Goulash variations

Goulash is one of the great dishes of mittel-Europe, and much loved by locals and tourists alike.  You will often see it served with one or other varieties of noodle, sometimes with potato, and almost always topped with sour cream.  If you go to Hungary or the Czech Republic, goulash is typically served as a soup, but mostly you will see it served as a rich beefy stew, redolent of smoked paprika.

If it is authentic it must not include any tomatoes, since the paprika and red peppers provides the red colour, according to a restauranteur I spoke to in Prague – and he was totally adamant.  However, you will often find recipes including love apples (ie. tomatoes) – the staple ingredient of many a casserole sauce.  The BBC Good Food recipe is quite decent; it includes two tomatoes rather than passata or canned tomatoes.  Delia, on the other hand, goes with a can but substitutes Spanish pimentón for paprika.  The Budapest tourist guide provides their own authentic recipe for “gulyás”, though even they include a couple of toms!

In essence cooking is about experimentation, so variants of classic dishes will always appear and are quite acceptable – so long as you don’t claim them to be “authentic”.  In this case, I deliberately set out to create a dish based on goulash, but with a few changes.  The recipe below is about the fourth attempt, but works quite well.  The primary difference is that I’ve slightly spiced it up, and used beer rather than wine – and since it is a rustic dish often drunk with beer, that seems apt.

Ingredients

  • Shin of beef cut into 1 inch cubes
  • Red onion, cut into small chunks
  • 1-2 red peppers, chopped (I used the bottled peeled variety, and put some of the sweet vinegar in the dish too, but you can roast and peel your own red peppers easily enough.  Raw is adequate)
  • 1-2 carrots, chopped
  • Few mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 celery stick, chopped
  • 1-2 very ripe tomatoes, peeled and deseeded, then chopped finely
  • Several garlic cloves, 2 crushed and the remainder chopped finely
  • 1 bottle of strong pilsner-style lager
  • Generous measure of smoked paprika (roughly 1-2 tbls)
  • 1-2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • 2-3 tbls cornflour
  • Pinch of thyme
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • Sea salt and fresh ground pepper
  • Beef stock – fresh if you’ve got it but otherwise the best concentrate you can find
  • Olive oil
  • Note: in the version pictured above, I also added red lentils, though they are by no means required.

Method

Put the beef clubs, salt, pepper, a few stems of thyme, 1-2 crushed garlic cloves and bay leaves in a large bowl. Cover with the lager, put cling film over the top and leave in the fridge for 2-3 hours, or overnight if you wish.

Take out the beef and pat dry, reserving the liquid.  Put the cubes in a fresh bowl and add paprika, cayenne, mustard powder, cornflour and more seasoning. I did this in a plastic bag, then shook up the bag to coat the beef thoroughly.

Heat an ovenproof casserole on high heat on a hot, and add oil.  When almost smoking add the beef cubes and sear on all sides.  Add veg, chopped and more garlic, then sauté for a few minutes, turning often. Add the beer marinade and stock, then bring to the boil.

Put the lid on the pot and cook on a very low heat for 3-4 hours (I used the slow oven of the Aga.)  Alternatively, use a slow cooker.  It will be even better if you cook then reheat the following day.

Serve with tagliatelle, sour cream and a well-dressed green salad. Bon appetit!

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