electronic Gourmet Guide


Goulash, A Rose By Any Other Name...

by Prof. Steve Holzinger



Hungarian Goulash
Pork Chile con Carne with Sweet Potatoes
Red Cabbage, Sweet and Sour
Gypsy Potatoes

Gulyas, or Goulash, and I refer to the kind that is known as "Hungarian Goulash", is in my mind an excellent example of culinary confusion. The confusion, of course, is in my mind, not the minds of others. They are all perfectly clear on this subject. Ingredients like flour and tomatoes, and adding the cooked potatoes near the end of the cooking process are all OK. Sources so reputable and classical as Escoffier and Larousse are certain of this. I'm not!


I worked for a Hungarian Chef. Hungarian, born and bred, Karl taught me that there were certain unchangeable rules for making goulash. 1. No Flour, 2. No Tomatoes! Real Hungarian Goulash, according to Karl, got its savor and color from paprika, Hungarian Pepper from Szeged in Southern Hungary, in generous amounts, and was thickened only by the potatoes that cooked with the meat. In later years, when I worked at the Jager Haus on Lexington Avenue in New York City, we had Hungarian Goulash on the menu all the time. The reason I'm confused is that at Die Jager Haus (German : Jager Masc. Haus Neuter, The restaurant Feminine... it never made sense to me, but I'm easily confused) we made the Hungarian Goulash in just about the same way Karl had taught me some years before. So, quite naturally, it seemed to me that this was the right way to do it.

What do you think causes the different styles? The two classical sources I quoted, and which I have the greatest respect for, are after all, French, and we are talking about Hungarian Goulash. I recently read an article that got me thinking about goulash. Someone in that excellent Usenet rec.food.cooking had been asking for a recipe for Goulash Soup, and had been told there was no such thing, that they were confused! Me too! Well, I'd had Gulyas Suppe, and knew that couldn't be, so I hit the books. That's when I got confused.

What goulash is really an excellent example of, is the fond de cuisine of moist heat stewing of meat. Beef stew is another, and I will cover it in an article on pot pies, one of my favorite meals. Goulash Soup, by the way, is made just like goulash, but everything is cut in small dice that can fit in the bowl of a spoon, and the broth is the major ingredient in terms of volume. Just to increase the confusion, I will make a Chile con carne for you, as a goulash! I could also just as well use this technique to make a curry. It uses less tender meat, heavy spicing, and a starch base vegetable, slowly cooked in stock, until very tender and tasty. Just for fun, I'll break Karl's rule about tomatoes, while I'm at it.

If there are any Hungarians from the old country reading this, and I mean real Magyars, I would greatly appreciate hearing from you, so I can have some genuine authorities to quote. Also I wouldn't mind at all if you sent me a tip about any good Hungarian Restaurants where they make great goulash so that I can pass the tip along, telling the world. Hungarians are great cooks! If you write and tell me your mother is Hungarian and is a terrible cook, I hope she finds out and smacks you good.

I cut large chunks (3-4 oz each) of shin beef for this recipe. This makes a great deal of sense, as well exercised tough muscles like shin (lower leg) develop a great deal of flavor. The toughness of the meat is rendered tender by moist heat cooking. The connective tissue in the meat, collagen, is what holds the muscle fibers together. The more exercised the muscle, the more collagen is developed to hold the fibers. When we cook such meat in water, slowly at simmering temperatures, (180 degrees F) the water combines with the collagen to form water soluble gelatin. This makes the meat tender....sometimes too tender, if we cook too long. The fibers separate...the meat becomes "stringy". There is a dish called Ropa de Vejho, "Old Mans Clothes", where the meat is cooked this way and then shredded.

