Outside of Hungary, gulyás –or goulash as I remember from my childhood in California–is more of a meaty sauce served over pasta than the smoky stew I’ve come to love. For the real-deal, cubes of meat are simmered in a rich broth of paprika, onion, garlic, pepper and caraway. Together with carrots, potatoes and csipetke (small fresh pasta bits) these ingredients combine to make an undeniably soulful and satisfying soup. Gulyás was originally a favorite of herdsmen on Hungary’s great Hortobágy plain, and was made primarily with mutton. Over the centuries the recipe has changed with the times and now commonly includes beef or pork (sometimes both).
While my wife prepares gulyás in the way described below, there are a number of different recipes that vary from region to region, and even from household to household. Some make it with beans, others with cabbage or pasta. I recently had gulyás with hunks of pork skin in it. Regardless of its contents, every version I’ve tasted has been delicious. You simply can’t go wrong with onions, garlic and paprika.
Something I think all Hungarians can agree on: the best gulyás is made in a bogrács (cauldron) over an open fire. The pot of onions and garlic goes over the flames, a mouth-watering aroma fills the air, and next thing you know you’re knocking back shots of Pálinka and having a garden party.
A few years ago my wife and I actually stuffed a bogrács into a suitcase and brought it back to California. Soon every party or camping trip involved a steaming pot of gulyás and my friends and family became addicted. More importantly, however, my wife’s gulyás connoisseur relatives also give this recipe two Magyar thumbs up.
If there’s one dish that’s emblematic of Hungary, gulyás is that dish.
Try the recipe below and tweak it to your tastes.
Authentic Hungarian Gulyás
You will need a large pot (with a handle if cooking over fire; dutch ovens work well), a sharp knife and a big wooden spoon.
Cooking over an open fire is not mandatory but certainly adds a bit of smokiness, and of course makes all the difference atmospherically.
Making a tripod for your pot is actually very simple. Click here for instructions
Prep time: 30 minutes Cooking time: pork around 2 hours/beef around 3 hours Serves: 8-10
- 5-medium sized onions finely chopped
- 1- whole head of garlic finely chopped or crushed
- 1-whole pepper chopped ( In Hungary the ubiquitous yellow pepper is used. If you don’t have access to these you can substitute with an Anaheim or green bell pepper).
- 3-4 lbs of meat cubed. You can use pork shoulder, any of the beef roast cuts or both pork and beef together. Note: If you use both, beef takes longer to cook so you will need to add the pork about an hour after the beef.
- 3 lbs of potato cubed
- 4 to 5- carrots halved and chopped into 1 inch pieces
- 1/2- celeriac (celery root)
- Optional- Csipetke or some small bits of pasta (fresh and homemade if possible)
Everyone’s taste is different so I’m not going to give you measurements. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Quality Hungarian sweet paprika. This is absolutely crucial!
- Black pepper
- Ground caraway
- Add a few tablespoons of oil (or better yet lard) to the pot.
- Next pour in your onions, garlic and peppers and begin cooking. Watch carefully until the onions become glassy and saucy. Add a bit of water when needed to prevent burning.
- Add the meat cubes and sprinkle in the paprika, pepper, salt and caraway. Again this will depend on your tastes. I recommend a lot of paprika!
- Once the meat has a bit of color add some water and the half celery root. Check the broth for taste. Season accordingly.
- You’ll want to maintain the soup at a gentle boil, stirring regularly to prevent burning.
- After an hour and a half to two hours, check the meat. When it’s about done add your chopped carrots and 5-10 minutes later the chopped potatoes.
- Once the vegetables are almost to your liking add in the pasta pieces. They only need a few minutes.
- Again taste the broth and adjust your seasoning.
Serve with crusty bread and dried chilies if desired. A medium red wine also pairs nicely.
Yes this is a simple dish. Nevertheless, it packs sophisticated flavor and is always a crowd-pleaser.
Invite people over, cook a pot of gulyás and let the party begin.
More Paprika Project: A Walk on the Wine Side