Czech goulash – a recipe!

Andrew Jones makes the best goulash (next to the Czech moms and kitchens who have probably been making it for centuries!) and also this great dish called svickova, both of which I dared not try until the Jones left Prague and I was faced with only a few months left of having all the “right” local ingredients on hand. So I did, and actually it’s not hard. I mean, goulash is a stew. Every nation has a version with some mix of vegetables and meat and then some kind of thing that holds it all together and makes a sauce.

The hard part is the dumplings. The German tradition has spatzle, little potato dumplings. And some Europeans like little egg noodles, which I think Hungarians use but I can’t say because I’ve never really had a Hungarian goulash in Hungary. But the Czechs have these awesome and really simple flour dumplings that they make by boiling a loaf-like bread for a while and they come out all soft and chewy and soak up all the last bit of goulash goodness.

So tonight I tried to make the goulash in Texas, which shouldn’t really be that hard because Texas was the point of one of the largest German and Czech immigrations. You can get really authentic sweet Hungarian paprika, essential for a good goulash (sez Andrew and he is right because you can add a ton of it–it adds all the color and flavor of paprika without the intense heat overload). And how can you go wrong with Texas beef? The beef in Prague is much more timid than the healthy tasty big meats here. Well, I’m happy to say that my goulash has made it across the pond and still tastes pretty darn good. But alas, the dumplings sucked. They were rock hard and Derek did his best to be polite, but as I write they have made it into our garden to decorate the edges of the herbs.

Since every season that is not summer comes late to Texas, we are always eager to ring the seasons in by faith. And so we rang autumn in with this kind of warm, cosy, inner savory meal–the kind of meals that the Czechs do so well. As some who are reading this know, Derek and I lived on and off in Prague for 2 or so years and now we are wandering elsewheres but I am so thankful to have been hosted by the people we befriended there. They are warm, kind and very very smart people and at the end of the world they will be bubbling over with children lauging in the streets. Amen to that.

Anyone up for a goulash? It’s pretty easy! My humble recipe:

*about 2 pounds of beef cut in 1-2 inch chunks (in US you can buy stew beef already cut, or buy about 2 lbs of shoulder meat or some other appropriate stew cut)

*1 big onion, diced

*1 or 2 green peppers, diced

*2 tomatoes, juiced and diced (or sometimes I cheat and use a can of diced tomatoes–but drain some of the water).

*about 3 tablespoons of Hungarian SWEET paprika (if you use regular or hot paprika, just keep adding it to taste or you might kill yourself. Unless of course you are a Texan and you enjoy that sort of thing.)

*a bottle of Czech pilsner (or you can improvise with beer but their pilsner is the bomb)

*salt to taste

*a beef broth cube, or a tablespoon of beef bouillon

*2 tablespoons flour and 2 tablespoons oil or butter

This is funny. I never write out recipes, but here it goes. Heat a little bit of oil in a Dutch oven or a deep roasting pan and fry the meat until it slightly browns. It is always best if you can get little burnt bits on the bottom because that makes for a tasty sauce. Add onions and green pepper and stir until those get soft, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and the paprika. (Sometimes at this point the Czechs put in about a teaspoon of Caroway seeds but I don’t really like those.) Stir that around and then add the beer and the bouillon. (Make sure the bouillon or cube is dissolved in a little water, then add. Bouillon always helps the flavor out, but if you don’t have it, just keep adding seasonings like salt and whatever else until you like the taste.) Let all of this come to a boil and then turn it to a simmer and let it go for about 45 minutes

…Right before that time ends take a small skillet and melt the butter or heat the oil over medium heat, and mix the flour into it until all the flour dissolves. This is called a “roux”, and the longer you stir it and let it sit over the heat the more you brown the flour and make a stronger roux. Stir it until it’s a tan colour and then pour it or scrape it into the goulash. This is a Louisiana/Cajun way of cooking but it it’s a lot better than just putting flour straight into a stew to thicken it.) Let the whole goulash come back to a simmer for about 5 minute and stir occasionally. The stew should get a little thick and if there’s not enough liquid, keep adding a little bit of water until it gets where you like it. Derek likes when it’s thick and gravy-ish, but a lot of Czechs make more watery stews. It’s up to you! So you’re done! Drink with beer!

If you know how to make spatzle or czech dumplings, cool! But if you don’t, this might be good with some little round potatoes… peeled, boiled and buttered.

Oh, and don’t eat it too early in the night or everyone will pass out. Eastern European food can be kinda heavy, which is why it’s so good in fall and winter….

Blessssssssss our friends in Czech Republic!


RECIPE UPDATE (December 2006): I have been playing with stews more and with the advice of my wonderful southern mother-in-law, learned how to make a beef stew that is very simple and yet gets the right about of gravy and mixing flavors. I’ve now used these techniques for everything from southern stew to goulash, to Flemish beef stew.

my 3 new pointers:

1. I’ve realized by now that any stew, and goulash, ALWAYS tastes better the next day. The flavors are all melded together, the meat seems to fall apart more. Worth it to cook a day ahead if you want the really really good stuff.

2. Dust meat with flour before browning it. For this goulash recipe, I originally recommended making a roux, cajun-style, to add to the final stew and thicken it. While this works, there is still a “flour-y” taste at the end that doesn’t quite make it feel like a totally authentic goulash. The Southern way is better, now that I’ve done both. At the very beginning, put your cut up beef in a bag with flour seasoned with salt and paprika. Shake it around. Put oil in your pot and brown the meat (just like above). Don’t crowd the beef; do it in batches so that you can brown all sides. Take it out as soon as you’ve ‘browned’ it and put it on a plate to do the rest. Once you’ve finished all your meat, keep it set aside. Add onions, garlic, peppers, and rest of seasonings to the pot and stir those for a minute or two. Then add liquids, bring to a boil and add meat. Add the cover and now you’re ready to put it in the oven.

Coating the beef in flour will add the thickener you need. Just watch and see how that stew develops a nice texture, which you can add more liquid to later if it is too thick.

3. Cook slowly at a smaller temperature guarantees that fall-apart tender meat we all love in stews. So instead of above, I now make my goulash cook slowly in the oven instead of quickly on the stove. Cook at 300 degrees (F) for 3 hours. Toward the end taste the liquid and see if it’s got enough seasoning. Check the meat, too. It should pierce easily with a fork.

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