Using large chunks of shin implies two things. First, the finished dish will have a rich 'beefy' flavor. Oxtails are an even better example of a meat that gives this intense flavor. Can you think why? The second idea is that, seeing as the meat is in large chunks and we are going to cook it slowly in water or stock, the cooking time will be long, as compared to the same meat in smaller chunks. This goes back to the ideas in our first subject, "Boiling Water". If we add chunks of potato at the same time as the meat, the potato, having a shorter cooking time will overcook, especially since I square off the potato for dice, and mince the trimmings small. When a starchy vegetable like potato overcooks, it thickens the liquid it is in. Are you beginning to see that the natural properties of the foods we cook determine the techniques we use, and thus the results? It cannot be otherwise, but it is worth noting. The words we use to describe our technique are technical terms, jargon if you will. Specific words have special meanings, sometimes detailing a complicated process. Stew, for example, means that there will be chunks of food, cooked immersed in liquid, at simmering (180 degrees F) temperatures. Oddly enough, simmering temperatures keep the meat moist and juicy, but if you boil (212 degrees F) a stew the meat will be dry. Long slow cooking is the ticket. This can even be taken to extremes. If you have ever made a stew in a crockpot, for many hours at lower than 180 degrees F you know how tender and juicy things get.


Stews can be white or brown. This goes back to the ideas we discussed under Mirepoix. Brown stews, like a goulash, have more robust flavors, with aromatic vegetables like onions and garlic, strong flavored fats like bacon or ham, and tomatoes to enrich and warm the brown color. Aha! Why do you need tomatoes for the warming red color when you are going to have lots of bright sunny red paprika,? So, no tomatoes, and no flour. Not needed! At Jager Haus, we rolled the beef chunks in a pan of Kingred Hungarian Paprika. (Kingred is hot, Sunred is mild) so that they would take up as much paprika as could stick to them. Then we put the meat into a roast pan with diced onions, and an amazing amount of garlic, and poured some melted fat from the top of the brown stock over the meat, and mixed all well. We used this fat for two reasons. It was free, and handy, we already had it, and it had just the right flavors from the brown stock. It was orange in color, having extracted the fat soluble color from the tomatoes. That color is always associated in my mind with Vitamin A, beta-carotene. The pan containing the meat and paprika, onions garlic and oil was put into a medium oven . The meat became brown and the onions melted and combined their fragrance with the garlic. The soul of this dish filled the kitchen, making mouth watering aromas. "What are you cooking that smells soooo good?" everyone who came into the kitchen would ask.

"A slow brown is a brown that stays on the meat," I was told by the chef. "Besides the darn paprika burns if you try to rush it.!" he said. When it was nice and brown, the meat was dumped into a 10 gallon pot on a candy stove, which is a low circular multiburner open stove, used by bakers, hence the name. Then diced Idaho potatoes were added, and the thick pot was filled with brown stock to cover the meat.

First the pot was brought to the boil quickly, and then the heat was lowered to just a bare simmer, and everything cooked slowly. As the fat rose to the top it would be skimmed off, and the contents of the pot were stirred with what looked like a canoe paddle. No binding of starch was used. The potato dice got kind of round edges and picked up the flavor of the meat, which was cooked to fork tender. Patrons were given the choice of buttered egg noodles or spatzle, which are little flour and egg dumplings, browned in butter. This dish was a big seller in that old fashioned German restaurant, where we went through a 10 gallon pot full each week. Sweet and sour red cabbage, made with wine and spices was a favorite side dish. I'll tell you how to make these traditional side dishes in the recipe section. Gypsy Potatoes, oven roasted potatoes with caraway seeds were also popular, and used red fat.

If Hungarian cooking interests you , I have two good books to recommend to you. The Paprikas Wiess Hungarian cookbook, by Edward Weirs and Ruth Buchan. The Paprikas Weiss store on Second Avenue in NYC is a Mecca for foodies, and you can get the book there. My 1983 edition is signed by the author, but it came out in 1979.

Susan Derecskey's The Hungarian Cookbook, Harper and Row, 1972 is beautifully illustrated by George Koizumi, and mine is a first edition. I have had a reader ask for a recipe that their grandmother made, and sent them the one from this book. They said it was exactly right.


Steve's #13 Recipes:

Hungarian Goulash
Pork Chile con Carne with Sweet Potatoes
Red Cabbage, Sweet and Sour
Gypsy Potatoes

© 1996, Steve K. Holzinger. All rights reserved.


This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.

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Modified August 2007