Goulash Sauce (and a Stew, Too)

When people think of Hungarian cuisine, the first dish that comes to mind is probably goulash (gulyás in Magyar). The real deal, however, is most likely different from what you think.

In Cuisine of Hungary, George Lang warns us that a true gulyás should contain no spice other than paprika and caraway, and gives us the origin of the recipe. Shepherds used to cook cubed meat (beef or mutton) with onions in a kettle until all the liquid evaporated, and then they dried the result in the sun so they could reheat it in water whenever they needed it. People nowadays usually don’t carry around their dry goulash for impromptu snacks anymore, but the basic method remains: the meat is simmered until done, and then water is added, either in small amount to make a stew, or more liberally to obtain a soup.

In Central Europe, and Western Europe even more so, gulyás has evolved into goulash, vaguely defined as “a stew made with meat […], assorted vegetables, and paprika”. Today’s rendition is definitely of the bastardized kind, though no less tasty for it. You may remember my Venison Goulash, and this recipe is pretty close to it, but less wintry — red peppers replace the root vegetables. While you can certainly use it with great success to prepare a beef, pork, or chicken goulash, I’ve chosen to focus on making… sauce.

Hungarian Food - Paprikas Sauce

I know it may sound weird to spend a whole day in the kitchen only to prepare a quart of red sauce, but you should consider it as investment for recipes to come. Just divide the sauce between small plastic containers and freeze it; delicious applications will follow soon! If you can’t resist making a complete meal, the instructions are nearly the same: just choose your meat cuts more carefully (beef ribs, chicken thighs, and pork shoulder are all good candidates), cook them really slowly (as instructed below), and eat them instead of reserving for another recipe. With a bit of luck, you’ll still have some sauce left to freeze.

Beef stock
Yields about 2 qt

1.5 lb oxtail
olive oil
4 oz peeled carrot, large dice
9 oz peeled onion, large dice
9 oz cored red pepper, large dice
1 garlic clove
16 oz red wine
3 cloves
3 peppercorns
1 juniper berry
1 cardamom pod
6 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
42 oz water

  • In a pressure cooker over high heat, sauté the oxtail in olive oil until brown on all sides. Add the carrot, onion, red pepper, and garlic, and stir for 2-3 minutes. Add the red wine, cloves, peppercorns, juniper berry, cardamom, thyme, and bay leaf, and simmer for another 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the water, cover, bring to pressure, then cook under pressure for 1 hour. Let cool for 30 minutes, and pass through a chinois.

Goulash
Yields about 36 oz sauce

16 oz peeled onion
3 peeled garlic cloves
8 oz cored red pepper
8 oz peeled carrot
3 tbsp sweet Hungarian paprika
1/2 tsp piment d’espelette
1 tsp ground anise
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground caraway
1 tsp ground allspice
4 lb oxtail or beef ribs
salt
black pepper, ground
olive oil
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 qt beef stock

  • Slice the onion and garlic very thinly using a mandoline.  Chop the red pepper and carrot into a brunoise (the mandoline can also help you do half of this work).
  • In a saucepan over medium heat, heat the paprika, piment d’espelette, anise, coriander, cumin, caraway, and allspice for 3 minutes, shaking regularly. Reserve.
  • Season the beef with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in an oven-proof pot over high heat, then sauté the meat until brown on all sides. Reserve.
  • In the same pot over medium heat, sauté the onion and garlic until soft, then add the spices and stir for 2 minutes. Add the red pepper, carrot, and tomato paste, and cook for 5 more minutes.
  • Return the meat to the pot, and bring to a boil. Cover with a lid slightly ajar, and cook in a 300 F oven for 4 hours. If you’re making a goulash stew instead of just sauce, cook in a 200 F oven for 6 to 8 hours, until very tender (time will vary depending on the meat you’re using). In either case, let rest for 30 minutes.
  • Remove the meat from the pot, and reduce the sauce over high heat to about 36 oz (weigh the sauce first; there may not be any need to reduce it at all).
  • Use a hand blender directly in the pot to blend some, but not all, of the chunks — you want the sauce to have a thick, coarse texture. If you don’t have a hand blender, just transfer 1/3 to 1/2 of the sauce and chunks to a regular blender, process until smooth, and return to the pot.
  • Let cool, and transfer to plastic containers. Refrigerate, remove the film of fat that forms on top, and freeze. You can reserve the meat for other recipes (such as pasta sauce).
  • If you’re making a goulash stew instead of just sauce, return the meat to the pot, reheat over low heat, and serve. Even better: refrigerate for 1 day, then remove the film of fat, reheat over low heat, and serve.

Hungarian Food - Paprikas Sauce