I recall a childhood memory where my dad forced me to eat something goulashesque that didn’t go down so well. For years I had it in my head that I didn’t like goulash, but while travelling in Eastern Europe I encountered it almost everywhere I went so decided to give it another shot. Goulash is slightly different in every country and everyone seems to think their version is authentic. What goulash boils down to (literally) is beef and onions. What you add and whether or not you thicken the sauce is what varies by region.
In Prague we had it served as a thick beef stew with crisp sauerkraut latkes and very dense white dumpling. The sauce is thickened with flour and crème fraiche is added to give it some sharpness. But it really only is beef and onions. I don’t think wine is added to the sauce, but there’s a touch of paprika. Totally delicious! Wash that down with a large pint of Pilsner Urquell and you’re all set…for bed, as the food is very heavy.
My second encounter with goulash was in Ljubljana, the lovely little capital of Slovenia. We arrived on a cold and rainy afternoon and after wandering the streets to take in all its beauty we landed in a great little café called Julija. We started our meal with an amazing sheep’s milk cheese studded with locally cultivated black truffles (quite possibly the best cheese I’ve ever eaten!), and then in honor of the change in the weather from 34 to 12 degrees I opted again for the goulash, this time served as a soup not a stew. The beef fell apart and almost melted in the broth. There was a large wedge of crisp polenta on the side (fitting due to our proximity to Italy) and the entire thing totally hit the spot.
After returning home, goulash was the first thing I wanted to re-create from our trip. I looked it up in my Larousse and the definition was simply put as I thought, beef and onions. The better known Hungarian version includes paprika whereas the Austrians and Germans thicken with flour (as do the Czech’s it would seem) but no matter how you make it, wine is not to be added. Here’s my adapted recipe, perfect for a cool, crisp fall day (and guess what…it tastes even better the next day!).
1 large beef rump roast, cut into 1 inch pieces seasoned liberally with salt and pepper
4 medium onions, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 large can diced tomatoes (with juices)
4 cups beef broth
Fresh herbs (pick what you like, I used rosemary and oregano)
2 T butter
Method – sauté the beef , onions and garlic over medium-high heat until the beef is cooked on all sides (8 min). Transfer beef/onion mixture to your crock pot and add the broth, tomatoes and herbs. Simmer on low for 6+ hours (you could also leave it on the stovetop to simmer, covered). When you think it’s done, take out the beef and puree everything else. Put the beef back in and let it simmer until you’re ready to eat.
Polenta: 1 cup corn meal, 4 cups chicken stock or water. Heat the stock until it boils, reduce the heat and whisk in corn meal. Whisk constantly until thick and bubbly, switch to a wooden spoon when it becomes too thick to continue whisking, total cooking time 8-10 min. Pour polenta into a small round pie pan and refrigerate until set (at least 1 hour). Cut into wedges and pan fry with a little olive oil before serving.