As we limp into our second month of Lockdown, communal outdoor cooking has become the stuff of nostalgia, but you can re-create this (albeit without the smoky flavour) over your kitchen stove and in the oven. Goulash is really a soup: what non-Hungarians call a goulash is actually a braise, comprising just beef and potatoes. My version, containing peppers and tomatoes too, is definitely not authentic. It evolved over many summer holidays in Zebegény, where we would make it in a cauldron over a fire beside the Danube, having pre-cooked the beef on the stove in the house – a tip from our neighbour That B*****d the Colonel.
For eight people, generously; serve with cucumber salad (recipe below) and bread.
1.5- 2 kg braising steak, cut into 2.5 – 3cm cubes
Cooking oil or (traditionally) lard
4 large onions, very finely chopped (the finer, the better the sauce will be)
8 cloves garlic, finely chopped or crushed
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon flour
1 bottle red wine
½ tube piros arany* (csemege is mild/sweet; csipős is hot) – or add another tbsp paprika
1 tin chopped tomatoes
3 pointed peppers, sliced (any colour: it’s hard to replicate the Hungarian ones in England)
1kg Charlotte (or other waxy) potatoes, peeled if necessary and chopped into similar-sized cubes as the meat
Salt & pepper (though note that the piros arany contains salt)
200ml soured cream
1. Heat the oil or lard and fry the meat in batches to sear
2. In the oil/fat left in the pan, gently fry the onions for about 10 minutes until they are softening and becoming translucent
3. Add the garlic, return the meat and its juices to the pan, sprinkle over the paprika and flour, and stir well. Make sure the pan is not too fiercely hot, or the paprika will burn.
4. Add chopped tomatoes, piros arany, salt, pepper and enough red wine just to cover
5. Cook in oven (160 fan) for about an hour, topping up wine (or water) as required
6. Remove from oven, add potatoes and cook for a further hour, or until meat is tender.
7. Add the peppers about half an hour after the potatoes.
8. Stir in soured cream, check seasoning and serve with pride
If you have a cauldron/ bogrács (!) the way to avoid standing over a fire for two hours is to pre-cook the meat in the wine after step 1. Take all the rest of the ingredients down to the fire, hunt around for stools or tables and arm your helpers (‘firemen’) with goggles and yourself with beer. Complete the rest of the recipe stages in the cauldron, adding the beef and its cooking liquid at the same time as the potatoes. If your fire is very fierce you might need to top up the stew with water to prevent burning.
* piros arany literally means ‘red gold’: it’s a densely-flavoured paprika / pepper paste which Babú brings back in vast quantities from Hungary. If you don’t have any, just increase the quantity of dried paprika and add some chilli or cayenne for extra spice.
2 large cucumbers
1-2 tsp salt
50 ml white wine vinegar
100 ml water
1 tbsp sugar
1-2 tbsp dill, chopped
½ tsp paprika
Soured cream or crème fraiche
Peel the cucumbers and slice thinly (a mandolin or the slicing attachment of a food processor will speed this up). Place cucumber slices in a colander, add salt, stir and leave to disgorge juices for an hour (ideally, but 30 mins will do).
Dissolve the sugar in a little boiling water, then add vinegar and taste: add more sugar if necessary; top up with cold water; chill.
Rinse the cucumber slices and transfer to a shallow serving bowl. Pour over the dressing and plop a little soured cream / crème fraiche in the middle. Sprinkle over paprika and chopped dill.