Goulash is a rustic stew or soup with meat (usually beef) and vegetables, seasoned strongly with paprika and other spices. It’s a popular meal in Central Europe, but also in many other parts of the world. In North America, goulash usually resembles the classic Hungarian Goulash (Gulyás), one of the national dishes of Hungary and a symbol of the country. Traditionally it’s prepared in a cast iron kettle called a bograc.
Like the UK’s Shepherd’s pie, Hungarian goulash had its origins with cattle herders and shepherds in the Middle Ages. It was a practical staple meal for this outdoor-living, nomadic group who cured the stew in the sun and stored it in sheep’s stomach pouches for dinners on the run.
Prior to global trade in paprika, the deep red spice now associated closely with Hungarian cuisine, especially goulash, the dish was based on just a few ingredients, including beef, veal, pork or lamb, and onions. Over time, innovations, such as tomatoes, were added, and other vegetables. Traditionally though, goulash is served without starch, so no potatoes or rice. Rather it’s often served with small egg noodles called csipetke, which are boiled in the broth, or with dumplings that cook in the steam of the simmering goulash.
How to prepare Goulash
There are many ways to prepare goulash. What follows is a traditional recipe from the Daring Gourmet that includes potatoes for a hearty dinner entreé. Serve it with a crisp white wine, sour cream and crusty bread on the side, and a cool salad — like cucumber — to cut the heat. Or go completely Old World and serve goulash with dumplings (see recipe below). They are the perfect accompaniment for this saucy, spicy one pot dish.
- 3 tablespoons pork lard (butter is an acceptable substitute, but pork fat is traditionally used and recommended for the best flavor)
- 1 1/2 pounds yellow onions, chopped
- 1/4 cup sweet Hungarian paprika
- 1 1/2 pounds of good quality beef, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 red bell peppers, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
- 1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
- 2 tomatoes, diced
- 2 carrots, diced
- 2 medium potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
- 5 cups beef broth
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Melt the lard in a sturdy Dutch oven and cook the onions until they are just turning golden brown (approx. 7 minutes). Take the pot off the heat, add the paprika and stir. Add the beef and garlic, then return to the heat for about 10 minutes. By this point there should be no pink left on the beef.
- Add the bell peppers and cook for another 7 minutes. Finally add the diced carrots, tomatoes, and potatoes to the beef broth, and season with a bay leaf, salt and pepper. Bring everything to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 40 minutes, covered.
- Serve warm.
- 2 cups flour
- 2 tablespoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup milk
- 1 tablespoon butter, melted
- Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Add milk and butter and stir thoroughly.
- Once the beef chunks are cooked to the tender stage, use a tablespoon to drop the dumpling batter into the simmering stew. Cover the pot and cook for an additional 15 minutes.
- Don’t uncover the pot for 15 minutes — you want the dumplings to cook in their own steam to become light and fluffy. At the 15-minute mark, test the dumplings with a toothpick. When it comes out clean, they are done and ready to enjoy.
Even within the category of traditional Hungarian goulashes there are many variations:
Omitting the potatoes and adding sauerkraut and sour cream, you end up with Székely Gulyás.
Using pork, lemon and thin vermicelli in the goulash instead of potato and egg noodle is called Likócsi Pork Gulyás.
There are even personal versions that have been passed down through the ages. One thick and rich goulash, closer to a stew in consistency, and made with three kinds of meat, is called Székely gulyás, named after the Hungarian writer, journalist and revolutionary József Székely (1825–1895).
Outside of Hungary, goulash is a favorite dish from Ethiopia (spicy fish goulash) to the Philippines (caldereta). Hungarian immigrants fleeing oppressive governments also brought many versions of goulash to North America with them. Now there’s even a slow cooker version.
Most of the popular celebrity chefs have given goulash a try. Jamie Oliver has a healthy version. Martha Stewart has a Slovakian version. There’s even a low-rent American facsimile called slumgullion that features whatever ingredients a cook has on hand.
The goulash tradition is based on making the most of what you can find. Under the umbrella of that tradition, you have to also consider dishes like mulligan stew, a campfire classic invented by American hobos riding the rails in the early 20th century.