A few weeks ago, while leafing through Lidia Bastianich’s Lidia’s Italy, I came across a recipe for goulash made in the manner of Trieste. I couldn’t wait to get to my stove and start cooking.
Now Trieste, which lies in the northeastern part of Italy, relishes a very diverse historical past. Under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian empire, the Triestines may well have “resented” their rulers, as Ms. Bastianich says, but they certainly loved the spicy red stew called goulash. And kept the recipe, changing it to fit the products, the terroir of their area.
Goulash, or gulyás (or gulyáshús), originated in Hungary, where it is also called bográcsgulyás. “Gulyáshús” means “cattle herder” and the general consensus is that the dish originated as something that shepherds cooked; gulyás means “herder” and hús is the word for “meat” in Hungarian. Not to be left out, other people in central and eastern Europe created similar recipes, most of which go by names very similar to the Hungarian gulyás. There’s the Serbian Ciganski gulaš and Croatia’s Gula, both using featuring venison and vegetables. Slovenians cook partizanski golaž. And of course there’s the Triestine method of preparing goulash, which Ms. Bastianich includes in her elegant book.
(None of this has anything to do with the “goulash” found in bridge games—redistributing cards previously dealt, according to Merriam-Webster, or the type of communism peculiar to Hungary, called “Hungarian communism” in the days before the fall of the Soviet Union.)
Traditionally, goulash recipes include most of the following ingredients:
- Beef (usually the tougher cuts rich in collagen, like shank, shin, shoulder – the three “sh’s”)
- Red onions
- Caraway Seeds
No flour, no tomatoes. None. Paprika from Szeged, in southern Hungary.
The Oxford English Dictionary implies that the first mention of goulash occurred in 1866, in a letter written by the Crown Princess of Prussia: “I have all their favourite dishes cooked … for them – goulash for the Hungarians, and polenta and macaroni for the Italians.” Gundel’s Hungarian Cookbook (1992) lists eight different recipes for goulash. And Americans seem to have taken note of the Prussian Crown Princess’s comments, because goulash takes on a completely different look, as this recipe indicates:
1 lb. ground beef or pork sausage
2 T. vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tsp. instant beef bouillon
2 cans tomato soup
1 16-oz. can stewed tomatoes
1 7-oz pkg. macaroni, cooked al dente
Garlic salt to taste
Onion salt to taste
1 8-oz pkg. shredded Velveeta
Grease a 3-quart baking casserole (one with a lid.) Over medium-high heat, fry the hamburger or sausage in the 2 T. of oil until slightly browned; add onion and cook until translucent. Scoop out everything and drain on paper towels on a plate. Remove skillet from heat. Put meat and onions in a large mixing bowl. Add soup, bouillon, tomatoes, macaroni, and garlic and onion salt. Stir in the cheese and mix well until all ingredients are coated. Pour mixture into baking dish and cover.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 30-40 minutes, or until bubbly.
This recipe bears no resemblance, none whatsoever, to Lidia’s recipe, which represents a much more traditional, and need I say, authentic version of the original Hungarian masterpiece:
(Beef Goulash in the Style of Trieste)
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 lbs. (2 to 3 large) onions, peeled and cut in thick wedges
2 tsp. coarse sea salt or kosher salt, divided use (to taste)
2 1/2 lbs trimmed boneless beef chuck or beef round steak, cut in 1 1/2-inch chunks for stewing
2 tsp. Hungarian paprika, sweet or hot (or to taste – I personally prefer 1-2 T.!)
1 tsp. dried oregano
Fresh rosemary (1 branch with lots of needles)
3 cups cold water
1 T. all-purpose flour
4 T. tomato paste
Pour the olive oil into a small saucepan (about 6 cup capacity), set over medium-low heat, and drop in the onion wedges. Toss to coat in oil, season with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook gently for 3-4 minutes until sizzling and softening.
Spread onions in the bottom of a heavy-bottomed 9 or 10-inch saucepan (such as an enameled cast-iron French oven with a tight-fitting cover) and drop the beef cubes on top of the onions, filling the pan in one layer. Sprinkle another 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, all the paprika, and the oregano over the meat and drop in the rosemary. Without stirring or turning the meat chunks, cover the pan tightly.
Heat the meat, with the seasonings on top and the onions below, so it starts to release its juices and stew. Check once or twice to see that the pan liquid is bubbling and the onions are melting (not burning) but don’t stir.
After 30 minutes or so, set the cover ajar a couple of inches and adjust the heat to keep the juices bubbling and slowly reducing. As they thicken, stir up the onions so they don’t burn and tumble the meat in the pan. Continue cooking, partially covered, for another 1/2 hour or so. When the juices are concentrated and thick in the pan bottom, prepare the goulash sauce.
For the goulash sauce, pour 3 cups cold water in the small pan and whisk in the flour. Set over low heat and continue whisking until the flour is dispersed with no lumps, then whisk in the tomato paste. Heat gradually, whisking often, until the tomato-flour water just comes to a bubbling boil.
Pour the sauce into the big saucepan and stir well, turning the meat chunks over–they should be nearly covered in sauce. Bring the sauce to a gentle simmer, put on the cover slightly ajar, and cook 45 minutes to an hour, until the meat is quite tender and the sauce is somewhat reduced. Season with more salt to taste. Turn off the heat and let sit in the pan for an hour or two to cool or refrigerate overnight.
Reheat slowly, stirring now and then, until the meat is thoroughly heated. Thin the sauce with water if it has thickened too much. Serve hot.
Source: Lidia Bastianich, Lidia’s Italy (PBS), Goulash, Italian Style Show #123
And here’s real Hungarian goulash, straight from the source, the Budapest Tourist Guide Web site:
A CLASSICAL HUNGARIAN GOULASH RECIPE
2 ½ lbs. beef shin or shoulder, or any tender part of the beef cut into 1-inch cubes
2 T. oil or lard
2 medium onions, chopped
2 cloves of garlic
1 – 2 carrots, diced
1 parsnip, diced
1 – 2 celery leaves
2 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or 1 T. tomato paste
2 fresh green peppers
2 – 3 medium potatoes, sliced
1 T. Hungarian paprika powder
1 tsp. ground caraway seed
1 bay leaf
Freshly ground black pepper and salt, to taste
For csipetke: Pinched noodles added to goulash or bean soup in Hungary. Csipetke comes from the word csípni, meaning pinch in English, referring to the way of making this noodle):
1 small egg
Pinch of salt
1 tsp. water
Goulash is hearty enough without csipetke, especially if you eat it with bread, so you can leave csipetke out.
Heat up the oil or lard in a pot and braise the chopped onions in it until they turn a nice golden brown colour.
Sprinkle the braised onions with paprika powder while stirring them to prevent the paprika from burning.