g (1 lb.) onions, chopped
- Oil, lard or rendered beef fat
- Salt and pepper
- Hungarian paprika, to taste
- Beef broth, enough to cover the meat
- 1-2 Tbs. tomato paste
- A pinch of caraway seeds
- A sprig of fresh marjoram (or thyme)
- A spoonful of flour mixed with some water
Add enough cooking fat to cover the bottom of a Dutch oven or braiser. Brown the beef cubes nicely in the fat on all sides and set aside.
Now add the onions and gently sweat them in the same pan until they are nicely soft and browned, but not burnt. Season with salt and pepper as you go. Add back the browned meat and mix well. Allow the meat and onions to simmer together for a few minutes, then sprinkle over the paprika. Most recipes call for 1-2 tablespoons, but I just ‘eyeball’ it, and I’m pretty sure I add more than just a spoonful, as I love the taste of paprika. You then allow the paprika to simmer in the fat to release its full aroma, again for just a minute or two. Paprika can burn if heated too much, so moderate your heat as needed.
Add enough beef broth to just cover the meat, along with the tomato paste, caraway and marjoram. Cover and simmer it all gently until the meat is quite tender, usually about two hours. This can be done over the stove or, if you prefer, in a moderate (180C/350F) oven.
Just before serving, add your flour and water slurry to the pan, a spoonful or two at a time, to give the sauce a nice liaison. If, on the other hand, you find that your sauce is too thick or there is simply not enough of it, add some water.
Serve your Viennese goulash warm, with buttered noodles, spätle or Knödel (bread dumplings).
There is a certain linguistic confusion over the name of this dish as it is used in its homeland of Hungary. This article explains, as I had heard before, that gulyás, from which we get our word goulash, actually refers to a soup, which back in Vienna was called Gulaschsuppe. What we call goulash is called pörkölt in Hungarian (but please don’t ask me how that’s pronounced…)
Many recipes call for you to sauté the onions first, and then brown the beef with onions, which is more straightforward than the procedures outlined above, which is more typical of a French daube or an Italian spezzatino. In fact, my blog buddy Chiara Giglio has a post on how they make goulasch in Trieste just that way. But I actually like to use the Frenchified method for this dish, as you can caramelize the meat nicely without any worried about burning the onion.
There are lots of different kinds of goulash, with or without meat, and with or without vegetables. But Viennese Goulash, in my humble opinion, is the best of the lot, although admittedly I am biased. After all, we all tend to like what we know best.