I found this while cleaning up some files on my hard drive. It is something I wrote for our second Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church cookbook. I am a member of a gospel choir called the Cedar Lake Seven, which is based out of BMPC, and this story chronicles some of the adventure we had when touring Hungary in early 2002. It also provides my take on Hungarian Goulash, one of the more memorable meals we had on our trip.
In the early 2000’s, the Cedar Lake Seven had an opportunity to visit Hungary. They was the result of an exchange, a partnership with the Reformed Church of Hungary. The Hungarians had been to Minnesota a few years earlier, and made the gesture of inviting the Americans to come and see them. It took a few years for it all to come together, but we made a plan to go in the fall of 2001. After September 2001, the world changed, and we had to alter our plans. We would up delaying our trip by a few months, and it moved forward in the spring of 2002.
The church was tremendously supportive of what we were trying to do. We needed to raise money for airfare for the trip, and the Hungarians would take care of the rest. Curt and Sara Glaser made a large cash donation, for which we are eternally grateful, and we had the most remarkable fundraising event, called the Bryn Mawr Basement Ball. The Bryn Mawr Basement Ball was an event staged solely for the purpose of raising money for this trip. We had a amazing dinner of Hungarian and other Eastern European delights, fun-and-games intended to raise money for our trip, and most wonderfully, a dance. The church basement has never looked as good as it did that night. There were so many people to thank for their efforts in pulling that event together, most of all my wife Jen, who put in many, many, MANY, hours in getting things pulled together to make this event happen.
After months of planning, we finally left on our trip, transferring planes in Amsterdam, and eventually landing in Budapest (pronounced boo-da-PESHT by the locals) . From there, a couple of young fellows named Dani and Sanji (who looked like skinheads) met us at the airport, spoke Very Little English in the process, and proceeded to pack us tightly into two vans. They then drove us for several hours – directly after a 16-hour flight — to the Northwest region of the country, called the Transdanubian region, which borders Austria on the West and Northwest, and Slovakia directly North.
On our trip we visited many places and were treated with warm hospitality and kindness. We were provided a translator – Andros (Andrew) – his wife Ildi also accompanied us but she did not speak very much English, except to occasionally roll her eyes and call him ‘Schtoo-Pid’. After an adventurous night or two, we eventually lodged at a resort in the city of Balatonfüred, on the northern shore of Lake Balaton, a popular tourist destination for both Hungarians and foreigners like us.
From our Balatonfüred base camp, we made a series of day trips. We performed in six different cities – Csurgó, Tata, Székesfehérvár, Pápa, Kaposvár, and Győr. We saw amazing sights, immersed ourselves in a lot of history, had an amazing gig or two, and were treated like royalty by generous people who had very little themselves. We ate a lot of fried pork, cabbage, and noodles. It was a remarkable experience in so many ways, all made possible by the generosity of Bryn Mawr Church and our Hungarian hosts.
The first city we visited, after resting up from our extended travels, was Csurgó (pronounced CHUR-go). We were told that we would be seeing some of the sites within the city, and would visit a local vineyard that was known for producing fine Hungarian wines. We toured the vineyard – it was offseason — and were told we would soon be enjoying an authentic meal of Hungarian Goulash (pronounced GOO-yash). This was a surprise to us. We were not expecting this at all.
A couple of Hungarian fellows built a fire in an outdoor, unusual ceramic cooker-pot thing — in the middle of the vineyard — and began tossing in ingredients. The Fellows explained that they were making Gooyash Soup, which is how it was done in that part of Hungary, as opposed to Gooyash Stew, which was something that the Austrians prepared. They served us pear brandy while the meal was being prepared, a slow process that involved tossing many little things into the pot over a long period of time — meat, water, paprika, onion, garlic, spices, hand-pinched noodles, and of course, lots and lots of red wine.
The meal was spectacular — between the ambiance of the vineyard, the yummy goulash, fresh bread, and yes, the wine. We sat around a long table in a little house in the middle of the vineyard, and ate and drank for what seemed like most of the afternoon. We might’a been laughing a bit too loud, but that didn’t hurt no one. It was a wondrous welcome to Hungary.
It was later that we learned that the whole thing had been planned from back home. My beautiful wife had arranged the whole thing, clandestinely emailing our hosts before the trip, sending them money to defray their costs, and fully, remotely arranging this glorious event from our then-home in St. Louis Park. Later that evening, we had to sing a concert in Csurgó. We suffered through it, burping up goulash throughout. It was so worth it.
After we returned home I tried to remember what I had seen and was able to piece together of lot of the preparation of the goulash. I remembered what the vineyard guy had said about the differences between Hungarian and Austrian goulash, and I did some reading and research on how they compared. Through a lot of trial and error, I think I finally nailed it. And truth be told, I’ve modified it a bit and think this recipe is better than what we had in Hungary. The ambiance may not be better, but I would stand up this recipe against those ol’ vineyard boys any day. The last couple of times this recipe has been prepared, it has been over a pit fire, under a tripod, in the Snow’s backyard. So I think, eventually, we nailed the ambiance thing too.
The recipe is as much about technique as it is about ingredients, so please listen up. The Hungarian made the goulash with pork, but said it could be done with beef too. I’ve done it both ways, and you can too, but I find pork is a much better way to go.
INGREDIENTS (read the whole list before shopping)
- 3-5 pounds of pork. 3 pounds is good for the family; 5-6 pounds if for a larger group. Buy a bone-in pork roast of some type, and save the bones.
- 1/2 cup of cooking oil
- Yellow onion, a big honking one. Coarsely chopped — should yield 3-4 cups
- Garlic powder
- 6 cloves of garlic, chopped fine.
- Bag of cole slaw mix (without the dressing), or you can shred a small cabbage yourself.
- Parsley – 1/4 cup dry, or 1/2 cup fresh chopped. I like flatleaf, if using fresh
- 1 Tbsp Caraway seed. Crushed, but not dusted.
- 1 Tbsp Dill
- 2-3 bay leaves
- Sweet Paprika — buy the red can of Szeged Sweet Paprika that is available in most grocery stores.
- Other Paprika — you can also buy the Hot Paprika, or Spanish smoked, or whatever else you like, but these are for garnish — for individuals to sprinkle on, to taste, at the end, for flavor — like salt and pepper. Make sure you use the sweet paprika for the cooking.
- Two good beers, like Summit EPA (can be replaced with water or broth if needed). If all you have is light beer, don’t bother.
- Two cups of decent red wine (again, if you are using no alcohol, broth will work fine)
- Vegetable broth — 2 quarts. Three if you are not using beer or wine.
- 1 cup all-purpose flour, browned.
- 1 Tbsp Sugar
- Salt and Pepper
- Spaetzle — 1 or 2 boxes of dried from the grocery store, depending on how many you are feeding. Egg noodles make a fine substitute.
- Loaf (or loaves) of crusty bread to eat with the goulash
- Butter (for the spaetzle/noodles and the bread)
Now the first part of the preparation is the most important — the meat. Pay close attention steps 1-8. It will make all the difference between a good goulash and a great one.
- Cube your pork (or beef if that is your choice). Remove and discard large pieces of excess fat, but don’t get too fussy – a little fat is good and inevitable. Remove meat from bone and cube into biggish pieces — think ice cubes from the old freezer trays. Save up to 5-6 of the bones, or as many as you have.
- Toss the cubed pork and bones in Lowry’s seasoning salt if you have it, otherwise regular salt and pepper work fine. Also toss meat in a garlic powder (not garlic salt). Give it a light coat.
- Let meat and bones sit for 20-30 minutes with the spice, until it approaches room temperature.
- Put a cast-metal pan on over high heat. I have a large ceramic-coated cast-iron dutch oven (with a lid) at home at it is perfect. You can also use regular cast iron. Cast aluminum or stainless work pretty well too. It needs to be something with a thick bottom that can handle a lot of heat.
- Add you oil and get it to high heat. Do not let the oil burn.
- When the oil is hot, add the bones first, and then the cubed pork. The meat should stick to the pot like crazy — you want this. Toss the meat in he pot with a long-handled spoon
- Let the meat go for a while without adding anything else. The fat and water will release from the meat under the high heat, and will bubble and perhaps form a foamy froth. This is ok. Do NOT pour the fat off. Eventually it will evaporate — this make take a while, perhaps up to an hour. Do not try to rush this part of the process. Relax, enjoy a beverage, and stir occasionally.
- When the liquid is gone, you will begin to see brown bits forming on the bottom of the pot. This is a good thing. Brown food tastes better. Do not deny this from happening. Stir/scrape the bottom of the pot occasionally to keep it from burning. You want dark brown, not black. This is the most critical part of the entire recipe, so don’t mess it up. When the bottom of the pan has lots of yummy brown bits, and the meat is starting to get a little crispy around the edges, you are ready for the next step.
- Add onion and garlic — stir frequently until translucent, but do not let them burn
- Open two bottles of beer, pour both into the pot, and deglaze. Alternatively, add one quart of broth. Stand back so you do not get a steam burn.
- Let the pot calm down after adding the liquid. Add the red wine (again, optional, but delicious)
- Add 1/2 cup of sweet paprika, and be prepared to add more as needed. The color density should resemble tomato sauce — red through and through — not just red floating on the top of clear broth. Realistically, though, I don’t think you can add too much sweet paprika to this recipe.
- Add dill, parsley, bay leaves, and crushed caraway seeds. You want the seeds cracked open to release their flavor, open but not powdered.
- Add broth until it rises above the top of the meat — an inch or so.
- Simmer — If cooking over an open pit, shorten your chain. You want to let it blurble for at least an hour. Add broth or water as needed to keep it from getting to thick. You want soupy at this point, not stewy.
- Add bag of cabbage/coleslaw mix about 30 minutes into the simmering pot.
- Reduce the liquid the pot, until he meat starts to peek over the water line.
- Boil a pot of water and prepare your spaetzle or noodles as directed.
- Get a skillet and brown the flour to your desired level of darkness. Set aside to cool.
- Combine equal parts broth from pot and browned flour to make a roux.
- When meat is fork tender – i.e. breaks apart with minimal effort — remove bones and discard.
- Add roux to pot until desired thickness. I like the consistency of a cream soup — not to thick and not too watery.
- Adjust salt and pepper as needed, to taste.
- Add sugar to balance flavors.
- Remove from heat and let it sit for at least 20 minutes before serving. It will be darn hot.
Add buttered spaetzle/noodles to a bowl and ladle on hot goulash.
Sprinkle on other hot flavors as desired — hot paprika, smoked paprika, Eros Pista, or a few drops of tabasco.
Serve with large chunk of crusty, buttered bread.